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do children need a "default religion" to find their way spiritually?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
DH and I were having this discussion, and honestly I'm not sure where I stand anymore, lol.

DH feels that it is important our children feel free to find their own spiritual path when they are older, but thinks the best way to do this is to raise them with some sort of religious structure/context from which they may base their future explorations of their own spirituality.

I argued that it just confuses the issue. I was raised Catholic, had 12 years of Catholic school. I felt that being surrounded by people who all felt the same way you did, did nothing for me in terms of challenging what I was taught. When I hit "the real world" I realized that people come with all sorts of belief systems and nobody has a monoploy on the truth. I also heard POV's that I was never exposed to (and actively discouraged from seeking) growing up. It was very hard for me to take off on my own path, b/c shedding the doctrine that was drummed into me since birth was rough. It took me a long time to admit I didn't believe Jesus was God's son, or that I didn't believe in God the way I was taught about him. It was very scary at first.

But DH says we are perfect examples, having both been raised in a religion and not ending up there, and instead finding our own paths. He has a point: if our children are strong-willed, thinking, seekers of the Truth then they will find their own way.

I understand that many parents raise their kids in the religion they, the parents, have chosen b/c that's what they believe. But do any of you wonder how this will affect your children's future "search for their own spirituality"? Do you think providing them with some sort of religious context (ie. raising them in a particular faith) will help or hinder that journey? Love to hear from those raised in faiths, or not, and how that affected them.
post #2 of 21
"DH feels that it is important our children feel free to find their own spiritual path when they are older, but thinks the best way to do this is to raise them with some sort of religious structure/context from which they may base their future explorations of their own spirituality."

I completely disagree with this assumption, provided that the parents truly want the child to be free to make a choice. The statement sounds like what is really at issue is that the kids are free to choose, but we are giving them the groundwork of what to choose from. Like, as long as they are some form of Christian (just an example, I know your dh is interested in Judaism) that it will be ok. So lets teach them the basics and they can choose from which sect.

The problem with this is that not all faiths have the "default" in common. And as someone who has left the "default" faith of the US it is amazing how much of this faith permeats our culture. It takes time to be able to free ones self of the beliefs and expectations of a religion.

On the other hand I don't think that there is anything wrong with raising your child to know your religion or to practice it in your home. And I think it's important to teach kids critical thinking even where religion is concerned. I guess the difference is the purpose and scope of education.

A default in the example seems to imply a guide by which to choose a faith later, instead of just "this is what mom and dad practice".
post #3 of 21
Hard question. Good one.

My perspective is from a side-ways. Judaism is a religion, one that anyone can conceivably join ... but it's also a culture, also a familial inheritance, also an ethnic identification ... so I believe, as Jewish law says, that a born Jew is always a Jew, no matter where they go or what they do. (A rhyme ... ) And so any Jewish child starts out from there, kind of like it or not.

And also from that perspective, if a child is brought up with only the faintest of Jewish awareness, or just cultural Jewishness, then they really know nothing about Judaism and have no clue what living it with any spiritual connection at all is like. So how can they make an educated choice about it?

Again, that's from my narrow view.

Leaving the ghetto and going into the rest of the world ... Bringing a child up with "nothing" is precisely that. A spiritual quest is possible, but it's almost an alien one, something totally out of their life's experience. A child brought up with at least something has a frame of reference from which to examine future knowledge acquired ...

If that makes sense to anyone but me ...

post #4 of 21
I think it depends on the kids too. Neither of my parents were religious but I always felt spiritual. In middle school I started going to my friends church and it became my church through high school. I also chose a Catholic private school because it was the only private school we could afford and I wanted out of public school. Neither sect seemd totally right for me but it was something. In my mid twenties I found paganism and have been pagan for ten plus years. This sprituality is right for me but I am glad I started with Christianity because a quest has to start somewhere.
post #5 of 21
I don't think they need A concrete religion to start from.

I do think they need an awareness that there is a spiritual dimension to life. I think they need an awareness that there are many valid ways to express and follow that spiritual aspect of life.

I also think they need some understanding of what the major religions teach so as to have half a clue when they get out into the big world.

I was raised RC and never had a clue about questioning, not REAL questions anyway, until I was in college. Fortunately I was raised in a parish that put service and caring for others ahead of judgementalism, so I did have a good positive grounding in the best of the religion. It still took me years to work through the 'what if?' fear nonsense.

