Their Bad Mother

Their Bad Mother

God And The Good Parent, Part II: If God Were Like Santa, This Would Be Easy

As I wrote yesterday, I have a complicated relationship with God. Have had for a long time. But I’d always been comfortable with that – until I had kids…

I wrote yesterday that I want my
children to know God, and that I want them to know God as I did – personally, intimately, in a relationship of faith rather than skepticism.

I do not want this because I
think that it will make them morally superior beings. I do not want this because I believe that human beings cannot be good without God. I do not want this because I want to secure
them a place in Heaven. I don’t believe that faith confers moral superiority; I don’t believe in
security-patrolled Pearly Gates; I do know that it is possible to be
‘good’ without God (but please do not ask me to unpack that statement
here.) I’m not looking for spiritual guarantees or moral fail-safes, if
such things even exist.

I want this because I want my
children to have a meaningful choice in the matter of whether or not to
embrace faith. And I don’t think that they will really, meaningfully,
have such a choice if they are not exposed to faith from an early age.
It’s all well and good to take a principled position against what might
be called an indoctrination of faith, and to insist that exposure to
religion is something best left until children have the maturity of
reason to critically evaluate organized religion, but that position
pre-determines its own end. If faith is set aside in childhood, and
reserved for later examination and evaluation under the bright lights
of reason, then it’s doomed from the start. Reason is antithetical to
faith, especially in its first age, when it is clung to like a brass
ring, when it causes us to chortle with delight at knowing, to thrill at being let in on the world’s secrets (Chrissy is still a baby because she still believes in Santa, right Mommy?) It
is only the strongest, most hard-won faith that does not pale at the
approach of reason. Reason shatters faith, exposes belief as simply
that – belief.


among us would ever have given Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or
Tinkerbell a second thought if we had only discovered them in the age
of our reason? We might be amused or entertained by them, but we could
never take them seriously. But when we meet Santa Claus in the
innocence of our youth, we give him a chance. And we’re well-positioned
to decide, when we’re ready, whether or not we want to continue
believing in him. If we never believed in Santa as children, we can’t
be said to have ever made the choice to not believe.


So it is, I
think, with God. I’m not suggesting that God is a character of myth or
fantasy, as Santa is generally understood, although many have argued
and do argue that God is exactly that. What I am suggesting is that
belief in God usually (not always – people do sometimes ‘find’ God and
religion later in life) requires exposure to the real practice of faith
before one learns that faith is, or appears to be (appears to be), contrary to reason. It requires having someone say, emphatically, insistently, that yes, Virginia, there is a God. It requires, yes, some sort of indoctrination into faith during childhood. Saying yes
to religion. Talking seriously and respectfully about God and church
and faith. Reading Bible stories. Attending church or synagogue. Saying
prayers. Watching Little House on the Prairie. Some or all or any combination of the above.


problem? I no longer do these things, for the most part. My faith, such
as it is, is quiet, private. It is something that I subject to scrutiny
every time that I pull it out for inspiration or for comfort. It lives
in the strange space that I’ve carved out in my soul for those things
that I fear and love and am confused by and ever will be confused by.
I’ve made my choices, it seems, if living in a state of such critical
ambivalence can be regarded as a meaningful choice.

But I don’t
want to make that choice for my children. So how do I create the
opportunity for my children to have a choice, a real choice? For them
to really, meaningfully explore the option of faith, and take that
option seriously? Do I suck it up and re-enact the rituals of the
religion of my own childhood, and swallow the hypocrisy as
well-intended? Or is there another way?


How do you find your way when the path is dark? How do you lead your children, when your own way is so obscured?

Coming soon: how my father’s death has complicated this issue for me, and how I hope to find my way through the darkness.

Amended from an original post published at Her Bad Mother, July 2006.

Comments read comments(13)
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posted September 30, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Catherine, not to be contrary, but your faith and my faith sound pretty similar at this point, and I was not raised with any religion in my youth. Indeed I have never practiced any kind of organized religion for more than a few months. In my young adulthood, I had experiences that led me to spiritual readings, meditation, comparative religion, etc. I was for a while very involved in my religious/spiritual awakening. Those realizations and experiences still constitute my lodestar, though the immediacy of my connection to “God” has definitely ebbed. Today I believe, but without being able to articulate anything useful about my faith to my highly skeptical 11 year old. I do have faith that she will come to her own relationship with the universe and its deeper meaning and power without my indoctrinating her as a child.

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posted September 30, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Thanks for such a thoughtful discussion. I struggle with these issues all the time and it was nice to read about struggles other people face. I think perhaps you’re confusing religion with a relationship with God. I think there are many opportunities to speak with children about God and faith without being involved in any particular ritual or religion. I remember taking a walk with my daughter when she was about 2 years old – what an eye-opener! Flowers became miracles, right in front of my eyes, because I was seeing the miracles they were through her eyes.
It’s all about relationships – relationships with God and each other. The opportunities for teaching moments are plentiful.

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deb@talk at the table

posted September 30, 2009 at 2:58 pm

This is wow stuff. You are the perfect writer for these sort of topics. Thank you for addressing something I’m sure many of us struggle with in one way or another. Looking forward to the rest of the “series”.
And for the record I don’t think grief is measurable. I “only” lost a girlfriend 2 years ago and am still reeling. For reasons I don’t understand, and don’t care to justify to anyone either.

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posted September 30, 2009 at 4:25 pm

C, do you have a friend who could take E to church a few times? Someone to be the ringleader in this? Perhaps start it off as ‘this is your special time with X’ and then after a while um, er….join in?
I fight with myself with this quite a bit. I take my daughter to church sometimes, and she loves it and is enthusuastic about going – (and I really enjoy it, love the clear stillness that comes over me and singing the old songs that have been sung through the years)and for the rest of the week I am torn between the memory of that feeling and how my beliefs tangle up in that.
I would love my children to have a relationship with God. I just don’t know how to give them that.

