As you may have noticed, I can sometimes be a bit angsty about raising my young daughter Sally without God. For one thing, God was just about the most important thing about my upbringing, and that makes raising children outside of religion seem completely foreign. For another thing, essentially all of our relatives on both sides are devoutly religious, and being the only ones in the family to be raising our children without religion can present interesting challenges. I think, though, that it’s time I took a deep breath and just relaxed about it.
You see, we recently visited some relatives for the weekend, and when everyone sat down for the first meal after we arrived, Sally reached out and grabbed the hands of those beside her before anyone had even said anything about saying grace. We hadn’t visited these particular relatives in a while, so she can’t have remembered praying before meals from the last visit. I think she just realized that, well, that’s what we do before we eat when we visit relatives.
What amazed me about this was how effortlessly Sally did it. She picked up on it and the message she got was simply “that’s how X. Y, or Z people do things.” And that was fine. And she was fine. I’m beginning to think she’s way more perceptive than I give her credit for.
When we visit relatives, we generally go to church with them just out of politeness. We’ve never discussed what it is or why we go with Sally, just “come on, it’s time to go to church with grandma and grandpa,” or whatnot. Since she hasn’t been old enough for Sunday School, she just sits with us or plays with toys in the nursery. This particular time we had a conflict and couldn’t, but when they came out Sunday morning dressed in nice clothes Sally simply asked matter-of-factly, “are you going to church?” They said yes, and that was that. Again with the perceptiveness.
After my latest post on atheist parenting, a reader reminded me that Sally doesn’t have the baggage I have. I might have baggage surrounding the story of Noah and the Ark, but to Sally it’s just a story. No baggage. Realizing this has actually been really helpful. I may have gone through pain at the hands of my parents’ religious beliefs, but Sally hasn’t. To her they’re just things that grandma and grandpa believe, nothing more, nothing less. No baggage. And that’s relieving, really.
And so, I’m working on letting go of my worry and fear. I’m reminding myself that this isn’t as complicated as I keep wanting to make it. I’m remembering that what’s most important is to lavish Sally with love and foster her sense of compassion, curiosity, independence, and critical thinking. And everything else? Well, it will work itself out.
And after reading through the comments on my latest post, I have come up with some concrete steps I can take. First, I’m going to get my hands on books of mythology for children, aiming to cover as many religions as I can. And then I’m going to read those books to Sally. To her they’ll just be stories, but they’ll lay a framework for later discussion of religion and religions. And they’ll set her up to be multiculturally literate as well.
Second, I’m going to give the local UU church another try. I’ve heard good things about their religious education program, and I think Sally is old enough to start going through it. It would also be nice to have a greater sense of community in which to raise our young family. And don’t worry, I’ll definitely be blogging about my experiences!
Mostly, though, I’m glad for Sally’s reminder to me that she’s not clueless and she’s not helpless. In fact, she’s already curious and empathetic, independent (for her age, at least) and thoughtful. And with that knowledge, I need to relax and stop worrying.