Thoughts about Religion as a Multicultural Mama

What is God?  What is life?  Why are we here, on this planet, at this time?  What does it mean to be human?  Is there accountability in this life or the next?  How do I connect with the divine?  What is religion and will it help me do so?  These are a few of the questions I have thought about over the years.  I have always felt a spiritual connection to the universe and for much of my life have grappled with the age old questions that inspired religions.  Now I have a curious child who is beginning to ask the big questions and I am trying to figure out how best to teach him.

Religion In Parenting
How do I teach my child about the divine when I am uncomfortable with our religious options?
My Religion Story

I was raised in a secular household that focused on the complexity of big questions rather than any specific answer.  It was full of love, support and exploration, and I would not change my childhood for any other.  I had a wonderful childhood.  My parents’ religious upbringing were Catholic, Presbyterian, and Mormon.  My extended family on both sides were deeply religious, good people, but I often didn’t know how to talk to them, as there was a part of their life that made no sense to me.

At some point around 5th or 6th grade, I realized that I just knew that there did indeed exist a divine force.  I began searching for answers in the various religions and spiritual traditions that I had available to me.  At the time I happened to live on a street with at least ten different churches.  I began attending services at the various options to see what fit.  My clearest memories are of the Catholic Church, the ritual satisfied some part of what I was looking for and I went back many times.  I never reached out for more instruction; at that time it was enough for me to be there.

My parents were incredibly supportive through all this experimentation on my part.  In junior high I started attending an evangelical big box church because a friend had invited me.  I didn’t get much spiritually from the experience even though most of the people were very earnest.  Unfortunately they were trying to teach us a very prescribed version of the truth with no subtlety or room for hard questions.  That just didn’t work for me and I couldn’t respect the idea that there was only one right answer and that this church, or any church, had the One True Way.  I felt like I was being told not to think.

At that church I experienced for the first time the hypocrisy and theatre that can be involved in religion.  I looked up once when we were all supposed to have our heads bowed in prayer while the pastor asked for people to raise their hands if they had opened their hearts to Jesus that day.  He acknowledged several, and yet no one in the congregation had a raised hand.  I completely stopped taking it seriously after that, but I had a lot of fun socially, really enjoyed the pageantry and singing for the holiday programs, and learned to ski.

Throughout high school and college I continued to try to find a religious community that supported intellectual thought in addition to the social support and spiritual experiences.  I tried Baha’i, nearly every stripe of Christianity, Buddhism, and got seriously into Wicca for several years.  I read books, oh so many books.  I joined online forums and real life communities.

Some churches that were accepting of differences had no real direction, and others that seemed to have clear ideas were often so intolerant as to be intolerable.  Wicca helped me find that connection to the divine for a long time, but it seemed that most people were there because they had had horrible experiences with the more traditional churches and were essentially on the rebound.  I wanted a community of people moving toward something rather than away.

My last year or so of University I joined a Catholic RCIA program on campus and experienced for the first time an environment that inspired deeply intellectual and passionate discussions about religion and spirituality.  My RCIA instructor was writing a book on ethics for engineers and we would talk for hours about the whys behind the catechism, the nature of good and evil, God and the church.  I was hooked, then later baptized and confirmed into the Catholic church and haven’t really regretted it in the intervening years.

After moving to a much more conservative area after college I lost the intellectualism and philosophical stimulation.  I have not had anyone to really talk with about religion since.  There were bible study groups, but they were only interested in getting the ‘right’ answer.  No one wanted to think about it much and resented my attempts.  I still consider myself Catholic, but am not active as I once was.

My husband is a cradle Catholic who has been disillusioned by local church politics and we eventually had a son.  Now my son is of an age to ask questions about God and where people go when they die and I am struggling to answer him.

I still hold onto the conviction that grew inside me when I was a girl that there is a force, another dimension, God, gods, an Over Soul, something bigger and connected to the universe that we humans can tap into sometimes.  The Jesus story was a key part of my original conversion, but most of the time does not resonate with me much.  Is there really a Heaven, a Hell, Purgatory, reincarnation, etc.?  I don’t know and frankly don’t find that question very compelling anymore.  I am much more interested in how to make a real connection with the divine from here on Earth, in this life.  These days I get most of that connection through the rituals of yoga, although the Mass does still speak to me.