DH otoh was also raised, sort of, RC, but in a parish in which the rich made clear who they were, where who gave how much was announced His seeing ....the worst?...gave him a more cynical view of Catholicism and Christianity, which I have to combat to a certain extent while I try to teach the children to respect all beliefs.
post #6 of 21

First and foremost, I feel it is important for the parents to *explain* their own connection (or non-connection) to religion and spirituality. My own parents claimed to "believe in G-d", but never engaged in any type of religious practices. The taught me "right from wrong", but never explained from where their morality came. When I saw inconsistencies in their behavior, such as teaching me not to lie, but then lying about someone being home over the phone ("If it's Rhonda, tell her I'm not home."), I didn't understand. I wouldn't have been able to understand these behaviors even if my parents had been regular synagogue or church goers, but then I would have had another moral yardstick to use. I just don't think my parents gave me that. As a result, I used to attend different religious services with friends and at each one I would find myself enthralled for a bit, thinking, "Here are people who know what they believe." So I guess I'm just saying, know what you believe and communicate it. I don't feel it has to be a specific religion, but have a firm spirituality or morality for a kid to lean upon (or to reject, but refer to). I feel I just grew up confused. Maybe my parents were, too. I was definitely "free" to go my own way, but it wasn't freeing. It felt insecure. Once I choose my spiritual path as an adult, I got a *tiny* bit of resistance from my parents, which, frankly, surprised me. I didn't know they cared one way or the other, after all, they never bothered to tell me what they believed other than in the most vague terms. I agree a frame a reference is helpful, if only as a model of "conviction" in certain beliefs rather than convenient ethics or a generic espousal of society's standards.

Hope that makes sense & HTH!
post #7 of 21

I wanted to add something...

I am raising my dd as an Orthodox Jew. I do wonder how this will affect her spiritual path. She is not going to have the experience I had of choosing an observant lifestyle for herself. She will not "discover", seemingly out of the blue, as I did, the beauty of our religion. Perhaps she will take it for granted; perhaps she will question it. I know many other families made of parents who became observant as adults, but who have children who have never known anything else. The children that seem to be the most successful spiritually are the ones whose parents seem to transmit to their children the happiness, the beauty, and the pleasure of their spiritual lives. I hope I can do that.
post #8 of 21
fascinating question and i have been intrigued by all the answers and look forward to reading more. from my perspective, i had a few things to add to the discussion, in no particular order (because i'm too tired to make a coherent narrative out of them :LOL)
-- i was raised half in half out of catholicism, by a father who was very conflicted about the church and rarely participated and a convert mom who would run hot and cold on it. i agree absolutely with torie that the committment and engagement of the parents with their spiritual path is paramount for transmitting to the child a sense of the spiritual dimension to life. i picked up on the hypocracy within my family and the contradictions within what was being taught in church and how the people who made up that community were living it out.
--from this experience i'm inclined to conclude that its important to live for our children a connection with the sacred, to show them how we are moved by the mysteries and miracles of this life and to help them see and connect with the transcendant (or perhaps more correctly to help them maintain their connection to it). i'm a big fan of the idea that there are many wells and one source of truth, which leaves open to the child the option of finding their own spiritual path.
--as an aside, i'm surprised by how much my dd at 4 1/2 has grabbed onto the idea that there is a God who made everything. i *think* i've been telling her that different people believe different things about how the world came to be, and it can't really be known, just believed in, but maybe i've been imparting automatically more of my upbringing than i realize, or maybe a babysitter or the neighbor's child has been talking to her about their religious beliefs (our neighbor is a minister.) whatever the reason, she seems to like and gravitate toward the answer, God made worms and crows and trees...

post #9 of 21

The experience with my dd

I've noticed that some children (most?), believe in a lot of things. DD happens to believe in Jesus, but with her description, he is a wizard. She has her own idea of how the Earth and everything else began. She also very much believes in various Gods and Goddesses. And fairies

Spirituality and religion are two different subjects for me. I also think you don't have to have religion to believe in god/desses.

It would only make sense to me to teach your own child to practice a religion, if you practiced yourself. Because I do think their is a difference between indocrinating and being an example.
I don't agree that you have to raise a child with religion if it wasn't a big deal before they were born. Does that make sense?

It's hard for me to articulate exactly how I feel about this without coming across as anti-religious. I was raised fairly religiously. It took many years to say outloud that I wasn't Christian and I was very pissed off that god didn't strike me on the spot.:LOL I felt very deceived.

