Welcoming Children in Pagan Circles

The topic of children in Pagan groups came up in a recent class I led on Ritual Theory and Practice. I called it “the dilemma of children.”

On one hand, children are the next generation of Pagans, and young families with children are our current generation. We simply must make room for them. On the other hand, small children can’t be expected to sit quietly and participate reverently, and it isn’t fair to expect everyone else to just tune out crying babies and babbling toddlers.

dancing the Maypole at Beltane - 2014
dancing the Maypole at Beltane – 2014

I have said that some Pagan material is inappropriate for younger children. But when I think about it, I’m not sure that’s true. Denton CUUPS doesn’t deal with explicit sexuality in our circles, and I’ve never been to an open circle that did. Some of our Samhain work around death and the Otherworld may be challenging for children – and for more than a few adults – but that’s no reason to shelter them from it. Death is a part of life and children realize it from the first time a goldfish sinks to the bottom of the tank.

Adults don’t shelter children from death, they shelter themselves from having to talk about a difficult subject they’d rather not think about.

There has never been anything in our circles that will traumatize a child like the hellfire and brimstone sermons I experienced from age 3 or 4 on up and that children today are still abused with in fundamentalist churches everywhere. Not that “we’re better than the fundamentalists” is anything to be proud of, but it puts things in perspective.

Denton CUUPS has always said our circles are appropriate for children 10 and up. When parents occasionally ask “my kid is 8, can he stay in the circle?” my response is “if he can participate respectfully and won’t get bored with it, we’d love to have him.” I’m fine with children staying in the circle – if they want to be there. I hated being dragged to church as a kid and I don’t want to inflict that on anyone. On the other hand, I would have loved being in a grown-up circle and while I was hardly a typical kid, I wasn’t entirely unique either.

I’ve been to open circles where they had a “kids circle” separate from the main circle – basically copying what most churches do with religious education programs. That’s great if you can do it, but it requires a commitment from at least a couple of people to write a kids ritual every time. That’s a big obligation, plus those who teach the kids aren’t able to participate in the main ritual.

There’s a reason why Denton UU paid the Director of Religious Education even in the years when we weren’t paying a minister. Doing kids religious education – UU or Pagan or anything else – is a lot of work. Most Pagan groups don’t have the resources to copy what churches with far more members can do.

This is one of the good things about being a CUUPS chapter affiliated with a UU church. We don’t have to duplicate everything our host congregation does. Denton UU has an excellent kids religious education program that grounds children in UU values as it teaches them world religions. They have the OWL program for lifespan sexuality education, which every person needs. We don’t need to duplicate these programs.

But our Pagan circles and other events need to be welcoming to kids and to parents with kids.

I think it’s good to occasionally have a kid-friendly ritual. If I’m remembering correctly, this year’s Denton CUUPS Ostara will be the first truly kid-friendly circle since we did The Chocolate Ritual in 2011. We depend on members saying “I’d like to do this for that high day” to schedule our rituals, but by any standard, six years is too long. Still, I can see sitting in our Fall Business Meeting and asking “who wants to lead a kid-friendly ritual and which of our eight slots do we want to use for it?” and getting blank stares from everyone.

I wonder if Ostara could become our standard kid-friendly ritual …

The Chocolate Ritual - 2011
The Chocolate Ritual – 2011

What I said in the Ritual class wasn’t wrong. While we have an obligation to be welcoming and hospitable to all who come in good will, we can’t be everything to everyone. Denton CUUPS is an adult group that does adult rituals for adults. Other groups make other choices, but they can’t be everything to everyone either.

We need to continue to offer child care at every ritual. It’s expensive, but if we’re going to be the place for public Paganism in Denton, we have to accommodate young families with children. There’s a place for kid-friendly rituals, but it’s not every circle or even a substantial number of circles. We flat-out don’t have the resources to offer alternative kids stuff at more than a very few events.

It’s worth remembering that of Denton CUUPS’ current officers, only two (one couple) have small children. I don’t think about children – I don’t have children and to be perfectly honest, I don’t like children. We need to actively solicit the opinions of those who do. What do they need? What do they want? How can we be welcoming to them and those like them, within the bounds of our limited resources?

Being a public Pagan group isn’t easy. But we have an obligation to our Gods, our traditions, and our communities to do it as best we can.

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