How to Not Talk to Your Kids About God
Easter. A Holy day. A time of celebration in the name of the Savior. I guess. What do I know? I didn't go to church today, nor have I gone in well over a year.
I was raised Catholic by someone who was not raised Catholic. My mom married into the faith and decided to keep carrying the Catholic torch while my Dad decided to never again step foot in the church for worship. Every Saturday afternoon, I would ride with my mom to church, carrying my baby doll, Guiseppe. I would rise when everyone else rose, and sat when everyone else sat. I would shake hands and say "Peace Be With You" even if it was totally weird to shake hands with all the strangers around me. I would sing to by baby and sit on the knee rest. After, we would stop at the gas station and I would get Skittles. It was fun and it seemed to make my mom happy. I attended CCD on Mondays after school. I would listen to the stories about Jesus and I learned that it was important to be a good person. I learned there was a God and a heaven. As a kid, I didn't question it as it was part of my life. I did what my mom told me to do, for the most part, so I went to church because that is what she told me to do.
When I was in the sixth grade, my mom gave me a choice. She told me she had shown me her religion and it was my decision to continue CCD and church attendance. It didn't bother me to continue, so I did, for about 3 more years. By the time I was 15, I started to have my doubts about religion and the Catholic faith. At a time when many ideas were resonating with me, God was not. I started to be angry about the world, frustrated by almost everything, informed by history, and my questions about religion turned me away from being a person of faith. I told my mom and, without question from her, I stopped going to CCD and to church.
During my late teens I continued to push back against faith, especially Catholicism. I felt judged, by some, for questioning the church and its teachings. This was just about the time that sexual abuse scandal rocked the Catholic church. Between that, my own angst, and my impression that religion can cause war as much as love, I'd had enough entirely and stopped questioning altogether. My decision: to not be religious, to not be a part of organized religion, to not be an atheist, but to just be. Lack of religion felt right for me in my twenties. My life was full and I did not need it.
During the early years of our relationship, religion, or lack thereof, was a non-issue for me and Andy. We didn't talk about it. He never shared, nor has he ever, his opinion on God, Jesus, or the need to be a part of organized religion. I said we would not get married in a church and he supported me. Our families never pressured us to have a church recognize our union. Again, my life was full and a need for faith was not necessary. My years of church going were a distant, foreign memory.
Then, we had kids. Why does having a baby change everything, including our need to make more sense of the world around us? Perhaps it is because having a baby seems like more than science. To me, a new mom, holding my newborn baby girl in my arms, I knew that there is something deeply magical, something unexplainable, about life. I look at my children, to this day, and even though science can explain it all, even the emotions, I am sure that they are angels and they were sent to give me purpose in life. They make me want to be a better person. They give me patience and compassion. They make me care about more than just myself. I believe these are qualities some find in faith, so it makes sense that I started to re-consider religion, upon their births.
I went back to what I knew. I had them baptized Catholic. I told Andy I wanted to do this and he supported me. My mom seemed happy but not crazy happy. She continues to support the idea that we must make our own decisions about faith. While I don't regret the baptisms, I still knew that this was not right for me and therefore, not right for us. I felt uncomfortable in church, like an alien in a foreign land, but again, I was questioning and felt compelled to search for something. I found it at long last. A few summers ago, I went to the local Unitarian Universalist church. And by local, I mean 35 minutes away. Not once, during my attendance there, did I feel alien. I felt as comfortable as I ever have in a church and I knew, this was the right place for me. I found my religious home and was ready to move in. I brought the kids. Signed them up for Sunday school. This was it! However, it still must not be necessary in my life because I stopped going. Why? It's too far of a drive when I commute all week long. Dragging the kids out on a Sunday is a pain in the neck. I'm tired and I'd rather run. Does that make me a bad person? I suppose that depends on your definition of a bad person. Outside of a chunk of time in my teens and early twenties, I like to think that I live a good life. I don't smoke or drink (too much). I am so TMI that I'm very honest. Life is like confession for me. I try to be good to others. Just a few weeks back, the ATM spit out an extra 20 bucks and I returned it to the bank. That's good, right? I teach my kids to be kind. I work hard. Ok, yes, I swear. It could be worse. I could be worse. Am I going to hell because I don't go to church? Are my kids?
To test the girls' religious knowledge or hell-readiness, I asked them a few questions yesterday.
What is God?"
"It's a kind of drink."
"He's a man who makes people happy."
"Who was Jesus?"
"He's in a song about cowboys."
"Mommy! Ahh! Stop asking me so many questions!"
Catholics are known for their guilt. I am always feeling guilty. I suppose this is the main value I carried from the religious aspect of my upbringing: feeling bad for not doing "right". I may go to hell. I won't know until I get there. I am ok with this. I don't need religion, not now, still. But, maybe my kids do or will. My biggest fear is that my lack of educating them about religion will be like the family who doesn't talk about sex until the 15 year old comes home preggers. What if Caroline comes home from college and tells me she has joined a cult? One needs all the facts before making a decision, so if Caroline and Charlotte have no facts about faith, how can they choose to participate, or not?
Andy and I have spoken about the ways we can educate the girls about religion without either of us being religious. Options include taking them to a different church every week, enrolling them in a Religious Studies 101 course, and letting them watch Passion of the Christ. We are perfect examples of how to not talk to your kids about religion. On this holy day that means something to many, and not much more than an overdose of candy to me, I am determined to get the conversation going with the girls. It may or may not mean going back to the UU, but it will mean giving them information, that they can understand, about religion, and being as open as my mom was to letting them make their own decision about faith.