This is tricky. Parenting and religion are both inflammatory topics because people care so much about them. That’s a good thing. It doesn’t bother me when people come to different conclusions about how to parent or whether they believe in God.
People are often surprised by conclusions I come to–maybe in a blog post or a conversation. They think it’s funny or quirky or interesting, “I would never have thought of that!” It’s a huge compliment. Conversely, a lot of people often agree with me about something I might say, “Yes! I feel EXACTLY the same way!” And they appreciate that I have articulated something that they also think. This, too, is a compliment.
The point is, we all agree and disagree about all sorts of different things. Life experience, surroundings, family, education, and many other things factor into our opinions about everything. Last night my sister and I were talking about our childhood home which was surrounded by cherry orchards and how we used to gorge ourselves on cherries every day all summer, usually to the point of diarrhea. Fond memories.
“Is that why you hate cherries?” asked my daughter. I’d never thought about it. Probably. But it’s more complicated than that. I don’t hate cherries because I ate too many of them when I was little. I actually hate cherry-flavored things because they taste fake and gross to me. Growing up with real cherries at my disposal anytime I wanted makes cherry ice cream and cherry cough drops disgusting to me. They’re counterfeit. I don’t like them. See? Even my attitude towards cherries is complicated. People are complicated and they think differently than I do. I respect that.
For example, my fellow blogger, Buzz Bishop, seems to have had a pretty traditional Catholic upbringing–and now he hates cherries. He comes at this issue quite differently than I do. But Buzz has a couple of cute little boys and I think he puts a lot of thought into raising them. I really do hope his atheism serves his family in the way that he believes it will.
I have also put a lot of thought into the way I’m raising my kids and into the way we live our faith. It’s a demanding one. We spend a lot of time and money on it. The time required of my husband for his calling in our church amounts to a part-time job. Do I believe the tenets of the LDS faith? Yes. I do. Do I think there are rewards in the afterlife for people who live righteously in this one? You know what? I do. BUT, and here’s the thing people don’t often give us Mormons credit for, regardless of those beliefs I live this religion because it makes me happy and helps me raise my kids now, in this life, every day. Even if there were no “heaven.”
Here’s the thing people don’t often give us Mormons credit for: Regardless of my beliefs, I live this religion because it makes me happy and helps me raise my kids now–in this life, every day–even if there were no “heaven.”
On Monday, Labor Day and a school holiday, my husband got my kids up at 7 AM to help him put flags in the yards of everyone in the neighborhood. Our ward (church group) does this as a fund raiser for our youth groups. People donate (around $25, usually) and the kids put the flags out on holidays. I actually hate this fundraiser. I don’t care about having a flag in my yard on Labor day. I do not believe there is anything righteous about putting a flag in someone’s yard. I don’t even think it earns you brownie points in heaven. But we signed up to do it today and my kids benefit from the programs this project funds, so there’s a lesson in that. Can you teach your kids responsibility without going to church? Yep. But this is a nice way to do it.
Because it’s more than just service projects and flags. I have discovered something as the mother of a teenage son that has surprised me. He will shirk and belly ache when I ask him to read for 10 minutes or do the dishes. He will procrastinate picking up his shoes for 12 hours. But when you ask more of him, he rises to the occasion. It’s almost like he’s more willing to do something more challenging, like dressing up to go before church to prepare the sacrament and staying after the 3-hour-service to collect fast offerings. He mows lawns, helps people move, gets up early to go to meetings, visits old people, pays tithing, speaks in church, goes to seminary, reads scriptures–all kinds of stuff normal 15-year-old boys are not, exactly, inclined to do when left to their own devices.
Our church is demanding and had I not witnessed my own son meeting these demands, I might not have known that he was capable of it. My church asks more of my children and my husband than I knew they could do. Regardless of what those things are and whether you think they are worthwhile, it has expanded my vision of my own family. I don’t know how that would have happened, otherwise.
Church and service are good for us. And we do a lot of stuff as Mormons (besides flags) that I believe in whole-heartedly. So I get the double benefit of actually living my faith side by side with my kids, and of catching those glimpses of them doing hard things. It changes the way I see them. It changes my expectations of them and it changes the way I parent them.
It’s complicated. There’s a lot to the way my parenting is informed by my religion.You can read about how going to church gives us something to talk about and I’d also love for you to read this very personal post which talks about the literal ways in which my church members are helping me raise my kids. Like I said, it’s personal so I’d prefer if the bigoted trolls skipped it, but I’m nothing if not ecumenical so go ahead and click over if you’re interested.
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