One of the most recent questions I received came from someone inquiring how I introduced my children to spirituality.
Here is the question:
Q: Janét, I notice that you teach your children spirituality from Judaism and Buddhist principles. I was raised Catholic and while I observe holidays such as Easter and Christmas, I don't believe in Catholicism or in religion at all. My husband's family wants us to raise our daughter Catholic, yet I have seen the effects of how anything with a foundation of fear creates a foundation of fear. I believe in eastern mystical philosophy which my husband embraces as well, yet, wants our daughter to have more as he would call it "a religious foundation." I would like to ask you, how did you introduce spirituality to your children as well as keep the peace with your ex-husband?
Truly, I didn't introduce my children to spirituality intentionally. Our family is Jewish so my children are involved in the Jewish high holidays. They've recently began attending synagogue sporadically if the Jewish high holidays fall on the days they are living with their father. Truly, my two munchkins have been in silent observation of my behavior listening to conversations, watching me meditate, seeing me do yoga as well as chant and pray. When they finally brought up the topic of spirituality I managed to answer their questions with ease because I remembered all the things I wished my parents had imparted to me as a child.
There is a book you may want to explore that I came across in writing this article. It's by Deepak Chopra called How to Educate Your Child about Faith. Below I’ve dissected the four points Deepak outlines all the while integrating my own spin on how to help your child discover their own spirituality.
1. Ensure not to place your doubts upon your child.
You've already mentioned you don't want to instill fear into your child. Since many of us have been brought up in organized religion which many perceive as having fear-driven motivations, it's important not to project your doubts or questioning onto your child. Yet, when they do speak to you about what they believe, gently answer their questions with non-open ended answers because open-ended answers don't work on young children. You'll be lost in a sea of questioning that will leave you aggravated and your child confused.
2. What you don't truly know, keep to yourself. Be the adult. Let her be the child.
Be honest with your child. If you don't know the answer tell your child that you do not know. It reinforces that they don't have to know everything or always be right about everything. Societal pressures for children to be perfect are at an all time high. This will keep them grounded that people don't need to know the answers to everything they just need to know what will aid them in evolving on their journey.
Additionally, many parents get the sense to force their children into a spiritual practice because many people have been conditioned to believe that their children are their property. Realize your child chose you not the other way around. I know I just dropped a “mind-bomb” perspective that your child chose you yet many people need to acknowledge that each of us is on a soul-journey and transcend in a lifetime choosing the vessel we come through. Your daughter knows what her soul-purpose is in this lifetime and in order to fulfill that purpose she needed to be selective in the womb that would carry her, the mother/father that would guide her through life and experiences to teach her the lessons she needs to fulfill at this point in history.
Also, be aware that controlling a child or projecting yourself on to her is a recipe for rejection and rebellion later on, not to mention stunted growth in the present.
On the topic of spirituality, I believe the child should lead and the parents should follow. Many parents have skewed perceptions on spirituality which has left their inner child deeply wounded.
3. Don't introduce any kind of religious influence until age 6 or 7, and then only gently.
I have a mouth full on this topic. Parents please acknowledge just like you were once a child, children don't understand religion. Thank goodness! Was I too happy in my last remark?! Please remember that the system of religion has been transgenerationally projected onto all of us. Usually children start wanting to have conversations about G-d around the age of 6 or 7. How I've managed to keep peace in my parental dynamic with my ex-husband is I observe some of my Jewish high holidays regardless of what my beliefs are on religion, it's not because I don't like the rituals or Judaism, yet where I am on my evolutionary journey I believe in freedom which in my opinion religion does not allow us much leeway.
Also, my children had already started forming their own opinions on spirituality sooner because they spend a lot of time in and out of my office listening to me interview on these topics of spirituality as well as I already mentioned in observing my daily practices.
My recommendation is don't instill religion in your child yet provide them with an ethical foundation that will allow them to love themselves, love humanity, live in peace and love freely.
4. Grow on your own. That's the strongest and best way to teach.
Live what you promote in your own lives and your children will follow that example. My belief is children should have the opportunity to explore literature, life and create their own spiritual experiences that allow them to create their own belief system. Many people such as myself and younger have been labeled what many New Ageist would call Indigo, Crystal or Rainbow children. New Ageists believe there has been an "Awakening" in enlightenment that has caused a transcendence of these children to manifest at this point in history with their soul-purpose; to bring integrity back to societal systems that have now been rendered faulty. Direct translation: We are seen as intuitive lightworkers who've come to heal the world.
Meanwhile, bible stories and other simple scriptures would appeal to children, I wouldn't recommend using them as a stepping stone to forming faith and belief. Those elements are not scientific or historically sound. Children now are more knowledgeable and are "heart-centered" meaning they understand intuitive feeling. They operate more on what they feel which many religions in the past have tried to "snuff out" mankind's spiritual navigation tool. The reason is the liberalism from previous generations has created a ripple effect that now there is a generation of young people who don't seek religion at all. Hence, why the bible makes statements like "lawlessness gets worse with each and every generation" to portray the self-fulfilling prophecy of the fall of westernized religion and the resurrection of an ethics-based society.
Parents welcome to the age of Aquarius. Where you need to acknowledge most young people are open to esoteric philosophies that you "their parents" were probably never really exposed to. For those of you who were sent "to church" or attended with your families, kids now are more inquisitive about proving what they believe. If you introduce bible stories to your child, as your child evolves they will realize that many of those biblical stories cannot be proven. It will cause your child to look at you "side-eyed" making them think ,"why did you teach me something that has no historical, archeological and scientific foundation? Food for thought, in high school once your son or daughter takes courses like world religions or western civilization and you've brought them up believing that a religious system is the way, the truth and the life. Be prepared for a teenage ear full of a 'rude awakening' followed by "things are not as though they seem" attitude effect. You may think younger children will be different from the teenager, yet let me tell you, my kids whom I never had a conversation on religion, G-d or spirituality until they brought it up had already formed their own beliefs on the existence of Easter bunny, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Also, even if I attempted to tell them it was true, they would never believe me.
I have to mention that the conversations on spirituality with my children are hilarious from my oldest child saying he believes we humans are our own G-ds to my youngest saying he would like to contact G-d directly and asked me for G-d's number.
Oh, to be a child again filled with wonder and majesty. To explore without limitations and create experiences in the present.
My recommendation regarding the topic of aiding your child in discovering her spirituality is to allow your child to lead and you to follow gently guiding her innocent fearlessness to heal you in silent observation.