We study comparative myths/religions around here. Spiritual aspects, dd inspires that.
post #10 of 21
I agree with a lot of the really wise things people here have said from many points of view.
My own feeling, in a nutshell, is it's dishonest to try to transmit values to your kids that you don't share, and it's equally dishonest to keep your child "pure" and NOT share your beliefs with them. The way you live your life is always colored by your belief system, and your answers to life's big questions, which we all know kids ask, are colored by that too.

I think it comes down to living a life of integrity.

I'm not sure, but are you also exploring a family where the partners disagree? I think you said dh was drawn to Judaism; are you with him, or kinda coming around more slowly? Then things are more complicated.
post #11 of 21
post #12 of 21
When I was teaching I met two young people whose parents had converted to new religions: one to Judaism and the other to Islam. (New religions TO THEM I mean! ) The daughters of these families had some interesting experiences. The girl from the Islamic family wore the hijab through high school, almost as an expression of defiance since she was the only Muslim in her school. In college she didn't wear it. I think she wound up in my Judaic Studies classes because she was trying to find out about Judaism and Christianity, but definitely from a perspective of Islamic identity. Unfortunately I didn't keep in touch with her. She was a great kid, very good student, very thoughtful.

The other girl was more confused...her family had converted through the Conservative movement, and she was drawn to Chabad on campus. The Chabad rabbi was trying to persuade her to re-convert. She was studying. It was painful. She grew up Jewish from early childhood and was being rejected. She was also African-American, which threw more shoes in the works. (I kept thinking that it was uglier for her to have her conversion questioned, just because most Jews in the US have white skin.) She kept vacillating about how to handle people questioning her identity. My heart went out to her.

I think it wouldn't be easy for a parent who converted to something to have their child convert to something else. Though perhaps that is based on my impression of the conversion experience, which I think can make people a lot more committed to a belief-system than being raised in it does. That is something to prepare for.

It is a very great, deep pleasure for many people to return to the kind of worship they learned as children. Maybe pleasure isn't the right word--a keen spiritual satisfaction? That is the main reason I think it's worthwhile to bring up your children with a strong background of knowledge of your beliefs and practices.
post #13 of 21
Thread Starter 
Wow, what awesome responses you guys!!

Yes, DH is looking to convert to Judaism, and his wish is we would all (me and our children) become Jewish and practice it exclusively. But I am unable to part with some of the traditions I grew up with that have meaning to me, like the Xmas tree (my favorite time of year!) and Xmas stockings, and Easter Egg hunts. But I don't think we'll have too much trouble celebrating "my Christmas" and Hannukah at the same time b/c for me, it's not about Jesus or his birthday, it's a winter festival so we don't have nativities etc (my parents did, of course, but this is what Xmas has evolved into for me). DH is learning to accept that I won't part with traditions that mean alot to me, but I'm also happy to embrace new ones and make our "observances" at home something that is uniquely "ours".

Still, if we join a Jewish congregation and worship/recreate with them (which is the plan) then DD's influences will be largely Jewish. I am encouraged by the discovery that Jewish children appear to receive a very thorough education in world religions, and are encouraged to actively think about issues, as opposed to how things were for me in Catholic School (sort of a "don't think about it, we'll just tell you what the answers are" attitude). But still, DD will grow up feeling a strong connection to Judaism and I wonder how this will affect her.

My biggest fear is the "label" and all the bigotry and discrimination that goes with it, but the more I think about it, the more I think most religions have that problem. Look at Islam today. I also fear that she will be questioned by other Jews as to her "validity" like the captain said, but perhaps this will be a motivator for her to seek out her own Truth. And finally, I worry that I will "ingrain" ideas into her that will be painful to discard later should she reject them.

Anyways, I am reading all these replies with great interest!
post #14 of 21
Jewish children appear to receive a very thorough education in world religions,

THis definately depends on the community. I know my dh grew up Jewish and was never really taught about other religions. Not by his parents and not at hebrew school that is for sure! The congregations and Hebrew schools I was involved in also didn't teach about other religions. BUt that doesn't mean it doesn't happen anywhere, and you can probably do a better job at home of that anyway.
post #15 of 21
I think it's important to give my children some sort of spiritual foundation. They will be free to make whatever choice they want, but I do believe it is my responsibility to tell/show them what I believe and why.

I also think it's important that both parents are firm in what they believe and don't change every other week, whether they think the same things or not. Change to kids is scary a lot of the time, especially spiritual issues, which they may not understand completely for the first couple of years.

I was raised in a Christian church, but it was slightly different than other typical Christian churches. We didn't baptise, or have communion. There were a couple other things as well. In fact, I spent most of my life being told I wasn't really "saved" by other more traditional Christians.

