When it comes to spirituality, I consider myself a “Jill of all Trades.” I was raised Methodist, am the daughter of a Catholic Deacon, was surrounded by friends who were Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, and Muslim, and grew up in a haunted house. My parents gave me the freedom to explore spirituality any way I wanted, and our ghostly housemate constantly had me asking the big life questions, “Do we have souls?” “What is the meaning of life?” “IS there life after death?” So, I pored over books and magazines about ancient Egyptians, Greek Mythology, Pagan Rituals, and Astral Projection. I even created an altar to my idol, John Lennon, lit candles for him every night, and asked that he protect all the remaining Beatles from untimely death, while listening to Dear Prudence on repeat. Yep, fifteen-year-old me had it all figured out.
Eighteen years later, and I’m still that starry-eyed, dreamy Spiritualist, irregular church-goer, and even a sometimes-skeptic.
But now I’m driving down Route 100, with a 4-year-old, who speaks up from the back seat to ask, “Mommy, what is God?”
I stared at the road for a long time. I even said, “Hmm, let me think about how to explain this.”
My internal voice was rambling: “What is God to me? Do I believe in God, in the traditional sense? How do I explain what God means to others, that sometimes people hurt other people in the name of God? How do I teach her to find her higher power, yet respect others who don’t believe or who have different beliefs? And then, what’s best for her?”
I finally answered, “Well, I believe that God is like a life-force.” She understood this, thanks to Star Wars. “It’s the positive energy that helps plants grow, the happiness you feel. It’s something that connects all people. And, when we are kind, when we help people and animals, when we’re kind to ourselves, we use that positive energy and spread it to others.” I explained how other people view God and that, of course, some people believe that God doesn’t exist. (I hoped I had covered all the important things for the time being…) This sparked a 20-minute conversation about Star Wars, and we circled back to God and spirituality another day. Since then, she’s really taken to Christianity, has brought us back to church, loves practicing Pagan rituals with me, and is really into playing intuitive games and learning about Tarot-interpretations and psychic-development. Yep, she’s definitely my kid!
Since that day, more questions have come my way, and I’ve just done my best to answer them. I also brushed up on my spirituality research.
Here is what I’ve learned and what the Internet has to say about Spirituality and Parenting:
It’s important to believe in something.
…your own higher self, subconscious, or intuition included. Studies show “that children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances, are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers, are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex, and have significantly more positive markers for thriving, including an increased sense of meaning and purpose, and high levels of academic success.” (Lisa Miller, PH.D., author of The Spiritual Child).
Spirituality has taken on a different meaning in today’s world.
It’s not directly tied to religion. “Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” (Christina Puchalski, MD, Director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health).
Non-denominational spiritual practices that foster a sense of SELF may include:
Meditating, practicing yoga, dancing, playing/listening to music, creating art, setting aside time to be grateful, lighting a candle or carrying a stone/crystal as a reminder (to be kind, to keep someone in your thoughts, etc.), saying daily affirmations like, “I will be kind today” or “I will find happiness today.” Also, check out. Huff Post Healthy Living author, Dr. Carmen Harra suggests 35 Affirmations That Will Change Your Life.
You can best foster awareness of OTHERS on a smaller scale first:
By teaching children to be grateful; by saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you;’ asking them what they’re thankful for each day; teaching respect for others; making empathetic statements like, “Your friend looks sad. How can you help her?” These are things that you probably already do, super moms and dads!
Lead by example.
If you want your child to draw positive emotions from their inner strength, from their higher power, from the universe, or from God, and spread that love and strength to their friends and community, they will be more likely to do that if they see you doing it.
Your kids will probably adopt the spiritual practices that you have in your home.
That’s good. Encourage respect for others’ spiritual practices, but absolutely say, “This is how we practice spirituality and religion.”
Recognize when your child needs to believe in something ‘bigger.’
Particularly after a pet or family member has passed away. Listen to them and allow them the freedom to believe or not believe. You can tackle the bigger life questions at a later time.
Remember that it’s always OK to say, “I don’t know.”
As well as: “Some people believe…” and “We believe…” when those tough questions come your way. Ask your kids what they think, and listen.
Your children don’t need you to have all the facts. The Earth is one planet, in one solar system, in one galaxy (among millions [and billions, trillions?] of others). None of us should assume we have all the answers.