December 9, 2010

Have a Little Faith...?

Version 1.0 has her first Christmas concert next week. The preschool sent home a notice telling us that the kids would all be dressed as angels and would each carry an LED tealight and march in procession at the Catholic church. I felt uneasy with this.

First, we are not Catholic, nor are we committed to any particular faith or denomination. In fact, we do not subscribe to organised religion in any way. That's our choice, for better or worse. While I fully respect anyone's right to choose, I don't want my daughter or son indoctrinated in any direction until they are old enough to understand what they are hearing and can make informed choices one way or the other. I understand we are all influenced by the way we are brought up and can never be completely impartial, but this is the way we have chosen and that's just that (read: I'm not interested in a debate here around whether we should or should not be following any prescribed faith, so save that for somewhere else).

While the preschool is a Montessori, and Maria Montessori was Catholic and built Catholic teachings into her framework for education, it's at the discretion of the teacher as to how much is built into the curriculum  or the practices. Our particular school's teacher is indeed Catholic but does not introduce religion into the teachings, other than when she is explaining a Christian (or other) holiday, and to say thanks when they have snack. I have asked for Version 1.0 to be allowed to do something else when anything faith-based is introduced, and the school has been absolutely fine with that.

The point is, my daughter is not even three years old yet. Anything she hears, particularly in a structured environment such as her preschool, she takes as (mind the pun) gospel. She's not old enough to think critically about what she hears and make decisions about it. So, if she comes home praying and talking about Jesus, I'm going to have a hard time helping her unlearn that. Regardless of how you may feel about that, it is our choice not to have our children indoctrinated. This should be completely acceptable. She may choose later in life to adopt a faith and that is her prerogative. But I won't teach her something I don't believe in.

So, the Christmas concert. Yes, it's just Christmas carols and tealights and I am sure it's going to be really damned cute. But upon further investigation, I have learned there will be readings of scripture and some other activities lead by the church. I feel like a fraud staying to hear these words but I also don't want to rob my daughter of the experience to participate in these events. I just can't kick the uneasy feeling I have of total misalignment with what we believe.

I have had friends who have stated that they participated in faith-based activities when young and their own beliefs weren't affected, and I guess that is true, but isn't it kind of wrong to have one foot in each camp? Can I really show up at a church when I feel such discomfort with my daughter listening to all the things that are just not part of our own family culture when she's too young to understand the bigger picture? She's just old enough to absorb everything but the explanations may be too confusing for her if and when she asks.

Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Blowing up the issue? All I know is it's got my stomach in knots and I need someone to set me straight and suggest an approach. I guess it's all about allowing her to have experiences?


Tanya T said...

My first response was a mountain. But then I remembered that the things that put our stomachs in knots as mothers are sometimes unexplainable. I have a lot of them. They seem crazy to many I am sure. For example, I am afraid when my son is skating that he will fall and another kid will skate over his neck with their skates. I feel uneasy whenever I see him fall to the ice. I am afraid when he walks to the car he will suddenly bolt on to the road, which is quiet, but my imagination sees a car roaring down the road at the same time. Other things dont bother me so much. Swimming in the ocean. Going to the wave pool. Holding a tarantula. An airplane. So I say, after reading your post, and pondering it, that we as mothers have our things. And we work hard, so we are allowed to have our things. If this one ties your stomach in knots than its your mountain, and you are allowed.

Michael Coyle said...

Does she believe in Santa?

Children don't have trouble learning that Santa is a hoax perpetrated on them by a cabal of parents trying to control their behaviour (read: "good little girls and boys").

If you can unlearn Santa, you can unlearn Jesus -- just put good old J up there with Santa.

Sarah Schacht said...

I grew up going to both Catholic after-school stuff and went to evangelical youth group. I think the times those activities were most influential on me were when I was a teenager. As a little kid, I think I just saw these activities as "Oooh, this is what some people do this time of year. Dressing up as an angel was fun."

However, when a youth group starts the teenage years, peer-pressure driven abstinence and religious talks---that's a time a parent should really watch out.

That said, Version 1.0 is going to live in a world filled with people who have different faiths and religious traditions. As an adult, having experience and relationships with people of faith makes one a more tolerant and compassionate adult. You don't have to have a religious faith to have respect, or at least understanding, of those who have some kind of religious faith.

Maybe, instead of worrying about the influence of one faith-community experience, your family could enjoy different cultural events (some of which will be faith-tradition-tied events, such as Chinese new year, Dwalli, etc.) as a kind of field trip. As a kid, I loved going to the Greek Orthodox feast/fair thing every September (The dancing! the cookies! The craft booths!)---it didn't make me Greek Orthodox. Having insight and understanding of people from different faith communities is an incredibly valuable skill.

Version 1.0 could go to fun community events, and gets the clear message that there are lots of different faiths, and that it's a perfectly fine thing not to be in a religion at all.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with all the above. Sara, you're totally right about joining in on various religious holidays, and especially right about the age when religion becomes most influential.

I remember going to Sunday school and hearing all the stories, but it was when I was 10 that it got to me. I signed up to get myself baptized at 11. I started a youth group, because there wasn't one for kids my age. At 14, I pulled away. I don't remember what started it, but I remember feeling really mad that some people at my church thought they were better than others because they attended more often or sang in the choir. I have nothing to do with the Church now. In fact, my husband and I feel exactly the same as Steph.

Our difficulties are mostly with family now. My mom is the music director at her church. My cousin attends evening church, sunday church, and a bible study on thursdays. I don't want to leave our daughter with her as I'm a little concerned that she'll try to brainwash her. That said, she is my best friend, so it makes me feel SO guilty to admit that leaving my daughter with her is the knot in my stomach.

I've done a lot of thinking on this, and my conclusion was simply this: She lives with us. We are her primary influences. Our way of life is consistent. We teach her strong values of compassion, gratitude, thoughtfulness, honesty etc. When she becomes ready to start the "but why" stage, I'll answer all her questions honestly.

Steph, in the unlikely event that she comes home praying to jesus, ask her to tell you what she knows about this person. Then tell her that he is a character in a very old story - like peter pan, or buzz lightyear. He was a great character, and his story tells us a lot about how to be nice to others, but we don't pray to buzz lightyear.

Sheldon Kitzul said...

I think the deal is - we all have some kind of faith. We all believe in something - yeah, even those of us that are "atheists" or those without religion or whatever.

It sounds as if you already have some very strong beliefs and, since our children typically adopt the beliefs of their parents, you likely have little to worry about in her participation in the Christmas concert.

That said, I agree with in that the real worry is when they are teens and get involved in peer-driven, evangelical faith communities.

Post a Comment

Blog Template by Delicious Design Studio