I struggle with so many things as a parent; we’d be lying if we said we didn’t. I struggle to get my toddler to eat, my big girl to stop dawdling, my littlest to sleep. I struggle to run 2 miles, to hold a plank for a minute. Somedays I struggle to get a shower or eat breakfast. But these are physical struggles, and I know they can be overcome with hard work and perseverance.
But this is not that sort of struggle. The one I’m wrestling with these days, under the surface of all the other daily struggles, is my belief system, and thus, the beliefs we raise our children with. We’re not very religious people. Spiritual, yes. Religious, no.
We were both raised with a bit of a mishmash of religions. Me, everything from Presbyterian or Mormonism, Judaism to Catholicism (seriously, all of that, one childhood). Michael, raised in an Ashram with world religions all around, but Eastern religions pervasive.
Neither of us gave religion, or what religion we’d raise our kids with much thought. We didn’t think we’d need to. Raise your kids to be good people, et voila, it’s all good. But what we forgot is that we live in a religious society, one where Christianity is everywhere, and we’d encounter religion constantly.
Ryan came home from school the other day with a little rhyme about making the #7: “Through the sky and down from heaven, that’s the way to make a seven.” Of course, she wanted to know what “heaven” was. And here’s where I start to bumble. For someone who’s pretty good with words, I was at a loss. Because really, I don’t know what heaven is. What do I believe in?
I tried to explain as best I could: dying (which is still a tricky concept for her), up above the sky, where God is. Oh, wait, God. There’s another subject she’s unclear on. Again, because I am. (and none of this is to discount Michael’s role in all this, it’s just that I’m the one home, so I get the big questions that usually require immediate answers) Ryan’s told us before that God doesn’t exist. Which probably means I got a little too existential with one of my explanations, and little Miss Literal took it to heart. OK, fine. But God does exist. Maybe not literally, but in some sort of bigger way, something bigger than us, must. Humans have named that God, and given it a (male) persona, but I don’t know if I believe that.
A sweet friend posted a link to a blog the other day; it seemed quite appropriate for Christmastime, and certainly rang true for me.
Women can tell this part of the story this Christmas, the glimpse behind the veil, the life lived in the in-between of the stuff of God. There is a story on your lips, isn’t there, mama? of how you saw the face of God in the midst of fear or pain or joy and understood, really understood, Mary, not kneeling chastely beside a clean manger refraining from touching her babe, just moments after birth but instead, sore and exhilarated, weary and pressing a sleepy, wrinkled newborn to her breasts, treasuring every moment in her heart, marvelling not only at his very presence but at her own strength, how surrender and letting go is true work, tucking every sight and smell and smack of his lips into her own marrow.
It’s what I find wrong with so much of religion; it’s all about men, and how men have made it, forgetting the very humanness of birth.
Michael and I have major issues with organized religion, and we’re both pretty clear that we don’t believe in Jesus as savior. But beyond that? But you can’t raise kids on what you DON’T believe in. I feel like I need to define my beliefs, and maybe it’s less for the kids and more for myself. And maybe I don’t think beliefs can really be defined in such a quantitative way. Maybe I need to explore Buddhism more. Sometimes, I’m quite jealous of friends who have such defined belief systems. It would certainly be easier for me to have one. But I don’t.
Part of this has come up as a natural introspection post-birth. Birth really does bring out the spirituality in so many of us. Part of this is due to the holidays, and our desire to create traditions for our kids, and wondering how to define them without the context of Christianity or Judaism (Solstice?).
So, where do I go from here? I’m not sure. I did find two books that might help: Raising Freethinkers: A practical guide for parenting beyond belief and Parenting Beyond Belief: on raising ethical, caring kids without religion. I’ll let you know where this all lands as it evolves.
What I do know, is that I believe in goodness, and family, and love. And the sun and the moon, and that it all keeps turning. And as the Mamas and the Papas sang, “to everything, there is a season, and a purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).