“Often these families tell me they’re confused about religion or want their children to be able to pick their religion for themselves,” Surges says. “But children like some direction. By the time they’re 16 and don’t belong anywhere, many of them come back to me seeking that direction.”
Facing the big questions
The issue doesn’t go away. Instead, the older the child becomes, the more critical it becomes, because while you and your spouse may not formally ascribe to any religious beliefs, your children will have friends whose families do. Your kids may spend their weekends going to others’ first Communions or bar mitzvahs but have nothing to share and celebrate for themselves.
The problem here is that, as Coles points out, children have rich spiritual lives that are filled with questions about God, life and death, and the afterlife. If you decide to observe no organized religion in your family, you’ll need to have answers anyway. “Avoidance [of the big questions] is like a time bomb slowly ticking away,” Reuben says. “You never know when it will explode in your face.”
Before our daughter was born, my husband and I assumed we agreed on everything without discussion. But we learned that we had a lot of talking to do, and eventually we reached an accommodation on our own. Burt, it turned out, would participate in any holiday as long as it culminated in a big family meal. There are plenty of those in Judaism, so we were fine. I came to respect the fact that his spiritual needs were, simply, different from mine. Through emphasizing what we agreed on and allowing for honest differences of belief, we were able to give our daughter not only a religious structure she could choose to keep or reject later but also what every child needs most: a happy home.