When my daughter came home from preschool a few months ago and reminded us we had to pray before eating dinner, my husband and I gave each other the, “what the hell do we do?” look. We aren’t really big on religion in our home. I mean, we can really only be found in the church hall during holidays or for dedications and baptisms. Though our own relationships with religion have been complicated, my partner and I are committed to raising our daughters with religion. Beyond that, we're also teaching our children to pray to God.
As parents, it’s not that we are indifferent to religion – it’s just that we both view religion differently and agreed to raise interfaith children. My husband was raised both Catholic and Jewish, depending on which parent had custody of him that weekend. Being that “Jew-lic” (what he calls it) isn’t an established religion, he now considers himself agnostic. I consider myself Christian, but my history with religion has tainted my view on conforming to established rules and beliefs wholeheartedly.I believe so strongly in a women’s right to choose that it’s hard for me to attend a church that does not support the act or the right to have an abortion. Growing up, every time I thought I was headed on the right spiritual course, something threw me off. All this has taught me that I want something different for my daughters.
With Catholicism, I never felt connected to the sermons and I didn’t really enjoy them, so when I wasn’t allowed inside a more traditional congregation because I was wearing a sundress with a light sweater and sandals, I was done. A church member volunteering to welcome visitors at the church doors explained to me that not only was I disrespecting God, but he would’ve also disapproved of my attire. Now the only time I attend mass is during baptisms or for wakes.
I want my daughter to know that faith and religion are, ultimately, a personal choice, and it’s really important that she learns this lesson as early on in her religious career as possible.
Christianity and I fared well for some time until a pastor at the congregation I was attending focused an entire sermon on abortions and why they were a sin. I wasn’t even sexually active when this happened, but the way he pushed his pro-life beliefs on the entire congregation was unsettling to me. I remember feeling upset and confused, even though it didn’t exactly apply to me at the time. Not only was the guideline delivered by a man who will likely never be asked to carry, birth, and care for a child they are not ready for or do not want, but it was also given by someone so passionate about this message that he requested the middle school- and high school-aged young adults stay for the service instead of attending our usual Sunday School classes. If I was learning about abortions or sex for this first time, which, thankfully, I wasn’t, this sermon would’ve scared the hell out of me. And I left the room when he projected a picture of a fetus on the screen.
I jumped from congregation to congregation after sitting in on sermons at Baptist, Orthodox, and Episcopal ministries, eventually finding a contemporary Christian congregation that shares the majority of my beliefs. Although I was baptized in the Catholic church, I’ve never considered myself Catholic, and the switch to Christianity was simple: no required classes or baptism. I just attend. The sermons reflect my values as a woman and a mother. And most importantly, I can communicate directly to God, which is what I appreciate the most.
As parents, we know our children will eventually need to decide for themselves what religion means to them and what aspects of religion they want to practice, if any. Perhaps they’ll want to talk to a priest or directly to God. Maybe they’ll choose to practice Shabbat or not practice any religion at all. Our main goal is to teach them tolerance – and we plan to do so by being open to their religious exploration. We want them to respect everyone's beliefs and ways of life. We want them to be mindful of others and accepting of various religions. And we also want our 3 year old, who comes home from her private Episcopal pre-school with questions about God and requests to pray, that she can do so without judgment.
As I learned no one is invincible to death or harm, I'd pray to God to keep me safe. I’d pray and ask for direction during really difficult situations when no one had the right answer. Praying helped me get through confusing, frustrating, stressful, difficult, and disappointing times. As an adult, I prayed throughout my pregnancy and during labor. Now, I pray for my children.
Although we didn’t plan to enroll her in a religious-affiliated school, we soon realized the majority of the top rated pre-schools in our area were religious-based institutions. The school she’s currently attending teaches the basic Bible stories and principles my husband and I agree on — learning to be nice, accepting, patience, and other manners similar manners — and we also have the choice whether or not to let her attend chapel once a week. To be honest, that choice is what helped sell me on the school, along with the understanding that she’ll only be taught the very beginnings of the Bible. I want my daughter to know that faith and religion are, ultimately, a personal choice, and it’s really important that she learns this lesson as early on in her religious career as possible.
