God and Family: Raising Kids Without Religion
~By Marie Zullo, Imperfect Mommy
Every now and then, I worry that I am somehow depriving my children by not taking them to church or participating in any organized religion. Are they missing out because my family does not follow a particular belief system? The Powers That Be may see things differently, but I ultimately don’t think my husband and I are making the wrong decision, at least not for our family.
My husband and I were both raised in Catholic homes. Mine was a little more Catholic than his, with church attendance every Sunday, not just on religious holidays, and catechism classes from kindergarten through junior high school. My mother’s religion was an important part of our traditions and celebrations. It set the tone for Sundays, when we attended morning church services followed by a breakfast of pastries and bagels. The Sunday afternoon dinner always started with a prayer and a reminder to behave because it was a holy day. We ate together as a family; no one ever had cheering practice or homework or chores that day.
Sometimes, when I drive past a church on Sunday morning and see the families together, entering their chosen place of worship, I feel a twinge of guilt for not sharing this ritual from my childhood with my children. But then I realize that is exactly what it was for me, a ritual – not a belief.
When I was a child, I tried so hard to believe what I was taught about God and Jesus and their place in my world. No matter how hard I tried, though, I never felt it. I never felt the certainty that others seemed to. I could not believe just because I was told to. I needed to feel it. For me, that has never changed. I have tried many churches – Catholic, Baptist, Congregationalist, Unitarian, and Unity. I have explored other faiths, including Judaism, Buddhism, and Bha’i. I have even wondered if I am an atheist.
For me, there have been no firm answers, no one direction or way of thinking that I can embrace completely. I envy the clarity of the faithful and the atheist alike. They are sure of where they stand. They are certain that what they believe is the truth, while I am riddled with doubt.
With so much doubt about my own beliefs, I don’t feel I have the right to impose any on my children. Although I have exposed them to the Bible and the concepts of God and Jesus, I talk to them about other beliefs too. We focus on doing the right thing because it is right – not because it will please God. When my kids asked what their friend meant when he said, “We don’t believe in God at our house,” I told them people believe many different things about God. Since no one seems to have a definitive answer, we should respect all beliefs.
The only thing I do know is that no matter whether you practice your beliefs or whether you have no beliefs at all, religion (or its absence) is a central part of who you are and what you do in life. Because of that, I believe religious belief should be organic to the individual, not something you do out of habit or tradition or ritual. I want to teach my children about the different faiths of the world, and when they are old enough, I want them to choose for themselves. I want them to follow what they feel in their own hearts and minds without ever feeling that they have somehow betrayed me or my belief system.
Until that time, I will continue to teach them what I do believe in, what I feel to be true. I will teach them the difference between right and wrong and their responsibility for the choices they make. I will teach them to treat all people with respect, which starts by respecting yourself. I will share my strong convictions about education, reading, and exploring the world for all of its beauty and wonder. Such convictions may not carry all the pageantry and ceremony of a religious service, but I think they will be a good place to start until they choose their own path.
Marie Zullo is a mother of two and half of the smart, insightful blogging duo known as Imperfect Mommy.