The Search for Spirituality
Maybe it's the sheer miracle of becoming a mother or father. Maybe it's the love that's felt for a child. Whatever the impetus, many parents find themselves wondering how best to instill faith in their kids
SPIRITUALITY IN A NEW FAITH
Barbara Findlen, of Amherst, MA, and her partner, Kristen Golden, each left the Catholic church years before they had kids. But they felt it was important for Grace, 4, and Sam, 1, to grow up with a sense of spiritual identity. "We knew people who were raised without a religion, for whom that really felt like a loss," says Findlen. "Not only didn't they have a particular kind of spiritual guidance, but they didn't have the kind of affiliation their friends had.
"We wanted a structure to offer us a framework to explore spiritual issues with our kids," she says. Now when the family gives to charity or gives thanks at mealtimes, they have a context for doing this -- the Unitarian church they joined six months after Grace was born.
SPIRITUALITY THROUGH RITUALS
For many parents, a valuable way to incorporate faith into their family has been through celebrations, both big and small. "A sense of ritual can be the toe in the water, a way to start the process," says Mimi Doe, author of 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting: Nurturing Your Child's Soul. "People say things like, 'We don't know what to do with our kids so we're not doing anything.' But there are traditions you can do every day that nurture your family."
For instance, some families grow herbs or flowers in a window box or a corner of the backyard: The child chooses the seeds and says a short prayer as she plants them. Morgan Daleo also suggests making morning and evening blessing cards with your kids -- helping them draw a picture of the activities they most look forward to when they wake up and the things they're most thankful for at night.
You can also adapt well-known religious rites. For instance, one family knew they didn't want a baptism for their baby, but they did want to mark the occasion of her birth. So they devised a welcoming ceremony. They read passages from books, and they asked all the guests to bring an item for a time capsule -- a "gesture to her future" that their daughter could open on her tenth birthday.
Another way to incorporate rituals, says Doe, is to simply weave joyous events into your everyday life, which is what Asja and David Young, of Madison, WI, have done. The Youngs are now Quakers. Their son and daughter, ages 5 and 8, go with them each week to the meeting house. Since they want their kids to appreciate other religions, too, they've continued some traditions from each of their childhoods (she was raised Jewish; he, Episcopalian). "We celebrate everything," jokes Asja Young. "We observe Christmas and Easter in a nonreligious way, as well as Hanukkah and Passover."
No matter what the ritual is -- the expedition to cut down the family Christmas tree, say -- the Young kids are involved and engaged. "I think celebrations are very important to developing a child's sense of security," their mother says.
Even less momentous events can be infused with a sense of something larger. For instance, the Youngs always serve crepes on Sunday mornings. The kids insist on this and look forward to it as part of the weekly rhythm of their lives.
"Families often have these traditions and don't think they're spiritual," says Doe. "But such routines can enrich your child's soul by establishing a connection between her and the family." The key, she says, is developing some kind of vision: "If your family defines spirituality as a bond between all living things, then picking up litter together might become your ritual."
You don't even have to know all of the answers. "My 4-year-old just naturally believes in things. So I try to help her retain that magical way of looking at the world that I have learned from her," says Findlen. Doe agrees: "Teach less, listen more -- spirituality is about exploring the questions together."