Saturday, October 26, 2013

31 Days of Inspired Holidays: day 26: Family values

I was on Pinterest and stumbled over this: 5 Steps to Raising a Child Who Will Stay Christian

I wanted to comment, but my response is rather long, and I got the feeling that here we have a person who would shun me just because I'm not Christian, I'm not SAHM, nor a homeschooler, and because I don't have children. Maybe it's just my prejudice speaking, but I decided not to comment on her blog, but write a blog entry about it.

And it's relevant, as holidays are a big opportunity to "indoctrinate" your children to your faith and values. I still have a creche at Christmas, because my mother had one, and I loved putting it up, and always told the story when I did...
(My mother's Christianity and the way she made it a natural part of our home is a big influence on my spirituality. And because of that I believe we are BORN to have the faith we will have, if we were also raised to have the confidence and conviction to shape our religion to fit our beliefs. :-D That is something not many have.)

So, this is my response to her:

I am not Christian, but I can understand your concern. I want my children to grow up and keep my faith and stay with my God, just like most parents. I think every parents wishes the best for their children and spirituality, faith, relation with God, is a huge part of this. Even atheists wish their children to grow up and keep the way they believe.

Homeschooling is indeed a very good way to share your values, but there are people who choose not to stay in the faith of their upbringing after they become adults. Because it is not peer pressure that makes you choose to leave the faith of your parents. I hope you agree that having a strong faith and trust in God makes it easy to stand up against values that one doesn't share. We cannot and should not protect our children from alternative ways of seeing the world and relating to God, we should have made our reasons to why we believe the way we do so clear and self-evident, the child knows every other way is ... well... not wrong, precisely, but... not as good for him/her.

The same thing about going to church. I don't want to raise children to have all the outer elements of faith, I want the child to share my faith and values even when there is no support from outside. I want my child to reach inside him/herself and find God there, so that "church" is everywhere the child goes. I want the "church" to be inside his/her heart, not just a building or a room. I want the child to want to go to church because he/she hears God very clearly there, and because he/she wants to hear God.

Because one doesn't need to go to church to be a Christian. One can sleep in on Sundays and still be fine. Why is that?

You say it's because as an adult you're already on course. I say that's not true. Adults also try to figure out who they are, adults also need reminders of who God is, even we who are certain in their relationship with God. It's not going to the church that defines who you are and what is your personal relationship with God. It's the work you do alone to keep your relation with God, and the communication between you two alive, strong and well. It's the fifteen minutes of silent devotion time alone with just God. The morning prayer, the Bible study time, the time you consciously and deliberately focus on your relation with God. Because as we are human beings, we define things, understand things through our human experience, and relation with God, even though it's much more and much deeper than any relationship with anything or anyone else, it needs to be looked at as a relationship with another sentient, living, personal being. We tend to take God for granted, and even though God in many ways is one of the things that are for granted, it's not good for OUR psyche to treat God as something self-evident. We NEED TO WORK ON THE RELATIONSHIP TO UNDERSTAND THAT WE ARE IN A RELATIONSHIP.

The same thing with "they knew so many kids who were "good", who didn't go to church, that they started to suspect that you didn't need to go to church to be good, and then church became superfluous".
What you are saying is that you don't go to church to prove you are Christian or to become "good". You go to church because it's nice, to meet others who believe the way you do, to discuss important issues, to hear God's word proclaimed and explained by others who share your values, to learn more about God - you don't want your children to go to church to be "good" or to be "Christian", but because they want to. 

You ought to make it really attractive and interesting, almost like a Christmas, to make your Sundays holy and to go to church.

And one way of doing this is to learn from Christmas. 

