Teaching my child kindness and religion

Guest post by Ashley Poland

An Itty-Bitty Rosary, an Itty-Bitty Child Already feeling awkward and out of place, I pour myself a cup of coffee while introducing myself to one of the women at the Catholic Women’s Group: Hi, I’m Ashley. No, I’m just visiting for today.

From behind me I hear the speaker getting started: “I just wanted to let everyone know that the abortion clinic we were praying for in Lawrence has finally closed down.” Everyone claps and cheers. My heart sinks. I sip my coffee.

Of course — a room full of Catholic women, most of them mothers, many of them pregnant: they were bound to be mostly anti-abortion. I tell myself that this is not the thing that should color my opinion of these women, that they are more than a viewpoint I disagree with, and simply hope that I’m not asked to pray for the closing of an abortion clinic during my visit.

I was right; the women were kind and interesting, and I felt like I learned a lot in the two hours we spent together talking about our faith. But once more before I left an older woman stood up to let everyone know that they were getting together at another woman’s house before heading out to the abortion clinic in town this weekend.

It got me thinking about my faith, about my not-yet-two-year-old son.

This is not the kind of Catholic I want to raise him to be, the kind of person who removes options and choices from other people, be it through the force of their thoughts or the force of their actions.

When we had him baptised I was elated. I was excited to offer him the kind of childhood I had. One where we learned to love and respect God, the Earth, and all living things. One where we played Super Mario Brothers and read books and watched MTV and traveled. Being Catholic was just one part of us as a family, a constant that guided our thoughts and our actions.

We were never taught to hate — God willing, as children and as humans we needed no help understanding malice — or to look down on anyone who was different or choose differently. It wasn’t until I was a nearly a pre-teen that I even had a notion that there were people who thought God hated anyone, especially those people who weren’t like them.

I want that for my son. I want him to love things, I want him to see the wonder of this world through science and through nature, to view people without labelling and judging them. I want him to feel safe in his faith — or his non-faith, if that’s what he chooses — and I want him to know that he has no rights over a person’s thoughts, actions, or choices.

As a mother (and a terrible Catholic, to be honest), I hope I’m up to the challenge.

Comments on Teaching my child kindness and religion

    • Thanks for this. I often feel out of place in two locations that are important in defining my identity: the Catholic Church, with its authoritarian leadership, and hipster subculture, with its prevailing atheism (and too-often disdain for those of us who “still” practice Christianity).

  1. I will never tire of hearing about people with a healthy, balanced faith, especially those who are responsible for little ones. Great mama skills, good Catholic or not 😉

  2. Amen! The best thing you can do is introduce him to all kinds of people and explain that differences in people are really cool things that make us all unique and should be celebrated, not feared.

    I was raised in a tiny church with a lot of families just like mine. As a result, I celebrate diversity in theory, but have to work much harder to celebrate it in practice.

  3. I was raised Catholic in a very liberal family (my dad is even agnostic). I hope I don’t cross any lines by saying this, but eventually all the crap associated with the Catholic Church got to my mother, and she has since left for an open and affirming Lutheran church, where she is much happier. (My brother and I both left the Church long before that – he’s an atheist, and I like to call myself a non-practicing Unitarian.)

    I’m not saying that’s necessarily the right path for you, but I think sometimes it’s more appropriate to leave a toxic environment than to try and change it. Although of course, that’s all up to you! 🙂

  4. I just wanted to let you know I am in the same position. I was raised- well not too sure what religion I was raised actually – I think my mother is Lutheran. Religion was never a strong part of my childhood but I grew up learning about Jesus at Christmas and Easter and my godmother bought me all the bible stories, at 11 I went to a Catholic school for a while and learnt the prayers and rituals, we’d go to Church on holidays and I was even in a church choir as a child. I would like to say I have a pretty good understanding of religion and appreciate most aspects such as the ritual, meaning and power of a quiet church, I however am Agnostic and my partner is a non practising Catholic.
    I want to raise our son to learn ‘the true meaning of Christmas’ and Easter, I want him to know the stories which often have wonderful morals and would never want to make him feel that religion is not available to him simply because we are not active churchgoers. I think you bring up a great point, about the things that make religion unsavoury. I am still wondering how to integrate religion into our non religious lifestyle so that he may have the choice as he gets older 🙂

    • Not to detract from your point but –

      At least part of the “true meaning” of Christmas and Easter is that they were pagan holidays usurped and repurposed by Christians, at a time when Christianity was quite violent. I think that it is just as important to talk about the violent and political sides of religion as the touchy feely lovey side. This seems necessary to having a balanced view on religion since unfortunately religion continues to be both violent and political today.

