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July 16, 2006

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Religion is difficult. I feel similar to you, from what I can gather, and I've been a little torn what to do with my own kids. My husband is a recovering Catholic and I was raised Episcopalian. I don't have an answer for you, as I'm still kind of searching for one of my own. Though I do think it's possible to bring the girls to church even in you question some of the things they teach. It would be a good opportunity to discuss things, and how even authority figures may not always be right. How you can believe in parts of things but you don't have to swallow the whole pill.

Hey, I'm just in the middle of sending you an email and it went down. Shucks! But it had to do with a comment you made on my blog about peace which can go hand in hand with relgion.

As for your questions, maybe you could look at this as a pull toward spiritual things vs. looking for religion. Listen to your heart and those feelings you've felt. I promise you they are good. But if something is bothering you or something doesn't sit right, keep looking. Keep searching until you find peace. Your girls will thank you for at least trying to give me a positive religious/spiritual upbringing, though it may seem scattered initially. Follow your heart ...that's my advice:-)

Wow. Those are difficult questions, but it's great that you are trying to work through them. I was also raised Catholic and went through religious education. I had both negative and positive experiences with it. I stopped attending church for several years and then when I got married I happened to really connect with the priest who married us (he runs the food bank in our city) and I started attending church again because I liked him so much. We still try to go when we can, but we've pretty much decided we'll be sending our kids to public school.

Anyway, to your questions: I do not think it would be hypocritical to expose your children to a religious environment even if you are not sure you want to go back to Church yet. The exposure itself is not a bad thing. I feel that the more exposure we have to different religions, the better. Even if you don't end up sticking with this particular religion, I still think the exposure would be good for them.

As to how to teach them about God, while keeping an open mind....I would maybe suggest getting some age-appropriate books about world religions so they know there are many and that they are all valid and good in their own ways.

Anyways, those were some heavy questions, but good questions to be asking. Good luck. I am still working on my spirituality as well. It's a lifelong process that's for sure.

I left the Catholic Church when I was a teen and became an Episcopalian because it allowed me to keep the liturgy while embracing a much broader view of faith. Plus I got to lose the Pope, the contraception guilt, and have women and married persons as priests.

As for your situation: I think church is for anyone that wants to be there for any reason. Truly. Anyone can show up at the table and decide what and how much they're going to eat. The church is as much for seekers as it is for "believers." I believe being there gives you an hour or so a week to tune into the Divine and open your heart and mind to a different way of being.

As for the kids, I've heard many say they're refraining from religious education because they want their kids to choose for themselves when they grow up. Well they're going to choose for themselves regardless of whether you provide religious education or not. I believe sharing your beliefs, where ever you are with them, is important. It teaches your children that what's important isn't having "all the answers" but in seeking truth and goodness and a relationship with something/someone bigger than yourself.

Don't shy away from what you don't quite understand, embrace it. It's OK for doubt and faith to both occupy space in the heart.

I wonder how it would be if you took your girls to church, and told them that you are interested in learning more. What I mean is, I wonder how that would be- if you went with them and were completely open about the fact that you really aren't sure how you feel about it. Maybe coming from that perspective will be a healthy way for them to be introduced to religions, because it might it will teach them tolerance of all religions. It might teach them that there are many people seeking, askign questions, but that there isn't one answer that is agreed on by everyone out there.

In my situation, my husband re-embraced catholicism and started taking our 5 year old to church with him faithfully. It lasted about 6 months. Then, it stopped. I noticed he wasn't taking him anymore. When I asked what happened, he just said, "my faith is weak"

I asked Aidan if he missed going to church and he said, "yeah kind of"

So I don't know- It gets complicated. If you start going again, and decide it isn't for you and the girls love it- or vise versa, there are more dilemas to face.

But, as with all things that are rewarding, it is challenging and complicated. I'm curious too, to read the feedback you get from this post. I'll be back to see what people have to say.

Take care Nancy.

Good Lord, it's like you looked at the post I'm working on write now. Seriously...I'm so right there with you. And sadly, I don't have any answers for you.