Wear special, nice clothes for Sundays. One thing I learned from Victorian girls' books was that most of the heroines enjoyed dressing in pretty dresses and getting their hair done and all that. Starched, clean and new apron was a biggie. Pretty hair bows was a biggie. A new, pink parasol was a biggie. Shiny shoes and comfortable, neat black stockings was a biggie. I remember how we made covers for our New Testament at school, and how fun it was to choose colors. (Now, if you want to know how to do that, here's a tutorial of felt notebook cover. We were 8, I think, and did it of felt and stitched it together with embroidery thread. I think mine was bright red and I used white thread... and the result looked like made by an 8-years-old :-D But it was fun and made me very proud and made reading the book more fun.)
Make Sundays family days, when you do things together and enjoy being a family. Talk with your children, and even more important, LISTEN to your children. Give them your undivided attention on Sundays. Talk about what was said at church. I always loved it when "big people" spoke to me and with me as if they were interested of me and my opinions and way of thinking... that didn't happen often, though, which made the few times it did happen very memorable. Most adults are so busy with "important stuff" so that they have no time nor patience to listen to children who might not be very evolved in thinking, nor have anything "new" or "worthwhile" to say. That's not the point here, either. The point is to let the children know they are important. The little "stupid", "worthless" human being is important. Not only to you, but to God.
Give them gifts on Sundays. It doesn't need to be anything big or fancy, just a pretty card with bible quote on, or let them have a Sunday Book. A Sunday Book is a bit like "December Daily" or "Project Life", but only about Sundays. It's supposed to be kind of an art journal or scrapbook, where the children may collect photos of themselves in Sunday Finery, or doing things they themselves consider "good" and "Sunday-worthy"; clippings, scraps, pictures cut from magazines and those "Sunday Cards" I mentioned above, their own drawings, songs and stories they think are relevant and make them think of "good" things. If they want to add things in their Sunday Book that are not "good" and "Sunday-worthy" to YOU, let them. Trust in God. There should be only positive thoughts associated with the Sunday Book - and Sundays. There should be no questioning, no judgment, no shame, no insecurity, no "this is not good enough... I can't do this..." thinking.  This is also the reason why you may not help with the books, nor ask to see them, nor watch them even if the kid wants you to see it. Tell them that what is in that book is between them and God. That you gladly and willingly take part of any other art and crafts they do, but not this. The understanding that there is no-one judging the book, that no-one else but they - and God - sees it, that diminishes the self-criticism, and removes any inhibitions one might have, both conscious and subconscious. Give them a book they find beautiful, or use a binder where they can make the cover picture themselves. A binder might be better, because it's easy to remove pages and add pockets... though perhaps one shouldn't have the option of removing pages... to understand that what ever one creates is "good enough", that we are good enough, and that "done is better than perfect". They say that Arabic craftsmen intentionally add a "mistake" or fault in their work, to remember that only God creates perfection. (And also to keep hubris in check :-D)

I don't approve the idea of trying to controll and steer our kids' relationships with other people. I believe that all the people in our lives are there for a reason, and I trust more God's intentions with our lives than another human being's intentions, even when that another human being happens to be my mother or father. I noticed, when I was a child, that I spread my values and behavior standard around me. In my home the manners were important, and I never swore or used sloppy language - and when my peers were with me, they never swore either, or apologized immediately after a swearword. It's not only others who influence us, we influence others as well. Perhaps your child is meant to spread Christianity among non-Christian peers, friends, schoolmates?

Really, the only friends, who share their values and beliefs, your children NEED to "hold them accountable and grow in their faith" is their family and God.
In your article about helping your children make good friends, you mention being a child of a single mother, and refer to the wide spread idea among Christian families that there is something suspect in single parent families. You would have excluded me from the possible friends for your children, because I'm not Christian, and never was, and through that you would have let your prejudices keep your children away from a friend with good values, strong faith and nice behavior, and who would have been a very good friend, loyal and brave, ready to stand by and up for her friends. I wish you could be able to see behind the shallow shell of words we use to define our faith, and look into the core of things.

To my readers I would like to say this:

The values are instilled in us already at the age of 5.
The values we were taught before we were 5 are our values we keep our whole lives.

Religion is not a value. Values don't have religion. There are no "Christian values", or "Pagan values". There are just values. People who believe differently can still share values, and most of people born and raised in the same culture do. An Atheist can have the same values as a Christian. A Pagan can have "Good Christian values", better so than a Christian.

Also, considering my own choices, thinking and experience, to keep my children within my faith, I have to be able to admit being fallable and not knowing everything.

 I have to present being Pagan as a positive thing, that I am Pagan because that way of believing, that lifestyle, that world view, that philosophy best resonates with what I know to be true inside. Not scare with hell fire and brimstone, not present the religion and living observant as a set of rigid rules and "no-nos".

Be the parent you want your children to believe God is. Be on their side against everyone, even the authorities in my religion and even against my husband. I have to put my children first in every situation, if I want them to know God does that.

Appeal ALSO to their "shallow", selfish, "bad" emotions and thinking. We all have that side, and most of us love Christmas best of all holidays, because of the gifts and beauty and good food. Come on, admit it! We love getting things. We love pleasures and comfort. We love satisfaction. There doesn't even need to be a need to get satisfied, the "needs" can be created, by creating a want and masking that as a need.
As I believe we are all just human, let's make this thing as attractive to the human side of us human, as we assume it should be to the spiritual side of us. This is where the traditions, pleasures and holidays come to play. It's not helping anyone to condemn the "bad" in them, or to try to appeal the goodness and kindness. That will only create shame and codependency, and neither is a good base for a good relationship with God just as little as it is with anyone. I mean, if I want my children to grow up believing in a loving and accepting God, a God I can speak to about ANYTHING, even the stupid, petty little problems I have, even the stupid things I have done, even the thoughts I consider being "bad", I have to be able to trust that my God won't condemn me, think less of me, but like a wise, good mother listens and sees to that I get the best help and advice I can, that I feel her strength in my life, that I can trust in that She loves me and cares about me and has my best interests in mind.

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