      • Agreed that it’s important to be balanced about the history of religion — doomed to repeat, to be briefly cliche, and I think not knowing sets us up to become jaded.

        That said, these are things I learned when I was older and able to understand that there was bad things done in the name of religion in the past, but it did not make us bad by association, or mean that we had to be bad. (Okay, that’s vaguely untrue: I learned in my, “F- you, God!” teens that Christianity in general has a bloody past, and kept it as ammo for years; it wasn’t until I came back to Catholicism as an adult that I stood back and looked at it.)

        TL;DR is that I think kids should absolutely learn that Christianity doesn’t have exclusive rights to holidays like Christmas and Easter as early as they can understand it, but not necessarily the whole story until they’re a bit older.

  5. There are so many varieties to Catholicism, it leaves me in awe! I was raised East-coast liberal Catholic in something called the Vineyard Community style. This might be more akin to the Catholicism I think you might be seeking, but perhaps have trouble finding in the Midwest… We regularly attended CCD and mass every Sunday, but topics such as abortion or homosexuality were not highlighted, ever.

    If you’re uncomfortable with your particular ilk of Catholics, perhaps check out Google to see if a Vineyard Community church is near you. I imagine they still exist… I am unsure since I started going to a UCC church some time ago.

    • We were military kids, and your church sounds similar to how our church was structured on base. I suspect it’s a side effect of having lots of different people and lifestyles coming together — I hear that happens on the coasts. 😀

      • On the coasts and in the military, yes! In my family, too…

        My mother came from Germany, a small town German Catholic. And my father from the midwest, a republican baptist. They have since spent 30 years blending, growing, and adapting. People change so much over time. Their religious identities – and identities as a whole – became mercurous, but they were always seeking their truth. They are now both attending a liberal Episcopal church. And they never stop growing and amazing me with their adaptability.

        I think when you are mixed in with a lot of different people – and get used to that dynamic – you can’t really bear homogeny. Perhaps that is what makes you so uncomfortable with the group you attended? Perhaps they find comfort in their solidarity. But where will you fit in? Sounds like you might not be used to following the herd.

  6. Thanks for the replies; it’s nice to hear from other mamas with thoughts, solutions, or even just in the boat. 😀

    The group in question was one I was visiting in a nearby town with a friend; it’s not one I spend any time with (though I live in the town where the abortion clinic apparently closed). Thankfully, on the whole the churchs I’ve attended in the past have been more laid back; mostly student or military geared, so understandably, I’d think.

    I’ve yet to find a church in our community, because I think with the child being less than two church is going to be more stressful than it is uplifting for us. (Also, I’m one of those lame asses who believes that we can be faithful without a church, haha.)

  7. I am not yet a mama, but hope to be when the time is right. I am currently a birth doula and nanny so I am surrounded by many mamas. 😀 I recently decided that before my husband and I head down the path of parenthood I would like to find a Catholic women’s group to be a part of because when we finally do have children I felt that with life being as busy as it gets with children finding a group would be moved to the back burner.

    My husband and I are both cradle Catholics and have both worked as youth ministers for high school kids for the past several years. We both also came from families that attended mass every Sunday and CCD. I went to Catholic school and very much love and at home with the church. Much like you I was older and ASTONISHED at what some people thought of my all loving God.

    My search for a group ended in hysterical tears after Catholic women’s groups that felt anything other than homeschooling was a horrible way to raise a child, and that my ideas of what my husband and I wanted for our(future) child were not acceptable as Catholics.

    I’m still very much in love with the Catholic church, but mostly the one that lives in my heart and my head.

    I wish you the best of luck in your search. I know how exhausting it can be.

    I’ve recently found a Jesuit group that I am looking into. If you have one nearby that may help they are on the more liberal end of the Catholic spectrum, with all the same traditions of the church.

