A fellow Mommy Blogger at This Work Stinks recently wrote a post that made me question how I'm raising my children, in particular in regards to their faith. This mom is helping her children remember what God wants them to be, "take off the old self and put on the new."* If they misbehave she asks them if that was loving and what God wanted them to do. (I am majorly paraphrasing and probably mangling what was a great post - Sorry Mom In The Trench!). I love this idea and wish it was the way I raise my children, but I have a question for her or anyone else out there with an opinion (you know who you are!).
First some background:
When I was a child growing up in the "bible belt," religious doctrine was thrust upon me by my dad and grandmother. I was also taught that it was all or nothing and I must believe exactly what my fundamental Southern Baptist Grandmother said was right or I was going to hell. I was not allowed to question anything or even be undecided.
(I want to clarify that my mom, aka Grandma, was not a part of this. She lived her faith quietly and we did not really talk about it. She took us to church, but allowed us to make up our own minds.)
My family hammered at me constantly to believe exactly the "right" way until finally my stubborn, contrary (after years of hearing that stupid nursery rhyme I figure being contrary was inevitable) nature kicked in and I shut down all communication on the subject by telling them I was an atheist. I had made up my mind. As you can imagine this was not a popular statement, but it was definitely easier than listening to lecture after lecture designed to force me to accept by rote their beliefs. I just would no longer listen to them on the subject. Obviously this was more about religion than faith, but I felt unable to disentangle the two.
My grandmother lamented and tried to talk my favorite cousin into swaying me away from "the dark side." She drove my dad nuts doing the same thing. Kudos to them for only having one or two discussions and letting it go. Of course Dad's "discussion" was to tell me the story of a man who was dying and went to each of his sons to tell them he loved them and would see him again on the other side, except his last son who didn't believe in God, to whom the dad said, "Goodbye." Subtle Dad.
Hubby and I got married (almost 16 years ago!) in my mom's church, but neither one of us was particularly religious. I just wanted a church wedding with a real "non-tacky" wedding dress! *grin*
About 5 years ago I started feeling that something was missing and I wanted to try again with God. It was very hard. I wanted that "child-like faith" to build on, and felt like I was trying to force myself to love someone. Kind of like if someone told you that not only did you have to believe in Santa Claus again, but you had to LOVE him. Belief in someone you've been told doesn't exist, with the beliefs of others being a conflicting, often antagonistic, mess is not exactly easy. At the same time though, I craved the "magical thinking" there's someone out there who can fix everything if you believe hard enough. That loves you unconditionally.
Someone once told me that a woman's relationship with God often mimics her relationship with her father. Well, as I mentioned before, I'm pretty sure I had an attachment disorder and I didn't trust my dad or any man.
I didn't have a lot of faith in anyone and God seemed less than useless in that he couldn't even give me direct support or advice (at least I didn't think so). I had never felt what I had heard others with extremely strong faith talking about, that "knowing" that God was there and cared about them and was involved in their lives. Deep down I thought God may have existed once, may still exist, but certainly didn't get involved anymore. I needed to stick my fingers in the holes in His hands, but He wasn't there in front of me.
Some of this was pride too. I didn't want to be caught believing in something that didn't really exist. Some of it was fear. What if I don't believe, and he really exists and I've just condemned myself. And some was just convoluted. If I'm believing just so I won't go to hell, does that count? How do I know I'm believing because I really believe or just because I want to, or am I just covering my bets in case it is true....
I read The Case for Faith, and it helped me answer a lot of my questions and resolve some religious points that seemed mutually exclusive. It also led me to some other books like Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis that helped me to decide it was best to "Fake It Until You Make It" in regards to having faith and believing in God. After all, what did it really hurt? This eventually became a major philosophy in my life, but more on that later.
When we decided to adopt it was more of a coicidence that the adoption agency was a Christian one and then we were presented with a dilemna. The agency required a reference from our family pastor. By a sad coincidence the pastor who married Hubby and I to each other had recently passed away, so we used that as an excuse for not using him as a reference and got a reference from a long time friend who talked more about our Christian values than our beliefs.
We did start attending a church though.
Over the years my faith has slowly grown and become less "fake it" and more "make it." Not coincidentally this is how my trust and faith in Hubby grew too, and was my philosophy with the adopted kids as well. I strongly agree with Katharine Leslie (a noted author on RAD) that no matter how much we would like to pretend it could happen, no one instantly falls in love with an older child. Infant features have a built in biological imperative that we love and protect them, but once they out grow that... there are no short cuts.
RAD kids work hard at proving themselves unloveable so it's no surprise that it is hard work. Older kids know you won't instantly love them when you've never even met them before (and they believe they are unloveable), therefore if we tell them we love them, not only are we are lying to them, but they know it.
And we're back!
My concern is that my children have very little faith (equal to the amount of trust they have) and I worry that if I push the concept of God on them, especially in terms that could be taken as implied criticism (would God like that?), that they will push away from God like they push away from me.
On the other hand, my kids don't learn by observation or role models, they have to learn kinetically (learning by doing) so maybe I need to do more in this area. I tend to be fairly quiet about my faith, because I'm just now starting to feel like I'm no longer a "newbie." Should I be living loud with my faith?
I don't encourage or discourage my kids' steps in the direction of faith. When Bear wanted to get baptised and Kitty followed along, I was happy, but didn't really believe much would come from it. Now, two years later, the three older kids are being confirmed (learning more about the church and committing to it). They are very gung ho, but I'm realistic enough to know that some of that is hanging around with other kids.
There are some things I do without giving my reasons unless asked: I don't allow PG-13 movies (or worse), even for my 16 year old. The kids and I only listen to Christian music (well, the kids are supposed to only listen to it). I'm a firm believer in "garbage in, garbage out."** (which is a great song by the way! You can listen to it here. Also, Slow Fade - be careful little ears what you hear!). The kids go to Sunday School every Sunday.
For a long time I made a committment to start attending Sunday School regularly too (church is hard for me - I get more from Sunday School), but one day Hubby told me he felt uncomfortable with me sharing in class, and all I'd said was please pray for our family - no details regarding why. (It's not a secret though - I'm just as open in real life as I am here!).
Hubby is a very private person, and he would probably hate this blog if he ever read it (he certainly can read it, but chooses not to). He knows I'm very open, but I think he prefers to live in denial. Me saying something in Sunday School meant he couldn't ignore it.
I stopped wanting to go to church, because I'm not good at censoring myself and one big reason I went was for the support and affirmation. Hubby didn't care either way. So now we sleep in on Sundays (we can certainly use the extra sleep). The kids spend almost every Saturday night at Grandma's (we really are amazingly blessed!) so they go to Sunday School with her.
So am I sending the wrong message to my kids? Should I be more blatant about my faith? Should I talk about what God wants them to do? I want my children to have faith, but I don't have very strong role models in how to give that to them. Especially Bear and Kitty. Am I doing enough, too much? WWJD?
*(Col 3:9-10) Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
**Philipians 4:8 — “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
***"Train up a child in the way he should go:And when he is old, he will not depart from it."Proverbs 22:6 King James Version