Before we had kids, neither my husband nor I felt the need to join a church or a synagogue. I'd been raised Jewish; Jamie, Episcopalian. Neither one of us was the least bit observant. We celebrated Passover with my family and Christmas with his, and that was about it.
But having children forced us to try to articulate what we really believe and what we want to teach our two daughters. It's not that I want us to become observant Jews, but I do want to incorporate some kind of spirituality into our life.
I'm not alone. No matter what they themselves believe, 90 percent of parents said they had talked to their children about God, according to a 1995 Gallup poll conducted for Parenting. And nearly half said that religion had become more important since they'd had children. But what kind of religious or spiritual life do parents really want?
For parents who are mulling over the issue, tending to family can be a good beginning. "Nurturing spirituality is really about loving one another," says Morgan Simone Daleo, author of Curriculum of Love: Cultivating the Spiritual Nature of Children. "In a family, you're putting love into action."
Well, yes, we love our kids. Yet many of us yearn for some practical and moral guidelines as well. "You want to pass on some survival techniques to your children," says Elizabeth Lesser, author of The New American Spirituality: A Seeker's Guide. "Not only, 'Don't cross the street,' but also, 'This is how you treat other people, and this is how you search for the truth.' "
For many parents, this search for guidelines makes them realize they need help, whether it comes from invoking a Biblical code of ethics or from setting up structured time to think about these issues. "If you make a study of world religions, they are similar in their moral codes," says Lesser. "It points to the fact that there are right ways to be a human being and wrong ways."
We do want our children to grow up to be good people. But, as Lesser suggests, we also want to be able to explain such mysteries as the gift of life, death, and evil. And while we're at it, we'd like our kids to appreciate the wonders of the world around them, even to have a sense of awe when contemplating the universe.
Of course, there are families like the Narrowes, of Fort Dix, NJ, for whom religion isn't an issue. "Raising our two kids Jewish is taken for granted," says mom Adrienne. "It's more the details we have to discuss—what type of Jewish school they'll go to, for instance."
Others, like the families profiled here, find they have to grapple with the issue. Though these families have different beliefs, their search—for a welcoming place to worship, for traditions that make sense to them—has been the same.
Harriet Brown is the author of the The Good-bye Window: A Year in the Life of a Daycare Center.