  8. I went to church when I was younger but stopped going as soon as I was old enough to refuse. I would probably most identify as being agnostic since although I don’t *not* believe in a higher power, I have never found an organised religion that I can agree with their rules.

    I’ve always wanted to understand how people can identify themselves with a religious group when they disagree with some of the base teachings at the core of the religion eg anti gay, no contraception, anti abortion. (The pretending not to have sex before marriage thing particularly has always baffled me).

    Perhaps its because I have an all or nothing type of personality, I just cant say “I am a (insert religion), but I only agree with this and this part, not the that and that part”.

    For me, that means teaching my (future) children about all religions and encouraging them to take on any parts that they like or feel right to them.

    I really enjoyed this post and I would love to read more posts in the future about how people deal with the religion equation of parenthood. It’s such a huge topic and there will never be a right or wrong answer, but its so great to be exposed to the different ideas, attitudes and outlooks.

    • Personally, the thing that allows me to go to a Catholic Church even though I disagree with some of the dogma is the understanding that all churches are a struggle by humans to understand the supernatural and spiritual. They are full of human error. A tradition like Catholicism has a very long history in which it has accumulated both the spiritual and erroneous sides of that search. I have grown to associate a sacredness to the Mass and saints and appreciation of Mary while understanding the historical and social contexts that have shaped the dogma as well… which is important no matter how one describes their spiritual self.

      • And, I am fascinated by and love to read about this subject, too. Something I find especially fascinating is the phrase “I grew up Catholic.” Someone should really do a rhetoric thesis on that, it is such a loaded phrase!

      • Word. (Second reply; if my half-formed response shows up somewhere else, the child is “helping.” :D)

        I keep trying to expand on this, but this is a pretty perfect explanation. It’s not an approach that works for all people, but I find it the best way to practice being a good person with a faith that sometimes isn’t so nice.

  9. This is such a fabulous post. I am not yet a mama but I know this will come up soon enough, and it is so refreshing to hear someone else speak about it.

    My Mr. is an agnostic theist (he calls it “There’s something there but I don’t really know for sure what it is”) but celebrates Christian holidays and I’m Catholic but not going to church. When we married we agreed that our children should receive “a base”. What we mean by that is they should have some sort of religious knowledge (CCD or whatever we choose at the time), but once they are adults they can choose to do whatever they want with it. If they want to choose a completely different religion altogether, that’s great, but by giving them a base they have something to compare and build on in any way they choose.

    That being said, I really want to choose the place where religious education occurs very wisely (and if our community does not offer it, we’ll teach as much as we can at home instead). I had some great experiences and some really not so great ones during my education, and I don’t want our child to think that because one person sees religion one way that all people of that religion think the same way. There are a thousand ways to look at religion, and I guess more than anything I want them to know that.

    Side note: Two books that I love that are about religion: 1.)”Why Do Catholics Do That?” which answers not dogma, but things like “Why do we have a Pope?”. 2.) “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible” which isn’t a Catholic based book but a great story about an agnostic guy in NYC who challenges the idea of “living the Bible to the letter”, which many people say they do.

    • My husband and I were both cradle Catholics who never got confirmed — he because they just never got around to it, and I because when my mother remarried they started going to the Methodist church.

      Before we were engaged we talked about it a lot, and were able to complete our religious journey together, as adults who wanted it rather than teenagers who had to; I’m planning to give my son the option when the time comes.

      Which is to say, basically, that our upbringing was pretty similar to what you’re talking about: I went to CDD through sixth grade, and after that my religion learning was all at home, between my religious mother and my practically agnostic stepfather. For about six years I eschewed organized religion, and then the next four deciding what it meant to me.

      (I’ll have to look into the books! Living the Bible literally has to be nuts; it’s had so many editors, and is so out-dated in places. I mean, damn.)

  10. Okay, I’m a lurker from Off Beat Bride but Maybe I can help with this one. I’m a few years behind you but on the same general path.

    My fiance and I are both cradle Catholics who have since found the church didn’t fit as well as our parents had hoped. However we both like the idea of raising our kids with a sense of there being something beyond. And we love the values of charity, kindness, compassion and so on a religious education teaches.

