Kids and Faith: Raising Children With - or Without - Religion

Respect is the common theme with this group of Moms as they raise their children with their own feelings about religion.

This week is Holy Week for Christians with Easter Sunday marking the end of Lent, the seven days of Passover started on April 19th at sundown for Jews, Buddhists will celebrate the Theravadin New Year, Jehovah’s Witnesses will celebrate the Lord’s Evening Meal on the 18th and Hindus celebrate Hanuman Jayanti that same day. And for others - it's simply school vacation week.

This week the Moms' Council is addressing the topic of religion. Our group includes Christians as well as Atheists.  While brainstorming for topics we learned from each other that it can sometimes be just as hard to raise children with faith as it is to explain why some families don’t – all while respecting differences.  Respect is key within this group of ladies as we learn and grow from each other. 

We welcome your input – let us know your thoughts in the comment section!

Tasha Schlake Festel
We are atheists. We are not agnostic. We are committed to our knowledge that there is no proof of god, higher power, Supreme Being, Heaven, afterlife or anything of the sort. We are as committed to that knowledge as we are to the fact there are no dragons, fairies, Easter Bunnies or reasonably priced 4-bedroom homes in top-notch school districts in Massachusetts. Such ideas can be comforting and sometimes unifying, but alas, unproven and therefore not within our beliefs.

It is estimated that between 4-9% of the US population does not believe in god. While that’s not a huge number, it’s not insignificant either. (In Canada, as many as 19-30% of the population classify themselves as atheists or non-believers.) Unfortunately, people in the United States are less likely to admit to being atheists due to social stigma and fear of retaliation, despite religious freedom guaranteed by the Constitution – including the freedom NOT to believe.

I have never worried all that much about religion. I was raised without it being a part of my life, as was my husband. We have both come to the same conclusion confidently and independently: it’s all about science. I choose to live my life by reason, not by faith. I don’t push my views on anyone and expect the same respect from others. I have a nice life, a good reputation and a strong moral compass. I have healthy relationships, a large social circle and live without guilt or regret. Religion has been largely irrelevant to me.

Then we had kids.

While my husband and I share the same religious beliefs, and have raised and will continue to raise our kids to be thinking beings, questioning what cannot be proven, our beliefs do not jive with most of the families of their friends. My kids are getting older and conversations can turn very deep (you know, for 5- and 7-year-olds) and sometimes include religion. In fact, just this week at the playground, my 5-year-old was in a heated debate with one of his buddies about god. My son simply said he thought it was a made up story and his friend was appalled and would not accept that as a position. I was proud that my boy stuck to his guns, even when his friend was screaming at him that he was wrong.

A few years ago, we went to a baptism. It was the first time my kids had ever been in a church. My then-5-year-old daughter’s first question was, “What’s that hairy half-naked guy doing on that “T” and why would you hang that up as a decoration?” Good questions, I thought! We did our best to answer them factually and non-judgmentally. It is our job as parents to teach our children about the world around them, guide them, and ultimately let them make their own decisions. Even when it comes to religion.

Now my daughter is in 1st grade and her friends are starting to go to CCD, their Sunday mornings are busy, and they go to church camp for a few weeks in the summer. She’s starting to feel left out. I tell her time and time again that we don’t do things we don’t believe in just to fit in with our friends. It’s important to adhere to your own beliefs and hope that your friends understand and don’t judge you, just as we don’t judge them. (This message obviously goes far beyond this particular issue!)

The way I explain it, she has friends that aren’t in Girl Scouts, don’t play basketball and don’t go to the same elementary school. And they’re still friends even with those differences. She seems to respect and understand that. Unfortunately, she has learned that it’s easier not to tell people that she doesn’t believe in god, even at age 7, than it is to defend her beliefs to children that don’t generally respect her opinion and vehemently tell her that she is wrong and going to hell. (Yes, seriously. Amusingly though, that threat doesn’t hold much water with a kid who thinks Hell is just as made up as Dragon Land.) I’m saddened to see that while I teach my kids tolerance and understanding, kids around us with religious upbringings don’t always have that same consideration. I’m sure they are not taught intolerance, but it does not seem that they are told others may have different religious views.