Religion and Parenting

My son is asking questions that I don’t know how to answer about religion.  Part of me wants him to find his own answers, as I did.  Another part of me wants to share with him the sense of connection that I have found in religion.  The ritual of the Mass takes me to that space, and yet, some of the values taught in church are not what I want him to learn.

This is my real struggle and I have answered his questions as best I could, though I find myself saying a whole lot of “I don’t know, what do you think?”  The problem with that is that he does not have the tools to make informed, thought out, deep, decisions.  How is it possible to give him those tools without pushing an answer on him?  If I take him to church it is like I telling him that this is what he should believe.  If I do not, am I not doing the same thing in the other direction?

I would like to invite a respectful conversation.  I am hoping to find interesting people with differing views who can have a really deep conversation without judgment or rancor.  Especially these days with so much division in the world.  This is my story, what are your thoughts?

Organized Activities, The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting

In Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Goldilocks finds the Bear’s porridge too hot, too cold, or just right.  Just as in the iconic children’s story, many parenting questions come down to finding the “just right” balance for your child.  Today I am thinking about formal, organized activities.  Childhood for my son is not as fluid as I remember mine being.  I remember that I often had an activity such as gymnastics or dance, but I don’t think I ever did more than one at a time.  I spent a lot of hours in independent play, either alone or with friends.

I really struggle with deciding how much is too much, how much is too little, and what is just right for my son.  He is currently in soccer, karate and music lessons every week.  There are other things he does occasionally and more structured activities and clubs he could join through school.  Each week he has just one school day and one weekend day without an appointment .  Plus he must practice the music and deal with any school obligations daily.  Each activity was chosen for very good reasons and there are always more things that we could do, other activities that seem really cool.  We often have to decline invitations because he has something already in that time slot.

So I worry that I am over-scheduling him, that his childhood will be too busy to really be childhood.  I worry that he does not have enough time to just play.  We spent most of last Sunday building a truly massive Lego structure as a base so that Lego Batman could defend himself against the Power Rangers Zords.  It was intricate and he had a fully developed story for the lead up to the battle.  He had a plan and we made it happen.  I haven’t taken the time to just play for hours with him in way too long.  I am often with him, shuttling him here and there and everywhere, and we do have great car conversations as we are rushing from place to place.  We are so busy at various activities that home life is suffering as well.  We are out and about so much that when we are home we are just as busy, taking care of food or laundry or any of the other myriad things that always need to be done, so that he very rarely gets my undivided attention.  He asked again for Lego-mania several times during a hectic weekend, so finally last night we got in an hour before bedtime.  It showed me how much he craves doing something with just Mama and no distractions.

On the other hand, none of the grown-ups in his life are particularly active.  We are all older than most of the parents of kids his age and much less bouncy than we used to be.  In addition, we live in a little bit of a rough neighborhood.  There is just enough going on that I cannot in good conscience tell him to go outside and play unsupervised as I used to do as a child.  He could go into the backyard I suppose, but we never got him into the habit of it since there were hazards there as well and it is not an inspiring place to play.  I have started to try to encourage that, but he has no desire to be out there by himself, so unless I am out there with him he doesn’t get outside time.  The upshot is that without formalized activities, he wold not get enough physical activity.  Most of those formal activities are scheduled in the evening so that parents can be off work, but they are thirty to forty-five minutes from home so that we get home only in time to eat and sleep in a rush.  For me, I put him to bed, often fall asleep doing so  because I am so tired, then get up to finish chores and end up going to bed too late because I got just enough of a nap to make it difficult to go to bed when I should.  He isn’t getting enough sleep either, which is very worrisome, although we are improving on that front.

When I was growing up, we would spend hours wandering the neighborhood with friends, at various houses or parks.  There were kids I could play with on our street or  I could just hang out with my sister.  I got as much social interaction as I wanted in a very natural way.  On the other hand, my son is an only child and all of his friends live a town away so that social interactions must happen through either formal activities or play dates which are their own scheduling hassle.  There are few children on our street and they are not let out to play either.