    We have decided to raise our kids in the Unitarian church. They teach about all kinds of religious paths, put great focus on the values we believe in, and are welcoming to all peoples. Even cradle Catholics who are trying to find a place, like us.

    I’m not saying it’ll work for everyone, but it’s the solution we’ve found and I thought it worth mentioning.

  11. I honestly believe with my whole heart that I can teach my child kindness, compassion, a sense of wonder, strong morality, and love without an input from an organized religion. I’m not trying to be aggressive, but I am curious since most of the comments seem to be focusing on these ideas and ideals, and in some ways, I feel like the implication is that you can only find these in religion.

    • Oh, that’s not my intent at all! (Edit: that sentence is supposed to be apologetic, rather than aggressive as it sounded. ._.;;) My issues concern is more that I can teach these things and instill a sense of faith; like discussed above, religion has a lot of blood on it’s hands, and in Catholicism there are a lot of accepted ideals that I don’t align with what I believe makes us good people — usually instilled by men tens or hundreds or thousands of years ago with their own agendas and the power to make it so. (Or by outdated dogma, but that’s a different issues entirely.)

      My intent was never to say that these things have to find root in religion — but rather that I’d like to see them grow with it, without being hindered by it.

  12. ‘Course you are!!! Religion and goodness are neither mutually exclusive nor hand in hand. Teach your children all the good stuff. Whatever makes you happy within your religion pass it on, and whatever doesn’t then pass that on when they are old enough to work it out that the small amount of bollocks does not make the whole, nor should it make their decisions for them.
    Boxed in within a mainstream subset doesn’t really seem to cut the mustard these days, so go with good vibes and attribute where you feel best.

  13. This is exactly where my husband and I sit with our childhood religions (and we live in Kansas too!)

    So great to hear about other people’s efforts to reconcile the good and bad parts of religion.

      • I know right! I was reading the beginning where you said “Lawrence” and I was thinking “oh, she must mean Lawrence, MA not Lawrence, KS…”. I lived in Lawrence for 3 years, before moving back to my home town of Manhattan. So, this is pretty funny for me because Ashley + Kansas + 24/25 = lol coincidence. That aside though, I thought the article was great. Growing up as an atheist in Kansas, I had my share of run-ins with really intolerant religious people, which made me bitter and hateful towards religion for many years. It has been people like you who have made me realize the error of my ways and I have become much more open-minded since then. Thank you for passing on these great values to your children. And high five for getting a guestpost on Offbeat Mama, that is just awesome!

        • Seriously? We just moved out of Manhattan after living there for 7 years this past June. The world keeps getting smaller~! My sister actually still lives out there.

          Actually, okay, I just looked at your website because I am a stalker, and we graduated high school together — I was also Manhattan High in 2004.

          I was really intolerant toward religion too for a long time in my teens; I think it helps as we get older and I don’t regret it — I now feel like I’ve seen both sides of the story, so to speak. (Which sounds much more arrogant than I mean it to, lol.)

          Thanks! 😀

          • OK, so I’m old compared to you guys, I graduated from K-STATE in 2003 (in a 5 year degree program). My brother (who is in Manhattan now) graduated from high school, in 2003.

        • I did the same thing too! I saw Lawrence, knew Planned Parenthood shut down there recently and knew it must be Kansas before I read her biography!

          I went to K-State and loved living in Manhattan – as a student. My brother now lives there as a professional and is having a hard time finding like-minded people (i.e. liberals). He’s getting pretty frustrated not having anyone around him that thinks like him.

          • Oh shit, was is the PP? The woman I went to the group with told me that it was a separate clinic. Their sign is still up, so I took her word for it. (That said, I’ve never been in the PP; I just knew it was there. This was the first one I had ever seen, actually!)

            Manhattan is made for students (and I begin to suspect Lawrence, too, to a lesser extent), and that was why we moved — neither of us were going to be attending KSU again (the Engineering department actually refused my husband readmission, so it was pretty definitive), and as broke-minimum-wage parents we were floundering under the cost of rent and the lack of meaningful work.

            I’d recommend some of our friends there, but they either A) moved before we did or B) were very anti-liberal but we tolerated them because our gaming group needed more people.