We have explained to our kids that different people believe in different religions but neither of us believes in god. While I hope that when they are older they believe the same as my husband and I do, they will decide for themselves what they believe. I think it is unfair for parents to impose religious or non-religious views on children. We can introduce them to our way of thinking and answer their questions. We can guide them and give them a strong basis for making a decision, teaching them to use reason and logic and to trust the workings of their own independent minds and the evidence of the world around them. But they are their own thinking beings and need to come to their own conclusions. We have told them that science and reason can explain what religion was created to explain, that morals/ethics are not tied to religion, and that people who do not believe in god are good – or bad – just as those who do believe in god are good or bad. Only time will tell what my children will believe when they are old enough to make that decision based on their own opinions, research and experiences.

Most importantly, we teach tolerance and respect. I hope the religious community around us will do the same.

Laurie Hunt
I was raised Catholic and have had my share of ups and downs with my personal feelings about my faith.  I can honestly say that as I got older I realized when the going got tough I always turned to my faith and it was my faith that got me through. I think this is what made me realize I should be just as committed to my faith when the going was good too.  I also think this is why one of my favorite poems is Footprints.

When it comes to my children I feel the more they are exposed to the better when it comes to faith.  I want them to know, to feel, to understand and believe in it.  I feel it is my responsibility to model good behavior, guide them and teach them the way I know and when they are adults I want them to choose what feels right to them and I will support them.  I respectfully don’t understand the mentality that a child can choose their own path towards a religion as an adult without any teachings at all as a child.

One of my daughters goes to Catholic School; the other attends CCD and sings in our church choir.  I volunteer in the CCD program at my church and do my best to get to Mass each week but it doesn’t always happen.  I also don’t agree with each and every aspect of my religion.  I am not perfect.  I respect those who do not have faith and respect those of different faiths the same way I respect people with other differences.  I know families who are Christian but do not attend the Catholic Church, families who are Jewish, families of mixed faiths as well as a family who are Jehovah’s Witnesses.  What do they all have in common?  They are all good people.  This is also what I point out to my children because that is what really matters to me.

I have a great deal of frustration with those who choose to mock those with faith and/or attempt to change traditions of different faiths.  I have seen this done even by friends… I don’t think they mean any harm but that doesn’t change the fact that my traditions are important to me, they are not silly to me and some of these same people are very vocal about not wanting their traditions, or lack thereof, ridiculed so I ask, please, for that same respect in return.

As a Catholic I see a lot of attempts to change/rename our traditions and it bothers me a great deal.  A Christmas Tree is not a holiday tree, as we approach December 25th there is nothing wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”, and the latest I heard was a school choosing to re-name Easter Eggs “Spring Spheres."  While reading online discussions about the story I read some that stated that Easter Eggs are either Pagen in tradition as well as being commercial.  While I won’t debate the first group to use eggs as a symbol I do know Christians, for centuries, have used eggs as a symbol of resurrection as they contain a new life inside while dormant.  Additionally rolling eggs is more than just a game – it is symbolic of the rolling away of the rock from the tomb of Jesus Christ before his resurrection.  Easter eggs are dyed red representing the blood of Christ in Orthodox Churches.  The hard shell of an egg represents the sealed tomb of Christ and the cracking symbolizes his resurrection from the dead. I don’t want that taken away from my faith anymore than I would like to see someone call a Menorah a magic candle holder.

Our children are taught about Kwanza, Hanukah songs, how to play with a Dreidel and what a Menorah is so why can’t we also have a Christmas Tree and Easter Eggs?!  Teach it all but don’t go changing traditions under the guise of political correctness thankyouverymuch. 

Holly DeSouza
Someone recently asked me if Easter was only about the Easter bunny and a big meal.  As far as I am concerned for my daughter, for the time being it is. 

I grew up in a very religious home.  I had a believer baptism when I was seven, went to Sunday School, stayed for the Sunday Morning service, went to the Sunday evening church service, went to Wednesday night bible study and participated in Youth Group.  I was only allowed to date boys of the same faith.  It was a “fire and brimstone” mentality where you either believed in all the same beliefs or you agreed you would burn in hell for an eternity.  I was scared into submission and never actually took a step back and tried to figure out what, exactly, I believed and felt was the truth.  And because of that, as an adult with a family of my own, I have no idea what to believe.  I have utmost respect for those who have extreme faith and believe in whichever version of religion they believe in.  I am just not one of them. 