Great post, Nancy. I was a heavy churcher growing up and ran fast after college - never really went back until I got married (again) and converted to Catholicism. Honestly, I loathe it - and we haven't gone back to any churches in our town since I converted.

I'd love to take Q - however, for me, it needs to be a church that's more inclusive - my friend found a great unitarian church where gay couples are welcome, etc. and I think that it would need to be that for me.

My husband (a former diehard catholic) wants to raise her catholic - and I don't mind her going to church and doing stuff there, so long as she understands that she's not bound by their teachings.

I'd still be torn about it - and I try hard not to roll my eyes anytime I do go, but personally I think it's good to take them even as you're questioning it. It's good for them to know things are not always absolute in our minds...

First, Nancy, I'm glad that my comment helped you in some small way. I can tell that you and your family are a source of great support for your brother. Second, on religion, my opinion is that you offer it to your children. Kids are smart, even little kids. When they ask I think it's OK to say that you "think so" or you "hope so" or even you "don't know." I'm not sure what I believe either most of the time, but religion in our culture is more than that, the community helps to define us, gives us place. I am not observant or really involved in my Temple, but we belong, and we go, on holidays and at other times. I think kids should grow up knowing what religion they are, even if that doesn't equal really being sure what is believed. Does that make sense?

Everyone -- thanks for your comments so far. What's dawning on me as I read your reactions to my post is that my Catholic upbringing instilled in me a strong sense of not questioning my faith. I think that's where I'm coming from with not wanting to be hypocritical. But I do want my kids to have the ability to question, to understand that even in faith there are not always absolutes. It helps to hear it from you all -- thanks!

(May the discussion continue!)

Oh I've been through this! I left the catholic church years ago, got married in a non-denominational church, baptised the first 2 kids in that church. One Christmas, I had an urge to attend Mass, so I went. Alone. After looking at all the families there I went home, rounded up the 4 and 6 year old and husband, and went back. My husband converted (big surprise to me; I didn't really encourage it because there is still so much about the church's teachings that I loathe) Our oldest are now grown, the firstborn usually attends mass, 2nd born may get there some day. The 3rd born's journey through religious education has, sadly, steered me away from the church once again. I couldn't sit through another confirmation meeting hearing how gays and people of other faiths are morally wrong.I mean, the world is self-destructing and you're teaching intolerance?? But I do think that's just my parish, full of older people. Find a good young parish and you may have less b.s. to listen to. I love the ceremony of the Mass, and ultimately I do think it was right to expose the kids to religion. They knew I didn't hold with everything; they questioned some teachings themselves. But I think it gave them a compass. Sorry so long; I just thought 15 years of hindsight might help!

It is absolutely not hypocritical to expose your kids to religion while you struggle--I've been a Christian for 24 years, and I still have questions!

I would encourage you to do three things: 'shop around' for a church that fits, pray for guidance and wisdom in making this decision (it will come, even if you don't know who or what you are praying to), and most importantly, study for yourself and ASK QUESTIONS! If a minister/priest isn't willing to answer your hard questions, move on and find one who will.

God bless you as you make this search. I personally don't know how I would manage this life without my faith and my church family, and I sincerely hope you find what you're looking for.

Wow, you are getting some GREAT comments! I am in a fairly similar boat--I was raised Catholic, although not very strictly; I attend church now almost completely for the ritual and community aspects that you describe. I need to feel a connection to a priest/parish in order to be willing to attend Mass. I have been taking my now 4-yr-old with me on and off for the past two years. I look at it as a learning experience for both of us, as some previous commenters have mentioned. In our case, we have a built-in system of checks and balances because my husband is pretty opposed to any form of organized religion! That presents its own challenges... anyway thanks for the post; I'm enjoying the discussion.

This is something Hubby and I struggled with as well. We both have our beliefs, but they are VERY different. This doesn’t cause a problem between us as we don’t believe in pushing our thoughts on others, but it can cause confusion in raising kids.

