I’ve been raising kids for over 26 years. We have four kids, ranging in age from 26 to eight. First rule we have in our house is “think for yourself.” This comes into conflict when the young ones come home with “Johnny just invited me to go to church with him on Sunday. They are going to have movies and cookies! Can I go?”
Our kids are required to question, question and question again. It has, at times, made it tough to get cooperation before their line of logic is satisfied, but it has paid dividends in their critical thinking skills.
We live in Idaho, in a particularly conservative area where the Mormon Church plays a large role in the lives of most people. While we want our kids to respect the belief systems of others, it is dicey explaining the difference between spirituality and dogma to kids, even after confronting this question on several levels from all of the kids. What we explain to them is that your spirituality is your birthright. You are blessed with the ability to reason, so you must satisfy your curiosity. If your questions are answered with something that makes little or no sense, you must question further, or discount the information you’ve been given.
Another key point for the kids to understand is that everyone is on their own spiritual journey, and it is never acceptable to tell people they are wrong for their spiritual choices. We are charged with a large responsibility here, in that we live by example. We contribute to society in a positive way by volunteering and lending emotional support for our friends. We are, in short, part of the world community, and must remember and consider others in our decisions.
Our kids know that we don’t do the “church” thing. We encourage the exploration of their personal spirituality through research, thoughtful analysis and basically what makes sense to them. We don’t necessarily jump on board with a group, just because the group feels we should. Letting others do your thinking is an extremely dangerous situation.
It has caused some derision and some exclusion of our children when it comes to being invited to social events. The hurt feelings the kids experience are real, and we validate those feelings. We simply explain that this is how the different religions keep their groups intact, and that sometimes church groups get together without those who are not members. Like a club meeting. It doesn’t mean that they are less liked by their friends.
We have had a few occasions where a neighbor child made some sexist remark, and we take the time to explain to our kids (in front of the other children) why each person is valued, how nobody is superior to anyone else, and why it is important to treat each person with respect. It creates some confusion on the faces of the kids that have been raised to believe that women are second-class citizens.
Our children know that we don’t believe in a place called Hell, and that tales and speculation of a supernatural being making you behave in one way or another is basically just scapegoating your responsibility to be accountable for your own actions. Likewise, living by an arbitrary set of rules due to the fear of eternal damnation makes no sense.
The oldest two are now grown and out on their own. They are responsible citizens, great friends and live well balanced lives. Of course the jury is still out as our kids are still growing into their adult years, but the preliminary results are positive. And I think we will leave this world a better place than when we got here.