  14. Reading this, it is like it was me writing it 2 years from now. I completely agree with you on all points. Please keep us updated on how you deal with teaching him faith and acceptance!

  15. I love your post and your sweet pic Ashley! My hubby and I are Byzantine Catholics who lean toward the Catholic Workers in what we believe and try to emulate. On top of that I consider myself a Feminist, so I often feel like an outsider both in and outside of church. It was refreshing for me to read a post about being an offbeat Catholic mama. Thanks for writing this and just being you!

  16. That’s why we stick with our Unitarian Universalist church. They get a dose of everything, including their parents’ Catholicism and Paganism.

  17. Ive just started coming here in the past few days. REading the above post i was sooooo like this is me. My husband and I are cradle catholics, I have never attended a public scool in my life, even my college was a Catholic school. WE have three boys and another one on the way and our oldest just started kindergarten at a catholic school. Im sure the priest at our church and other teachers would not appreciate that I teach my children to believe in farires and spirits and the like. I chose my cousin’s athiest ex-wife as a godmother for my second son, we had to call her a “christian witness” which she got a kick out of. it gets difficult at family get togethers where the “old-school” catholics get together and spend the time bashing my lesbian cousins and their growing family. Its nice to know im not alone!!

  18. I know I’m late commenting on this, but when I first read it I was confused, and upon re-reading I’ve begun to sort through why I’m confused.

    You admit that these women were “kind and interesting,” and it seems from this post that the only thing that concerned you about them is that they were anti-abortion. But, if you look at it from their perspective, it’s not that they are removing choices from people; they think that they are protecting living things. Closing down abortion clinics is not inherently a hateful act.

    Assuming that these women are definitely wrong or less kind because they disagree with you on a spiritual point could be interpreted as “look[ing] down on anyone who was different or choose differently.” I make this point because it might make the case that raising your children Catholic could really expose them to alternative perspectives. I go to a (relatively conservative) liberal arts college, and still most of my peers assume that pro-life students are lunatics or religious nuts or anti-women’s rights just because they are pro-life. This is not true.

    If your son grows up spending time with all sorts of people who have all sorts of different views (including, yes, being pro-life, or other unpopular or misunderstood views), I don’t see how that would not be beneficial.

    Just something to consider…

    • Thanks for the perspective on it. 😀 I hope I’m responding to it appropriately, because you’re right — I did make a blanket judgment in those first five minutes based on this viewpoint that I don’t agree with.

      I don’t necessarily intent to shield him from the things about the Catholic church that I find distasteful (I generally consider myself anti-abortion in that I cannot image personally getting an abortion, I also don’t believe that it’s my job to force that on other women, or to judge them if they make that choice), but I do worry about the messages that he’ll learn alongside a religion education.

      Anti-abortion was the issue du jour when I wrote this, but in general I worry about the acts of hatred made in the name of “religion” — abortion being, unfortunately, just one of these. My son’s godfather will sometimes talk about having this zealous hatred of homosexuality, paganism, abortion, etc, when he was in his late teens/early twenties, because it was against his religion; obviously as he got older he became more tolerant, and doesn’t look back on his activities favorably.

      I don’t have the answer of who is definitely right or wrong — goodness, wouldn’t that make my life easier, lol. All I’ve got are gut feelings about how I want to treat people, and how I hope my son will treat people as he grows.

  19. Honestly, the only time I ever hear about abortion politics in our parish is when someone from the (small) parish pro-life group is making an announcement of their next meeting/event, or the rare “be sure to call your congressman about bill X,” which I expect anyway. (I never heard word one about this issue in the parish where my kids were baptized, nor our subsequent two parishes in locations to where we’d moved. In fact, as we’ve moved several times and looked for a new parish, if a parish has what I consider disproportionate attention to the issue of abortion, this is a red flag for me.) But even in our current left-of-center parish, I’d be surprised if this issue would ever come up in the mothers’ group. There’s a lot of variety to be found in the Catholic Church, and if you can’t find an actual parish that fits your progressive leanings, there’s usually a Catholic Worker community nearby.

  20. I know there are some churches and denominations other than Catholic that teach those things, if you’re interested in possibly raising him another denomination of Christian other than Catholic. If not, that’s okay. I just wanted to put that out there.

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