Also, neither of us is really interested in attending an organized church. We prefer to worship in our own individual ways in private.

Now that Daughter is 7, she is starting to ask questions. When that first started, we weren’t prepared and didn’t know what to do. Then, we came together and did what comes naturally to us. I told her my beliefs, Hubby told her his beliefs, then we gave her a brief description of some other belief systems. We told her that there was no definite right answer and that she was free to come to her own conclusions. We told her to feel free to ask us questions and we would answer them or find answers to the things we don’t know. We also told her that if she wants to attend church, we will make that happen.

Finally, I bought her a children’s bible so that we could find answers together, and Hubby found info on the internet dealing with his beliefs.

So far, this has worked really well for Daughter. She hasn’t shown interest in attending church, but I have regularly found her curled up reading her bible.

I don’t know if this comes anywhere close to answering you question, but I guess what I am saying, is that you just have to follow your instincts and do what is right for your family…

Terrance and I struggle with this too.

We don't got to church. I considered trying to find a Unitarian one a while ago, but never followed through.

However, I don't see anything wrong with telling the girls that you are trying something to see how you feel about it. Honest, direct.simple.

Having never been part of a religious community (although I performed for many years in various places of worship), I really have no basis on which to contribute. I don't plan to take my girls to church.

But I want them to learn about the religions of the world and the basics of the varied belief systems. And I want them to always feel free to ask questions and offer ideas.

I really don't have anything to offer, Nancy, as I was not raised in a religious home and really have little knowledge of anything religious. I agree with the other commenters about being honest with your girls, though...there's nothing wrong with honesty.

This is such a great topic, and the comments have been great.

What can investigation hurt? Where is there hypocrisy in learning, experiencing and trying?

I belive that God does communicate with us, and that he does so through feelings of joy, peace, love and quiet sweetness... sometimes through inspiration. I believe that if you follow those feelings they will inevitably lead to truth.

Oh that's a tough one. Can you maybe wait until they're old enough to decide for themselves? Perhaps if you have close friends or family that are sincere members of different religious communities, the girls could tag along with them and then if they express an interest at some point you could encourage them to learn more.
As an agnostic myself, I don't think I would feel right attending church just for my kids (of course we are speaking in hypotheticals only since I HAVE no kids) But on the other hand, I wouldn't say no if they were interested in learning about a particular religion, you know, unless it was a cult or something :o)
Good luck. This is a difficult thing.

Seeking something higher than ourselves can be scary and also very rewarding. I think that it is good to expose children to faith and spirituality. It can give them a context for so many of life's lessons. The fact that we don't have all of the answer is one of the reasons we can learn faith in God's goodness. I hope your search is sweet and rewarding.

I think it's healthy to expose your kids to anything--politics, church, philosophy-- (in good faith)...even when you have doubts about how it will all work out. Maybe even ESPECIALLY when you have them. Kids who grow up with a warped sense of how the world works ("All women have to stay home with their kids", "All girls like pink", "God only listens to Christians", "The US is the best country in the world") usually do so because of these black/white absolutes that have nothing to do with reality. Life is pretty damned confusing for these people later on when the world does not conform to the rigid standards they were given as kids. Also because they've been discouraged from questioning anything remotely having to do with God as he/she is presented to them.

We take our kids to church, but we discuss openly where we disagree. Not only with our religion, but with all religions. Being open to a higher power in the universe (no matter what you call it) is healthy...as long as one doesn't use it as an excuse to stop being pro-active in using your mind when it tells you something doesn't make sense.

Oh.

I am struggling with exactly this - to the letter - right now. I don't know what to offer, because I am so still grappling. But I'll link up with you when I write the post. Maybe I'll come up with some insights there. Otherwise, at least, you'll have company.

I had no idea other people were struggling with this exact same issue like I am. In fact, I am planning a post about it in response to Queen of Spain's challenge to post about something controversial before BlogHer.

