Tracyâ€™s four-year-old, Avery, at her baptism celebration.
I’m not religious. I was christened Presbyterian as a baby, but I wasn’t raised with religion in a formal way. We went to my grandma’s church on special occasions, and there was a time when I was a preteen that we went to church semi-regularly. But that’s about it.
I can’t say that I’ve ever felt religion is missing in my life. At the same time, I find it kind of fascinating. I love that people have such great faith in something so intangible. Yes, people will say that all the problems in the world are caused by religion, but faith in a higher power also gives people a lot of comfort, along with a sense of direction and purpose and community that they may not otherwise have. The idea that someone has placed you here for a reason, and is watching out for you, has a nice glow to it — even if it’s not my belief.
While I’ve always felt at peace with my spiritual self, even after having kids, when it came time to enroll Anna in kindergarten, I was faced with a conundrum: We have both a Catholic and a public school in walking distance from our house, but the public school has a not-so-great reputation. The Catholic school, however, is revered in every way. Though Sean is not practising, he was baptized Catholic, which gave us a “free pass” to enroll our children there. But I wasn’t sure if we should.
In fact, the whole idea made me a little anxious. I have some serious issues with some of the beliefs of the Catholic religion. I don’t believe that there’s only one right thing to believe, or one way to live your life well. Was I sending my children the wrong message — not to mention being a hypocrite — by signing them up to be schooled in this environment? So I talked to a couple of friends who have kids in Catholic school to voice my concerns and get their different perspectives. Said one: “Really, what are they teaching besides the importance of being a good person and giving the kids lots of reminders of how to put that into action?”
That helped. What also helped was reminding myself that introducing Catholicism to my children didn’t negate my influence on them. I’m still going to be here, sharing my beliefs, supporting theirs, and discussing what they’re learning. And that might be the best strategy of all for raising the kind of thinkers I’d like to raise. Most people I know aren’t raising their kids with religion — many of them say that their children can choose what they want to believe when they’re older. But I don’t think kids will seek out religion if we don’t somehow introduce it to them. And my kids weren’t going to get that from me. So, I started to get comfortable with the idea of the girls getting a foundation in religion that I’ve never had. Then, I truly believe they’ll have the tools they need to make their own spiritual choices as they get older.
Anna’s now in her second year at this school, and I know I’ve made the right decision. I see evidence of the school’s investment in the kids’ “body, mind and spirit” rather than only focusing on academics. At home, it’s opening up lots of interesting conversations that make us all think a little more, and encouraging Sean and I to educate ourselves to support what Anna is learning — even do our own soul-searching. I’m trying to implement bedtime prayers and we’re supposed to be going to church on Sundays. We’re trying!
I was worried about having to be vague with Anna about my own spiritual beliefs for fear of confusing her. As it turns out, the exact opposite is true. We were talking about telling the truth one night and, out of the blue, Anna asked me for the first time if I believed in God. I found that it was very easy to be honest about it. “I really don’t know,” I told her. “I believe in God,” she said quickly. “Why?” I asked. “I just do,” she replied. I told her I thought that was great and that I loved talking to her about it. She liked that.
This was a very long preamble to discussing baptism. Once I got comfortable with the school, I realized we probably should have the kids baptized. It’s not required, but next year there will be a big focus on First Communion for Anna’s class, and she must be baptized in order to participate. And, after all, our kids are going to Catholic school — what’s the point of only doing it partway?
Unfortunately, because Anna is six there was no “free pass” to baptism. She is required to take two-hour classes every other Saturday for six months before they will baptize her. Surprisingly (thankfully), Anna loves the classes. Who knew?
Because Avery’s just four, she was able to be baptized without taking any extra steps. And this weekend, we stood at the front of the church with 10 other babies and made it official. (She was not impressed with the water on her head!) Avery’s not yet at Anna’s school and therefore not getting the same immersion into religion as Anna, but she will, and she’s starting to absorb some of it now.
So, while my technical reason for getting my children baptized is so they can fully participate at school, my hope is that what they learn will give them comfort and strength and direction in their lives, and equip them with the knowledge to make their own informed decisions about their spirituality as they grow older. At the very least, what can it hurt?
Are you raising your kids with religion? I’d love to hear your story and any advice.