Children and Religion

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Why am I here? What am I missing? I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to figure out the answers to these two questions. I grew up in a Roman Catholic home. We went to church (almost) every week and lived life by the Ten Commandments. I attended parochial school until the third grade when I begged my parents to let me attend public school. Grades four through eight were miserable and my faith offered little comfort. All my life I heard family members talk about having faith and how things happen according to God’s plan.

But what IS God’s plan? Is there such a thing?

I’ve spent many nights trying to pray for and listen for an answer only to find nothing but more questions. As a Roman Catholic, there are standards and guidelines you are expected to live by and believe and there is very little room for dissension. Unfortunately, they are more tolerant of outsiders having different beliefs then they are of their own. There are various issues which I greatly differ in opinion from my mother. For example, cohabitation. I believe that regardless of how long you court someone, you never truly know them until you live with them. You can love someone but not be able to live with them. I think it makes perfect sense to make sure you can live with someone “till death do you part” before taking the sacred vows. I’ve also seen way too many couples stay together in loveless or incompatible marriages simply because divorce is highly frowned upon in the religion. I’m divorced and I know that there are people in the church and in my own extended family who look down on me because of that. I also know that should I meet someone I might want to marry in the future, I will have to choose between my belief of living with them and making sure it can last or having my mother remain in my life.

Children Honoring Family’s Traditional Beliefs

The problem many children of religion face, especially in modern times, is being pulled between honoring the family’s traditional beliefs and living their lives as they see fit. Is it worth it to be cut off from the family permanently or do you suck it up and follow tradition? In my case, I have the option of maintaining a relationship with my mother or test-driving my potential husband and risking losing that relationship only to find that the person isn’t the one. I’m grateful not to be in that position at the moment but at some point, that situation will present itself and faith alone will not be enough to make the decision.

Eighth grade was my last year in the public school system and I was eager to get back into parochial school. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having religion class every day and the monthly/ obligatory masses thought out the year but the education was superior to the public school district I was leaving and the amount of bullying was minimal.

The religion classes weren’t as bad as I expected. Not only were we exposed to other religions, we learned how a good many of the traditions stemmed from the higher classes trying to control the lower classes. It was during these four years that I began to look into other world religions and piece together my own belief system. I do not believe that anyone’s religion has the answer. I believe that each religion holds a piece of the puzzle and it’s up to us to put them together to form a whole picture.

I once read a six-part series of books by Christopher Pike called “The Last Vampire” which although while it is predominately fiction, incorporates many historical facts and people. I believe several of the mysteries of life and religion are summed up nicely. Religious figures such as Krishna, Jesus, Buddha, and Gandhi were sent here by God to teach us a different piece of the puzzle. Reincarnation exists because we cannot learn all we need to know in one lifetime. Sometimes it is our deaths that teach other people. Often, we spend our lives either devoted to one belief system or denouncing a belief in God altogether. When we have children, we indoctrinate them with our beliefs and expect them to stay true to what they were taught. Those that stray are damned, or a disappointment to us.

Molding Children’s Lives

I’ve had the opportunity to observe how parents incorporate religion (or a lack thereof) into the molding of their children’s lives and have figured out how I plan to raise my children in regards to religion. I look back to my own childhood and see how I completed each of the sacraments as prescribed by the church doctrine. I made my confirmation at the age of 14 before I ever really knew much about any other religions. I made my decision based on the fact that there was really no other option. Anyone who has a devoutly religious parent knows how difficult it is to resist doing what is expected. When my mother was a child, confirmations were made much younger. By making your confirmation, you are pledging to be a Roman Catholic forever, no matter what.

What happens now?

So what happens when the child of fourteen grows up and decides that she wants to practice her own religion or none at all?
I believe that confirmation should be made when the child is old enough to make a decision without feeling pressured or really understanding what they’re doing. Changing the age to seventeen or eighteen would allow the individual the time to make an informed decision. I plan to have my children baptized, partly because it’s a family tradition (the father to attend the christening and the mother stays home because her time with the child was during the birth) and partly because I don’t want to find out later that I’m wrong and my children are in danger. After the christening, I plan to expose them to all different religions and allow them to form their own beliefs as I did when I was in high school. I don’t believe that they should have to pledge to one religion at a young age only to find out later that another one better suits their needs and beliefs. I do not want to inflict the guilt on them that has haunted me about my “bad” decisions.

Each parent needs to make an individual decision based on their beliefs and the personality/psychology of their individual child. While I advocate letting children choose what religion they want to practice, I don’t condemn parents who, like my mother, feel that their religion is the only religion that will be a part of their children’s upbringing. My experience has been that our differences of religion have put a strain on our relationship. There are many other parents and children who never have such strains. In the end, everyone’s life (or lives) will play out according to God’s plan.

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