This summer, in a rural town in the Midwest, my daughter got her first taste of religion. Our three-and-a-half-year-old went to a little Methodist Vacation Bible School one evening while we were on vacation, visiting family.
It happened by accident.
We were there with family and they said if we left her to play and do activities with the other kids… I could go adults-only for a margarita and well… a Queens girl like me likes a drink sometimes when she finds herself in a sea of corn!
When I went to pick her up she was wearing a newly made Fruit Loop necklace while wildly and happily singing along with a video of happy kids on a boat. The video was being projected on the altar of the church which was also sweetly decorated as a boat. It was all about setting off on a voyage of faith.
Religion is a huge thing I grapple with as a parent. We have no intention of raising our daughter with religion but it finds a way into our lives quite frequently. I actually think I am an atheist. I know I should say I know this is what I am, but there are so many grey areas when it comes to religion that I can only be vague. I am positive I don’t want her/us to be a member of any church or organized religion.
See, my Mom was Catholic and my Dad is Jewish. My husband was raised to be whatever you are called when you go to the Church of England…Protestant maybe? My Mom really did want us to be good Catholics who grew up and got married in churches and had babies that were baptized, but she also never really took me to church.
I would go on my own to church–if I went at all–on Sunday morning. When I say “go on my own to church,” I really mean I snuck into the back of church, picked up the weekly flyer and then went to Roy Rogers (a now extinct fast food chain) for an hour to eat biscuits and sit on the curb smoking cigarettes with a friend. I would pop some gum in my mouth to hide the smell of smoke and fast food, go home to my Mom with my church flyer and a smile. Mom was none the wiser.
I wish I could tell you that because of lax religious training or issues confusing the whole Jewish thing and Christian thing led to my lack of belief—but it really is that I never could wrap my head around the stories of the Bible. I believe in honesty and integrity and compassion above all else (which seems to be the big message of most religions), but I can’t seem to believe in God. I respect those that do, I just can’t believe with them.
So, I am left conflicted for my daughter. You have to give your child guidance and for me this means on some levels, leading her away from religion. But it also means leading her away from what is considered a normal and acceptable part of upbringing. You could say life without religion in America casts you to the fringes of society, which is DEFINITELY not where I want my daughter to end up. I cling to my bourgeois, city slicker enclave on the edge of Manhattan for protection from those who might find my lack of religion offensive. But even here, a subway ride from Midtown, we are battered with religious influence in her play groups, from her nanny, from the neighbors.
So what do you do?
I/we have decided to bend with the wind and hope for the best. The nursery school in the neighborhood that offers the best program for my sweet girl is at the Catholic school down the road, so she will go this September. I am told the nursery program is not particularly religious so I will drop her there some sunny morning in late summer. When I told my husband she was at bible school last Sunday night, there was a pregnant pause on our cell connection. We both had to let it go and accept she was having fun. We weren’t going to let a little Jesus and some Methodists ruin a night with her Midwestern cousins or my margarita.
I don’t know if we are leading her down a confusing path. We very well may be making awful decisions, but it is unchartered. I don’t know many atheists with kids to ask questions. We are not setting out to follow strict philosophy or theory. I don’t want to raise our daughter on some strict religious tenets (or strictly) because of our lack of religion, so we will muddle thru it one Methodist, or Catholic, or margarita at a time.
Jessica Sherman lives in New York with her husband and her adorable daughter.