I'm not sure this belongs in this forum, but I'm not sure where to put it. I'm worried that my children's lack of spirituality in their upbringing is having negative affects on their feelings about life. Not that have many worrisome ethical behaviors in this respect - in general, they are kind and compassionate toward animals and people, they are usually honest, they show dismay when another person is hurt. But I wonder if they are trying to seek meaning in their lives, and not finding it because they don't have any religious or spiritual framework to support this meaning.
Both of my older kids, but especially my 5 year old daughter become obsessed with wanting things - I feel like she spends a lot of time looking to me or other people for fulfillment of some want that she can't verbalize. She wants a kitten. We get a kitten who grows into a nice cat. She REALLY wants a fish for a pet. The fish day is on the calendar for after we go on vacation and it finally arrives. I buy her a fish and she does take care of it, but doesn't really pay it much attention. What can one do with a fish anyway? Then she REALLY wants chickens. We decide to get chickens because our family wants eggs to eat anyway, so I tell her "yes," and she's excited for about 5 minutes. A few days later she REALLY wants a pony. I say no. Then she tells me that I never say yes to anything. She wants a minature merry-go-round. She wants something to eat. I offer her 5 different things, but she doesn't want any of them. It seems like she spends much of her time desiring one thing or another, but never really enjoying anything. Is this just the five year old manifestation of a general human condition? Or is she seeking something spiritually meaningful in her life that I am not providing?
My partner is the type of atheist who thinks religion is harmful. I am the type of atheist who is fascinated by religion; I believe that religion can lead people to truth, but I am very skeptical by nature and have a hard time understanding how to have faith. I read somewhere that if children are not exposed to religion early in life, then they will be unable to be religious if they choose to do so later on. I worry that my own lack of spirituality will harm my children's ability to find meaning in their lives.
How do you help your kids figure out the big spiritual questions in life? How are your religious ideals encorporated into disciplining your child and into your parenting in general?
I don't think it has much to do with a lack of organized spirituality. I know a lot of people who *were* exposed to religion as children and have grown up to be just as "unsatisfied" as everyone else. I think it is a basic human condition, not necessarily a good one or one to be encouraged, but natural.
On the other hand, I also know religious people who do seem much more "satisfied" than the non-religious that I know. I'm not religious, and I often envy the peace that I often see in religious people. But in the end, for me, I always come to the realization that my envy of religion is usually just another way of me "craving something" and that what I really need to do is ground myself, take some breaths, be more present. Going for a walk outside usually helps.
I would suggest, if you don't want to get into organized spirituality, introducing some simple breath-watching meditation. No ideology required and it is great for stepping out of the urgency of needing/wanting/craving for a few minutes.
As for my own experience, I was exposed to religion as a child and identified strongly as Christian. I'm not anymore, though I'm not atheist either, and I think that many of the teachings of Christianity very much shaped my worldview. I am anti-materialistic, I trust that things work out in ways I may not understand but which are not necessarily bad, I believe strongly in social justice, turning the other cheek, generosity, gratitude, serving others, and surrender to what comes. I think these things make me happier and more "in touch" with the universe. But it's perfectly possible to learn and see the value in the same kind of worldview without having any religious reason for it.
I plan to teach my kids the same values, and I won't hide that I do believe in God (my husband doesn't) and that it shapes how I experience the world. But my husband has the same values as me anyway and holds them without an organized spirituality (he meditates, but not "religiously") so our kids will see that there are many options for what to believe about how the universe works, but hopefully also recognize the inherent value of things that many people tie to religion but which don't have to be.
ETA: So I guess that is to say, your kids probably are searching for meaning, but I think that's just the natural human condition, and it is not necessarily satisfied by religion (though it can be). I don't know anyone who isn't on that search! I think it's amazing how kids are such complete little humans, even down to existential searching!
Me and DH and sweet baby DD born 08/2011.
I think it has a lot more to do with personality than with spirituality. My oldest is a "wanter," and he's also always been the most interested in spirituality and religion. The fact that he is a wanter bugs me to no end, because I am just not like that. Whenever he starts in with "Mom, can I get...." it makes me feel like a failure as a parent. But then I look at his personality and I see that he just does not live inside his own head like I do. He lives in the world around him. And yet, he demonstrates a keen understanding of deep spiritual truths (from a Christian perspective), knows the Bible really well, pays attention in church, and wrote up his confession of faith of his own initiative at age 9. Some people just like "stuff" more than others.