At chapel, the children learn to pray for their food and sing praise songs. So we let our daughter attend. She’s learning that Jesus watches over her and she’s giving thanks for that, and I think that's a valuable lesson.
I want my girls to feel safe and to find comfort during difficult situations, because that’s what prayer has always done for me: made me feel protected, like someone was listening to me and taking my feelings and situation into consideration.
Although I don’t have a stance on whether being religious is good or bad, and still have more questions than answers when it comes to a higher power and creator, these personal circumstances don’t impact my views on praying with my daughter. I pray all the time. I want my daughters to, too. It’s comforting and provides me peace of mind, and it makes me so happy when my little girl comes to me with a request to pray. I know doing so comforts her and that it’s become part of an important routine for her. And that’s exactly why I’m teaching my girls to pray.
Praying has always been a daily act for me. When I was younger, my godmother taught me how to pray – just simple prayers like sharing what I was thankful for and asking Jesus to watch over my family. It gave me a sense of peace knowing I could transfer my worries over to someone else, someone who was equipped to handle these situations. And it quickly became part of my morning routine: my mom drove me to school and I’d quietly pray for God to watch over us both. At night, I prayed for the same. Later, as I learned no one is invincible to death or harm, I'd pray to God to keep me safe. I’d pray and ask for direction during really difficult situations when no one had the right answer. Praying helped me get through confusing, frustrating, stressful, difficult, and disappointing times. As an adult, I prayed throughout my pregnancy and during labor. Now, I pray for my children.
When she requests a special prayer at bedtime, I always say yes because I understand what praying offers her.
I always pray. Especially when bad things I don’t understand happen, like when 20 children at Sandy Hook were killed by an armed gunman or when a local 4 year old died after a relative in the driveway of her house accidentally ran him over. Confusing and angering events like these are when I really, really want to believe in God. So I close my eyes, put my hands together, and ask for answers.
I want my girls to feel safe and to find comfort during difficult situations, because that’s what prayer has always done for me: made me feel protected, like someone was listening to me and taking my feelings and situation into consideration. It’s also helped me rein in my emotions when I was on the verge of losing it — just the act of praying has always been calming for me. I pray for my daughters every morning and night. I pray for strength and guidance for myself during really hard days, and I ask for forgiveness on those days when I need to forgive myself for my most human mistakes.
My relationship with God isn’t easy, and I’m not positive it ever will be, but the act of talking to him in my own way, in my own voice, and on my own terms is effortless. That’s what I want for my girls: an effortless rapport with God or a higher power with whom they feel safe confiding in and asking for help when they need it. I can’t be with my daughters 24 hours a day to quell their fears or help them out of difficult situations. For this reason alone, I want them to have a mechanism for dealing with daily activities. A few weeks ago my 3 year old admitted she was scared to close her eyes at bedtime because Ursula from The Little Mermaid could interrupt her dreams, leaving unlimited possibilities for a night full of nightmares.
Well, then we have to pray to Jesus to ask him to make sure Ursula stays out of your dreams, I explained. So, we did. Following my lead, she closed her eyes and talked to the God she’s been learning about during Chapel at school. Dear God, please watch over Brynna while she sleeps and keep that mean Ursula out of her dreams, I said out loud. If Ursula does show up, please give Brynna the courage to tell that sea witch to leave her dreams right away. Thank you for always watching over Brynna, amen. Then she went to bed. No fights, or tears, or questioning, just sleep.
When she asks us to pray before dinner to give thanks, we comply. When she asks to “talk” to God before bed and asks me to help her pray, I do it. When she requests a special prayer at bedtime, I always say yes because I understand what praying offers her: comfort. And I pray that prayer continues to offer her the comfort I’ve found, regardless of the religion she ultimately chooses.