It’s because of my religious history I am adamant my daughter will not be swayed in any one direction.  There is no shortage of churches in Wakefield.  No matter which bucket you put yourself into, Christian or not, you can find a place to worship and have your questions answered by someone educated in that faith to do so.   When my daughter starts asking questions, I will make certain to find her the appropriate person qualified to answer her question and get her the answer she needs.    My hope for my daughter is she will discover her own religious path in her own time and follow what she believes as true.  And, unless Jim Jones’ followers are making a comeback, I will support her decision. 

So, for the time being, Easter will be about the family getting together to take a moment and enjoy a great meal, relax, find some plastic eggs filled with junk and eat a lot of chocolate.  Chocolate, that is, which is shaped like a bunny. 

Regina Martine
My husband and I were both raised Catholic, although he was more of a “believer” than I ever was. I went to church and CCD and completed the sacraments, but it never really meant anything to me personally. I know that religion provides a sense of community and comfort for a lot of people, but I have never felt like that was missing from my life, I just find it in other ways. As adults, we have both walked away from organized religion. I wouldn’t call myself an Atheist (although my husband calls himself one) but what I believe doesn’t really conform to any one religion. 

Right before we had kids we had a big discussion about whether or not we would have our babies baptized. At the time, my husband had a deep sense of guilt-induced dread at the idea of not baptizing our children, but he felt a little hypocritical about it since we have never gone to church for anything other than a wedding or a funeral. I didn’t really want to, but I was ok with doing it if the alternative was my husband worrying about the fate of their souls for the rest of our lives. To me, it was just another church ritual that symbolized something I didn’t believe in. The more I thought about it, the more I understood that many of the ideals the church stands for conflict with my own beliefs. It doesn’t make sense to me to pick and choose the “good parts” of religion and pretend the undesirable parts aren’t there. 

It seems to me that a lot of people (at least those who were raised Catholic) raise their own kids with these rituals because they want their kids to have some kind of religious instruction and go with what they know, and what their families expect them to do. I have talked to many people who feel that they don’t even agree with most of what the church stands for, but do it anyway. In the end, we decided not to have them baptized when it became obvious to us that we would be doing it to fulfill the expectations of other people instead of being true to what we believed and how we intended to raise our children.

Now it is ten years later and I feel that we are raising our children to be kind, respectful, and ethical people, but not religious ones. They understand that there are many different religions in the world and that everyone has their own traditions, beliefs, and interpretations of the “meaning of life.” I personally think that religion tries to answer the questions that science cannot, but I don’t feel that any one religion is better or “righter” than any other. I want my children to be aware of other religions, and curious about different opinions but not feel like they have to conform to any one prescribed set of beliefs. So far, it seems to be working out just fine. I want them to appreciate the differences and more importantly, the similarities between people of different cultures and religions. They will believe what they want and what makes the most sense to them, but I can’t tell them what—if any—religion that will be.

Peggy Barresi
Officially Catholic, I belong to the first generation in my family to receive very little religious guidance or instruction. My grandfather had been an altar boy, his sister an almost-nun, and both my mother and aunt attended Catholic schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade. By the time I came along, Catholic fatigue had set in.  There was a half-hearted attempt to make sure I wouldn’t completely burn in hell so I was baptized and made my first communion. When I asked a nun how there could have been an Adam and Eve as well as Darwin’s theory of evolution, my CCD career ended. I was in second grade.

Religion became something strange, foreign, and somewhat frightening. As with many things we don’t understand, I would make fun of those who believed too much. At the same time, I felt I was missing out on something. While I was taught good values, to be a kind and generous person, I know I could have benefited from more structured guidelines and from having a strong sense of faith as I navigated my teen and early adult years.