I have tried twice to find churches where I would feel comfortable and my boys would get basic religious instruction. I thought that because our country was founded on religious principles, that it was important for the boys to at least understand what those principles are. Also, I worried that other kids would mention Bible stories like Noah's Ark or David and Goliath, and they wouldn't understand the reference.

But our experience has been so disappointing, and so far they haven't come home from school asking why they don't know more Bible stories. I could "shop around" for another church, but the biggest problem is that I no longer am a Christian (THERE'S that controversy). So it would be completely hypocritical for my to take my boys to church and not go myself.

My husband suggested I could just "drop them off" for Sunday School, but it's not free babysitting, the expectation is that the parent is right upstairs in the sanctuary.

Some of your commenters have mentioned Unitarian churches. My SIL and her family are very happy as members of a Universal Unitarian church, and it is something I have considered for the community aspect.

If you want my opinion, I suspect you are feeling comforted by the familiarity of the service. That was what led me to re-join my childhood church, and it was fine for a while, but then I realized they expected a greater commitment from me than I was willing to give.

I'll link to you when I write my post. It is good to know I'm not alone.

I don't have a lot to offer here, because I was raised without any religion, though I did on a few occasions go to a United church when my mom was choir singing. Misterpie brought up the topic of taking Pumpkinpie to church, and I must say that while I am okay with it, it is only because a) it would be united, whihc is very relaxed and open-minded, and b) I told him I would not go with on any kind of regular basis.

I know a lot of catholics who have issues with their church, so I think it is a whole different level.

Nancy, I think you're brave for just asking the question. I won't attempt to suggest what you should do; I think you already know what that is. But I hope you feel good about the decision. I want you to feel good about the desicion, because I think you make sound choices, and have a profound love for your kids, and all of this will influence the outcome.

I'm mostly just saying, trust yourself. You have good instincts.

:) xoxoxo

I want to add something, since I'm going through the same thing (the same exact thing) currently, but its such an emotional topic for me. I actually didn't know how much it was bothering me until I read your post. So, even though I don't have any help for you, I want to thank you for inspiring me. I need to give this topic some special consideration. Thanks again!

I'm sorry I'm so late to chime in on this one, but here are my thoughts anyway.

Where I'm coming from: not raised in a religious family, never baptized (I know! the horror!), attended some youth group in jr high, and have, as an adult, tried out churches of the non-denominational Christian, Episcopal, and Disciples of Christ. I believe in God, and find myself drawn to Christianity, but am still definitely searching.

I think instincts go a long way here. If Mass is calling to you, go back, take the girls, and see what unfolds. I think there is something special about the Catholic liturgical practices that leaves an imprint on people. And I have a number of good friends who make Catholicism a priority even while questioning many of the churches teachings, especially about family planning.

I don't think church is necessary for a moral upbringing. I wasn't raised in a church and still consider my moral compass to be pretty accurate. However, if you want it to be a part of your girls' upbringing, I think it can be an enriching experience. Yes, you will have to filter, and discuss, and disagree with the priest at times. But I think that's healthy, and not that much different than the teaching we do as parents about any variety of topics.

Plus, Catholic guilt. Think about how useful that might be in about 12 years!

My big thing with church is whether or not I felt comfortable, liked the pastor (I'm Lutheran) and what he was saying/how he was saying it. As long as you believe in the basics, whether you believe in it all or not, I don't see it as hypocritical. Just my opinion...for whatever that's worth.

Hi, HBM lead me to your site. Wonderful post, and a topic I've been working on myself.

Whether we like it or not, or believe or not, we live in a world where religion is part of our lives. So I think an education in religion, rather than religious education (if you get my drift)is a good idea.

I grew up in a Unitarian Universalist community (not so much a religion itself as a meeting house for all different kinds of religious beliefs) where I learned about religion and could ask tough questions without fear and guilt.

Hope you find what you are looking for. Good luck.

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  • I'm Nancy, a (cough)40-something(cough) mother of 2 living in the DC metro area. When I'm not working, I'm home with my husband J and my two girls Mimi and Rosie.

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