I went to public school, and none of my friends there were Christian. So I was familiar with other faiths besides my own from a pretty young age.

Dh was raised Christian, but his father changed churches according to his financial needs, or if he was trying to find a wife, and he spent a lot of time bouncing back and forth between places. He also had friends of other faiths.

Regardless of the firm spiritual foundations both dh and I had, our high school and college years raised a lot of questions, for both of us. My mom freaked out, my dad was more understanding. And because of his understanding and permissiveness to have questions, I went in a great big circle, but came back to what I believed as a child.

Dh's father freaked out as well, when dh started questioning things, but dh is the strongest person I know, spiritually, and he found his own way as well, support or not.

In the end, what dh and I believe is not exactly like either of our parents. And that's okay. We don't even agree on everything among ourselves. But we have the same basics, and that's the part we'll try to teach the kids.

For me, I think the main thing is to let the kids know they have the freedom to choose, and not to use any kind of religious thought or spiritual thing as a weapon to try to force or scare them into believing a certain thing.

I want them to look at religion/spiritual things in a positive way.
post #16 of 21
This is an interesting question. I don't think there is one right answer. I was raised without religion - my dh was raised very Catholic. Neither of us practices any religion now. Although I must say he at least does believe in god. But I think we have very similar morals and values.

My parents were raised Christian (my dad) and Mormon (my mom) but I think they only believed (like my dh) because that is what they were told to do. Once they (all three of them) were adults, it all kind of fell by the wayside.

My siblings and I were raised with good morals/values but not religion per se. I didn't know Easter was a religious holiday until I was 20. When we were kids (and now with my own kids) Xmas is giving and volunteering and Santa - Easter is egg hunts and the bunny.

I have met people who are religious who don't understand why I would make moral choices if I wasn't worried about getting into heaven. I think that is terribly sad - to only behave well because of the threat of hell or the promise of heaven.

I think that religion can be a barrier between people - just as there is racism there is the same thing with religion. Some people don't want to associate with members of a different religion - or forbid, an atheist! I do not hide or advertise my religious opinions but have run across people who liked me fine before they discovered I didn't believe in god.

I do feel badly for my MIL though. Dh is fine with us raising the kids without religion but MIL is sure they will go to hell and she is of course horrified. Prays every day that I will give in and let them be baptized....

I think kids will often believe what we tell them and what we model but when they become adults, they will find their own way - it may be yours or something else.
post #17 of 21
I have really enjoyed reading the responses here. DH and I are atheist, and plan on raising our children w/o any "firm foundation" in religion. We do plan on teaching them the basics of the major world religons, as well as ancient religons. I feel this will give my child/ren an oportunity to make a educated decision regarding her spirituality. I also feel it will make her a critical thinker, and a tolerant person. Good Luck w/ your husband. My DH and I studies Judaism for a while, and I think it was a great benifit to both of us, even if we do not believe that it is true.
post #18 of 21

To capitan optimism:

I converted to my religion from another religion. I have raised my four children in this religion.

If any of my chlidren decided to follow another path, I would welcome it since, I, as a proselyte to their faith, chose their faith for them. They would only be continuing their personal journey in search of G-d.

I would not be disappointed: I would only hope for thier happiness.

We are all as the blind men and the elephant, all experiencing G-d
in our own way on our own path.
post #19 of 21
This is a very timely topic for me! I am a pagan and my dh is jewish. I was raised Lutheran and went through a lot of issues breaking free. I had always been the kid to get in trouble for asking the "wrong" questions. The catalyst came as a 14 year old rape victim asking her pastor for help only to be told that I had brought it on myself and that god would punish me.

I grew into my spirituality gradually and with lots of study. But, I am not part of an organized group. I want my dd (now 14 months) to be free to choose her own path and plan to teach her about world and ancient religions in addition to my own beliefs and dh's. But, I worry that, because dh's faith is better organized, dd will end up jewish by default.

I would have no problem with her CHOOSING judiasm, but I don't want her choices limited.

So there I am, no real help, but a sister seeker...
post #20 of 21
I definitely don't think that children need a default religion to find there way, but then again i dont believe that adults need a religion either so......

I think that it is important for children to feel that if they wanted to explore a religion that they would be allowed to, but i do not think that it is a necessary part of growing up.

I think that one of the strongest things a parents can teach a child is to look within themselves for strength and guidance. Then they can go outside and find a religion that matches their beliefs, without feeling the pressure that they must find a religion or can never be complete/satisfied/fulfilled, etc.

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