I have practiced in my head many times how my husband and I will handle all the tough talks with our daughter, like drugs, sex, and gender politics. But the hardest one for me–religion–is up first.
After only two days of preschool, while my daughter was getting dressed in the morning, I heard her shout “Jesus.” At first I thought she was just copying one of my casual swears. Then she sang something like: “I need Jesus, you need Jesus, we need Jesus.”
Although the word “Christian” is all over her school paperwork, I hadn’t really thought about what it would mean to enroll our daughter in a Christian preschool until then.
We knew the school was affiliated with a church when she enrolled, and I did ask about how much that influenced the curriculum. I was so in love with the school that I don’t think the answer would have mattered, but I wanted to know.
Despite celebrating Christmas, I do not identify as a Christian.1 My husband grew up Catholic and still identifies as one. We have a non-christened child. I know what it’s like growing up without religion and how confusing it is to navigate that world alone as a child, and I suspect that she will go through some faith-based confusion and searching. Probably not in preschool, but eventually. When that time in her life arrives, we will let her decide what she believes without comment, take her to whatever church she wants to explore, and (this is specific to me) will not call Jesus “Jebus” around her.
Does that sound like a cop out? It’s the most practical pathway I can think of. I don’t want to force atheism on a person any more than I’d want someone to force their beliefs on me. It’s such a personal issue that I can only leave my child open to the options and answer her questions as fairly as I can. I’m as curious about how this works out as anyone. I anticipate having tearful conversations with my child about how she’s afraid I’m going to Hell.
My reservation is that my daughter is experiencing something heavy and huge when she attends a church service twice a month, and I’m not there to experience it with her (I will be attending it with her soon). But since she also has sat through funerals and weddings in churches and had no follow up remarks, I’m not sure how much of an impact it will make.
For now, she’s getting instruction about God, Jesus, and their lessons, and culturally that seems important. Whether she ends up a believer, the Biblical references can only enhance her cultural understanding, like having basic Shakespeare knowledge or seeing The Wizard of Oz and Seinfeld. I’m embarrassed by my lack of knowledge about Bible stories.2 I watched Noah with my husband recently, and it took everything in me to not keep asking him “Did that happen in the book?”
Jesus has come up a few times in the last month. She has a choreographed tune she’ll sing about how “Jesus’ love is bubbling over” that is pretty catchy. She asked me if I knew Jesus the other day. I just said yes, and then she explained to me who he was (he is a man who helps people or who helps people to help people–it was a fuzzy explanation, and apparently her dad was the one who gave her the bio). When I asked her what her first school time church service was like, she said “It was a show.” I do sort of expect her to pass over a handmade flier with macaroni glued to it next time she asks me if I know Jesus. Or maybe Jesus doesn’t register as anything heavier than when she learns about other people in songs or stories. It makes it easier for me that Jesus was a real person, so I don’t feel like I should talk about Him like we’re talking about Santa or the Easter Bunny.3
Clearly I’m biased and don’t want a religious child because I don’t have the tools to support it. I’m afraid that it would create a separation between me and her, and it could maybe change the dynamic between all of us if she and her dad turn churchy and I stay behind. Or would I pretend to be into it just so we could all go as a family? Maybe I’m not as open-minded as I say that I am, but I don’t want to forfeit my claim in being useful at all when it comes to spiritual growth.
She’s only going to be at that school for one year (two years, tops), and, in addition to minimal religious instruction, she’s getting lessons, experiences, and exposure to things that are going to give her a head start on being a good student and (not that she wasn’t already) an empathetic person. I think her excitement about school and learning is the more important takeaway.
If Jesus becomes something other than a thing to sing about, I hope she’ll let me know what she’s thinking. And I hope that I won’t mess it up for her.
- I don’t need to go into it reasons why, and this is not meant to be read as an attack on Christians. Good people are good people, no matter what inspires them. ↩
- I know this can be easily remedied, but it’s not like when I finish one book I think “I’m ready to read the Bible! That sounds like fun.” It took me more than a year to finish Moby-Dick. I would never finish reading the Bible. ↩
- I’m not sure my daughter could really believe that I let some man or giant rabbit into our house in the middle of the night when I don’t even answer the doorbell during the day. ↩