As for your daughter and the pets, remember that children live in the moment and react emotionally to whatever is occurring at that instant. . When she says "I never get what I want," she is not capable of remembering that she actually just got 3 different pets that she wanted--because now she wants something else and she is experiencing the feeling of not getting it.
As far as a non-religious spiritual activity that you could encourage, I'd suggest time spent in the woods, the mountains, or at the beach. It sounds like you already live in a rural area, so that shouldn't be too hard. At some point she will look back on those times in nature and they will mean more to her than her memories of getting stuff, so her values will mature.
Kids that age are still very ego-centric. I wouldn't worry that she's learned something bad, but think of it more than she's at an age where it's time to start teaching her something better. Kids start out wanting everything, and we teach them when appropriate about gratitude, appreciation of the bounty we are lucky to have, etc. So I'd relax about where she is, and when teachable moments present themselves, talk about those kinds of things. Also, saying grace is a good ritual to develop some of those things. Saying grace isn't necessarily praying to a deity, it's just about speaking about our gratitude. So before dinner, we talk about how grateful we are to the farmers who worked to provide us with food, the animal whose flesh we eat if we're having meat that meal (we're omnivores), etc.
I don't care for limiting my child by a religious doctrine. I believe that although we all benefit from guidance at times, we all carry the keys and tools and desire to have a life alive with Spirit. Spirituality naturally seems to pour forth from the youthful ones. ( I am a youth facilitator at my Spiritual Center. NOT a teacher, because we emphasize that each of us carries the Truth within, the answers are within each of our youth. I have nothing to teach, just I help facilitate their individual unfoldment. )
So that said, I think the best things to do with our youth is to spend time daily to give thanks. And get creative with your thankfulness. If I forget at night, my son reminds me by asking, "What was your favorite part of the day?" We also brainstorm for nice things we can do for the things we are grateful for. We do rain dances, and make gifts for the trees, ect.
Another important thing is to simply listen. Let your young ones tell you tales of their dreams, and adore their individual expression of Beauty, Love and Joy! That is spirituality at its finest. If you'd like suggestions on books, or centers to check out that would support you, AND not infringe on your husband's beliefs!!!(we have athiests at our center!), let me know! I don't want to push my spirituality on another, but if you're intrigued, I'd love to share!
I also believe that religion does more harm than good (although that doesn't necessarily make me an atheist). I agree with pp that said that religion is not the only path to spirituality. Children, on the whole, have a very different kind of spirituality than adults and I don't think it's wise to impose adult spirituality onto children no matter what religion you are. At some point, probably closer to adolescence, people become curious about the spiritual practices of people around them and they will try things out for themselves and find what works for them regardless of what you do (as long as you are not overly-zealous or critical).
Religion can sometimes provide a structure for morality for children, but that's something that you can do yourself without religion. All you have to say is "this is right" and "this is wrong" and if it makes sense to them (i.e. it agrees with their interpretation of the world around them) they will internalize it. For the situation with your five year old just tell the truth, "Sometimes you can get what you want, sometimes you can not. Sometimes the things that you want may not be good for you, and sometimes it is not within our power to obtain these things anyway."
In any case, this is something that a lot of people (at any age) struggle with. I don't think it's really a bad thing though, people like that often grow to be the difference-makers, ones who affect changes that make life better. The few people I know who do not struggle with wanting things have a kind of contentment that is very envious but they pay the price in a high resistance to change and an inability to take risks.
That is just how five year olds are. They have short attention spans and go on to other things quickly. Spiritual/religious people still have materialistic tendencies. I don't remember learning anything about materialism in church beyond how good it is to give to the poor around the holidays, one church I went to did carry the theme to the rest of the year by having a weekly food drive with a different food theme each month.
Thanks for all the thoughts. I think we do need to think about gratitude more in our family - it's sort of the antidote to wanting stuff.
I like the idea that desire for things doesn't necessarily make one a materialistic person, but that this wanting can be channelled into positive work in one's life.
omMammaom, I'd love any suggestions about books or organizations that might help support our family. Thank you.
A habit of giving thanks can help with my 5 year old, and my modeling that outlook. If I talk about how happy I am I have what I have more than about what I wish I could have, it helps him do the same. Teach what you believe, give thanks to where you believe it all came from. Seriously, I grew up without spiritual guidance from my mother and almost wish it hadn't been that way...though I came to very different conclusions from her and when I did she resisted it pretty nastily anyway. But anyway short attention span and desire for more is part of the human condition that young kids show more honestly and freely than adults. Also wanting things that aren't good for them, lack of self control, self centeredness... just shows what we all have a bit of, in my opinion.