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posted September 30, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Just a quick thought – if you cannot re-enact rituals without honesty and integrity, once day your children will see through the hypocrisy. And that could be even more damaging to any potential faith than if you had left well enough alone.
Are there any “rituals” or “practices” that you CAN do with sincerity? Reading Bible stories? Lighting an advent wreath before Christmas? Saying prayers at bedtime and mealtime? Whatever, you fill in the blanks. Maybe just do those things you can do with your children without putting on a show.
Thanks for this discussion!!!

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posted September 30, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Growing up, my mom worked for a church nursery. I attended Sunday school or church services probably fewer than 10 times total because my mother was uncomfortable with organized religion (my dad is best described as agnostic). I had two older sisters who got roughly the same level of exposure, and a younger brother who got considerably less because we moved away. At 16, my oldest sister chose to be baptized and has never looked back from her religion or her faith. My other sister and I are not remotely religious, and my brother grew into adulthood with no religious inclinations until his now-wife convinced him to join her church – which he seems more or less happy with.
I agree that questions of faith and spirituality are extremely difficult, but personally, based in large part on my family’s example, think that many, many people actually find their faith later in life after growing up with little to no religious exposure. Probably as many as lose their faith, or at least retreat from religious practices, after a fairly religious upbringing.
For me, the fear is not “what if they never know God” but rather “what if they are pressured to accept God.” (This absolutely is not meant to be a criticism – this is just an alternative view, and I struggle with these issues too, especially since my husband was raised Catholic and has slightly more faith than I do.) Perhaps it’s just where I live in the US, or the people I’ve fallen into friendship with, or what have you, but I cannot imagine my children never being exposed to God or the idea of faith even if I never said a single word about it. It’s going to come up, and my kids will ask me questions, and the best I can do, all I’m willing to do, is tell them what some people believe, versus what I believe, and settle on traditions that I find acceptable for the family as a whole. I would much rather my children grow up to find something than grow up to lose something. I think discovering that Santa’s not real is traumatic enough 😛

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Omnibus Driver

posted September 30, 2009 at 9:13 pm

When I was in high school I had a crisis of faith and went on a faith journey, and visited many, many churches, until I found one that suited my heart. As an adult, I’ve also found faith crises. Now, I find my faith in the goodness of people, and in sacred music that touches my heart.
I think eventually I’ll look for a house of worship that makes me feel like I’ve returned home. In the meantime, I have a personal relationship with a creator that I have utter faith in.
If you’re not comfortable with your church, find another one where you are. It’s an interesting journey.
(And you’re still in my thoughts and prayers.)

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Santa Claus

posted October 1, 2009 at 5:24 pm

Perhaps, you should consider taking Santa Claus seriously as an adult. My legal name is Santa Claus. I’m a full-time volunteer advocate for the 2 million children in the U.S. annually who are abused, neglected, exploited, abandoned, homeless, and institutionalized through no fault of their own. That’s 1 out of 37 children in our great nation. Also, I’m a Christian Monk, as St. Nicholas was many centuries ago, and believe that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, not the crass, commercial, secular spectacle it has become in many places, and that the greatest gift one can give is love, not presents. Regarding your discussion of faith, why not draw the little ones’ attention to examples of individuals who exhibit a loving and giving nature–as real manifestations of the behavior God would have all of us exhibit? There are millions of examples, although, as you demonstrate, nothing obscures them quite like fear. Blessings to all, Santa Claus (TheSantaClausFoundation dot org).

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posted October 1, 2009 at 6:22 pm

@Amy, 4:38 p.m.
I couldn’t agree with you more….and I think you have solved my problem. I was having a similar issue as the original writer.
There are practices I CAN do with sincerity, on my own, and ones I cannot. I’ve been letting my hangups take over to the point where I was shunning Everything.
It seems obvious, now, to just do what feels sincere to me. (Sorry if this sounds cryptic; I just don’t want to get into/debate specific practices).
Thank you for turning on that light bulb :) . Seriously…. -Anon.

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posted October 5, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Well written as I’m struggling with exactly the same thing. My son HATES CCD (we go to public school and they take Catholic instruction at the local church). I hate it too. Not exactly sure what it’s teaching him. So I figure he’ll go until he makes his confirmation, and then we’ll join an Episcopal church where I don’t have to deal with the Catholic nonsense. But that’s certainly being a hypocrite. I think it’s been ingrained in me from the get go that if he doesn’t make all of his sacraments, then it will come back to bit him or both of us in the ass. Stinkin’ Catholic guilt.
When you find an answer, let us know, as I’ll probably adopt it as my own because you’re one wise lady.

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posted October 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm

I’ve been going through a similar discussion with myself and I think I found an answer that works for me. Just last weekend I went to my first service at a Unitarian Univerrsalist church and really enjoyed it. I had read through their website, liked what I saw and was very impressed with the service and the kind, warm, welcoming nature of the community. I hope you can find an answer that works for you.

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Annie @ PhD in Parenting

posted November 26, 2009 at 9:48 am

I think it is possible to expose them to things you do not do by giving them the opportunity to go with other people. As a child, I attended Church/Sunday school briefly with my family. Years later, I started going again with some friends’ families even though my family no longer attended.

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Happy Mothers Day Poems 2013

posted April 22, 2013 at 3:26 am

out standing post and very nice article that you have written here sir good nice sharing to the every one.

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