I’m really loving that the topic of children and parents in ritual is seeing so much discussion. Parents and children are a large chunk of the Pagan and Heathen population, and ignoring their needs doesn’t do a community any favors. With that said, I’m frustrated by some of the discourse that I’m hearing.
Jason Mankey posted over at Raise the Horns that he doesn’t want to join in a ritual with someone that doesn’t want to be there, which in general is a sentiment I think we can all get behind. But I think framing it like that in a discussion about children involved in our spirituality makes it sound as if it’s a rare exception that kids want to be at ritual. It’s not. Most days, my children are super excited to see their friends and participate in the pomp and circumstance.
But the truth is, my kids don’t always want to come to ritual. They also regularly don’t want to brush their teeth, attend school, put down the iPad, or even put on pants in the morning. I totally get it. I rarely actually want to do those things either. And sometimes I don’t really want to give up a relaxing Sunday night to wrangle four kids at a full moon ritual.
A lot of childhood, though, is learning that sometimes it’s important to do those things we don’t want to do. Just as I make my kids brush their teeth and get dressed every morning, I will occasionally bring them along to ritual even if they would rather stay home and watch Octonauts. There’s a lot of lessons here for my children.
One is that what you want is not necessarily compatible with what other people want. If I’ve got two kids who are super excited to go to ritual and one that really doesn’t want to leave the apartment, somebody’s going to be disappointed. That somebody may be four years old and sitting on my lap with a pouty face while the other kids enjoy themselves.
Another lesson is how to be polite when doing a thing you don’t want to do. This is the kind of lesson no parent wants to have to teach their child; children should be free to express themselves and their likes and dislikes. But just like attending a family Christmas meal where a distant aunt begs you to try her special green bean casserole, sometimes you just need to smile while you’re doing something unpleasant.
The most important lesson I want to teach my children is that sometimes, something you thought would really bore you turns out to be awesome and fun, if you’re open to that possibility. My four year old – Mr. Pouty Face – has yet to fully realize this one. Every morning on the way to school he complains that he doesn’t want to go, that it’s the worst part of his day. And yet every morning when I peak at him from the classroom where I teach, he’s dancing, or smiling, or listening raptly to a story. He loves it there.
The same thing often happens to me. I’m busy, and I’m often tired. Weekends are my sanctuary, and sometimes I’d like to go an entire 48 hours without having to leave my apartment. But when I get up and make myself attend ritual, or a study group, or whatever my group has going on that weekend; I never regret it. Connecting with my community, and with the Gods and spirits in community ritual, is very important to me.
So yes, I occasionally will make my children attend ritual. And if they’re in the building, I’m going to make them sit and observe the ritual itself. Maybe I’m carrying over bad habits from a Christian childhood. Maybe I’m a mean mom. Maybe you’re annoyed that you’re being asked to sit in a circle with Mr. Pouty Face. I’m doing what I think is the right thing – check back in another twenty years or so and my kids will tell you what they think.