That old way of life has closed down at least in this area, the whole society is afraid and a parent who lets her child wander is considered dangerously negligent.  I could buck that trend, with difficulty, except that I am also infected with that fear to let him out on his own.  My husband is even more protective than I am.  I want him to grow into a strong, independent person and I know that he has to be able to make his own mistakes in order to do so, but I don’t know how much independence to give him or when to do so.  What is too much, what is too little, and what is just right at this stage in his development?  Will the benefits he gets from the music or sports or anything else outweigh the cost in time?  Time is so precious and childhood time more so.  What is the best use of his time to help him become a well rounded, creative, independent, good person?  For us, when soccer season ends, I am going to try to resist the temptation to fill that time slot with more activities and to instead prioritize those few hours at home, so that evenings can be a time that we can enjoy as a family.

How about your family?  How do you balance formal activities with free play?  How about social interactions, is school enough, or does your child have neighborhood friends to play with?  Does your child roam free?  What is “just right” for your family?




The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting - How much is too much?
The Goldilocks Dilemma in Parenting – How much is too much?

How do I raise a bilingual child?

Before our son was born, we thought we had it all figured out.  I would speak English and my husband would speak Spanish and our son would grow up with both in his ears and magically begin to speak both.  Only it didn’t work out that way, funny that.  My husband was diligent for the first two years, then got discouraged since our son never seemed to pick up on it.  Part of the issue is that our schedules were so hectic that our son didn’t see his Papa except just before bed and on weekends.

A good seventy percent of our boy’s time was spent with my family, who were speaking a complex, educated English to him.  We never held back or simplified, with the result that he is an insanely articulate five year old in English.  His ability to articulate is actually greater than his ability to understand concepts.  He can talk passionately about an idea that he has for several minutes even though his logic string is often wackadoodle.  But, well, that is part of being five.

I think he had a very strong need to master one language to the exclusion of the other.  Nothing we did in Spanish seemed to stick.  After a while he ended up having an intense emotional rejection of all things Spanish.  He would say, “Tell me in EeeNGLISH!”  My husband and I decided that it would be counter productive to turn it into an ongoing battle and backed off.

We faced palpable disappointment from the community when it became clear that our boy could not speak Spanish.  Several people told me that I should be teaching him, although no one had any constructive ideas.  It felt like it was somehow my fault, as the white half of the partnership, that I was somehow cutting him off from his culture and heritage, that it was a betrayal of their acceptance of me in some way.

We let some time pass and I found a couple of children’s music CDs that he likes, so we play them in the car once or twice a week.  My son is highly attuned to music, he is absolutely loving the fact that his kindergarten teacher seems to have a song for everything.  He sings them to me every time there is a new song in class, which is several times a week.  My husband also loves music and is beginning to make a point of playing the Spanish music at home.  We are hoping that music will be the wedge we can open his brain with, to let the Spanish inside.

We are also speaking Spanish to each other more and more often.  It can be difficult for me, my grammar is less than perfect and I hate that, and towards the end of the day my brain is tired and Spanish requires me to actively use my brain.  I learned it as an adult and may never feel fully comfortable with it.  However I am persevering because I think it is very important that he have the advantage of knowing more than one language, and avoids the disadvantage of being monolingual.  If he learns Spanish, he will have the neural pathways to learn another language of his choice later on.  I also have a gut feeling that if he doesn’t have a firm grasp of Spanish he will never be able to be quite comfortable with that side of his heritage.

Slowly he is starting to show an interest, he knows numbers, colors, and a few animals, so we are making progress.  I wish there were a class or program designed for young kids in our area that would make it fun.  He responds well to more deliberate structured learning in other areas.  I have looked, but haven’t found anything.

Is it important to you that your child speak the languages of your heritage?  Why or why not?  If so, how have you approached it?  What has been effective, and what hasn’t worked?  Did you grow up not speaking one of the languages of your parents?  How did that affect you within the family and community?  Inquiring minds want to know.