My husband comes from a devout Catholic family. When we married, I became confirmed in the Catholic faith, and looked forward to raising my children within a solid religious structure. As a modern woman and mother of two girls, however, it is difficult to support many of my Church’s tenets. I believe priests should be able to marry, women should be allowed to be priests, divorce is not a sin, gay marriage should be legal, and pedophiles should be swiftly and harshly punished. I believe a woman’s body is her own and that contraception is a good thing. So I am what you call a “Cafeteria Catholic.” I take what makes sense to me and leave the rest on the buffet line. So do my children.

Many would not consider me a Catholic at all. And, perhaps if my husband were not as devout, we would switch to a different type of church. But a church it would be. I want my family to live with faith, be part of a strong and loving community, strive to do good for the world, and have a touchstone to lean upon when times are tough. If I’ve done that for my children, regardless of how they choose to worship as adults, I will have succeeded.

Michele April 22, 2011 at 10:38 AM
I will try give my story in the briefest manner possible. I was brought up Catholic, not Bible thumping but we went to Mass on Sunday, I made my Sacraments and after Confirmation (9th grade) going to church was not required. As a teen and young adult I became a skeptic, and after losing a dear friend in college I became angry at a God that would allow such pain in good peoples lives. "Why" was a big question, and then of course the pedophile scandle was my final excuse to avoid my religion altogether. When I gave birth to my daughter she was in the neo-natal intensive care ward after delivery and I recieved a visit from a nun and she prayed with me for Alicia. This moved me to tears and I was very surprised by my reaction. It was after this that I started researching and learning about the Bible, Jesus, and God. I have read many books on the subject, watched many shows on TV (history channel mostly) and have had many lengthly discussions with friends weighing in on the "facts" It wasn't quick, and I still had many times where I was angry or disapointed and questioned God and religion, but I have now come to peace with my decision to have faith that there is life in Heaven after death, that while there is suffering there is still hope, that Jesus in my savior and I want him in my life. There is not enough room in this comment section to give details, but I can assure you that I have had several situations in which I feel that God was listening, and has answered.
Michele April 22, 2011 at 10:56 AM
OK, ran out of room so I"ll finish in a second section. I also want to point out that because I did my own research, I do not blindly follow the Catholic religion with no questions asked. There are some issues that I disagree with, and in my mind I believe that it is not my position to judge, therefore I live and let live. However, since I have opened my heart and mind to God, and started to attend Mass on a regular basis (approx. 5 yrs ago) I have become a much better person, wife, mother and daughter. I am fulfilled, peaceful, less judgemental, and happy, and you may call in a coincidence, but my life is better now than it has ever been. There is always something said during Mass that I can identify with and use in my daily life. Many of my prayers have been answered, and I encourage my children to open their hearts and listen as I have. My children attend Mass, and while I'm not a bible thumper we do enjoy Mass as a family and our faith is part of our lives. I do not believe to find comfort, as some might think, on the contrary, I find comfort BECAUSE I believe.
Laurie Hunt April 22, 2011 at 02:42 PM
Michele your thoughts really moved me, thank you for sharing. I can completely understand how you feel like a better person since deciding that you really want Jesus in your life. My relationship with Him is so much different and more powerful now than it ever was.
Danny Haszard April 25, 2011 at 05:58 AM
Often when in critical need of an emergency *whole* blood transfusion the Watchtowe Elders and Hospital Liaison committee members will 'strongly encourage' patients to hold on to their faith in Jehovah and stick to JW no blood doctrine trusting in Jehovah to raise them from the dead. Acts 15:29 'abstain from blood' is a biblical passage taken out of context and that every Jehovah's Witnesses is phobic indoctrinated with. So,....when they go into ER for themselves or their Kids and are in need of EMERGENCY BLOOD from critical loss of blood volume.....they are brainwashed "ABSTAIN FROM BLOOD" and in all the heat of the moment and trauma they don't think of all the fine print of Watchtower legal subterfuges that ALLOW them to take just about every aspect of blood and they reject all the help.... because they are so confused and end up dying. Are you confused too? So,why are there Watchtower directives that let a JW take cows blood (Hemopure) and platelets and other fractions on and on and on...? So,when their kid dies and the parents find out that it was unnecessary the Watchtower legal can show them the rulebook in court and squirm out of wrongful death lawsuits
Laurie Hunt April 08, 2012 at 12:32 AM
Commenting to bump up this article from last year as we approach Easter 2012.


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