Moms Talk Q&A: Do You Make Your Kids Go To Church?

Will kids raised without religion falter?

We don’t go to church. Lately, I’ve been wondering if I’m failing my kids because of it. I have friends who are religion regulars—some who have deep-rooted connections to their faiths, others whose attendance is based more on we-should-do-this-for-the-kids than on their own personal beliefs.

I support all of them.

I support anyone, in fact, who’s doing something that works for them, if that something doesn’t hurt anyone else. I don’t care about their reasons for doing it.

I don’t care if someone is Jewish or Baptist, Muslim or Buddhist. He’s an atheist? Wonderful. She’s agnostic? Fantastic!

I even don’t care if you’re Catholic—“even” because that’s the church in which I was raised, where I made my first communion, confessed my sins and was confirmed. It’s also where I learned to feel unnecessarily and overly guilty about any number of things. It’s where I got my first bitter tastes of exclusion—when, to me, inclusion is far more palatable. It’s where the phrase or you’ll go to hell was planted in my soul.

But. But. I recognize that not everyone had the experience I did. And I know Catholicism works for some people. They’re able to look beyond the plague of horrific scandals, and focus on quite the opposite: doing the right thing. To those people I say good for you.

My own affiliation with the church, however, began petering while I was in high school and came to a screeching halt after I left for college. (Incidentally, I’m not alone. Studies show that as many as 80 percent of teens leave the church during their first year of college).

I don’t go to church—but that doesn’t mean I’m not spiritual. Spirituality, as I think of it, is about having a life filled with meaning and value. It’s about forming deep relationships, and striving to be true to my inner belief system.

For most of my adult life, I haven’t felt like I needed organized religion to help me in these areas. In contrast, many of the especially devout seem to come to religion with a need: they’re looking for something to lean on, a support system. For many, it’s a last resort—it “saves” them.

As author Anne Lamott, one of my favorite people alive, wrote in her book Traveling Mercies:

“When I was at the end of my rope, the people at St. Andrew tied a knot in it for me and helped me hold on. The church became my home in the old meaning of home—that it’s where, when you show up, they have to let you in. They even said, ‘You come back now.’ ”

As I started to write this column, I was reminded of Lamott’s essay “Why I Make Sam Go to Church” in the same book. Of her son, she wrote:

“The main reason is that I want to give him what I found in the world, which is to say a path and a little light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want—which is to say, purpose, heart, balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith; they are Buddhists, Jews, Christians—people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle; they are part of something beautiful." 

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the banding together part, about whether there’s more doing-good power in a group vs. an individual—and whether a church (especially one more inclusive and progressive than that of my childhood) might be the best conduit in facilitating such banding together.

And that’s led me to wonder if my spirituality has its roots in the religious education of my youth—an education that, despite being wrapped in a shroud of rote memorization and my-way-or-the-highway rules, offered lessons in community, morality and values.

Am I failing my children by not providing them with such education? By not giving them a spiritual community, am I depriving them of the ability to “follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle”? Will they not be “part of something beautiful”?

I wonder all of this in moments when, for instance, I overhear my son asking my father-in-law: “What’s a Jesus?” (and then “overhear” the shocked and disapproving pause that follows).

Maybe it’s time for him to learn.

Do you go to church? If so, do you go for you—or for your kids? Please weigh in below.


sk October 19, 2011 at 04:48 PM
I was raised Jewish and my husband was raised Catholic. We are both non-practicing now. We have one son, age 5 and have never taken him to church or synagogue. We celebrate secular Christmas and Hanukkah and are developing our own rituals and traditions. But this is something I think about every so often. It’s okay for my husband and me to “reject” our religions because we were educated and made informed decisions. Is it okay not to give our son the same opportunity? I’m not sure. I often think about trying the UU church, if not for me, for my son, but in reality, it’s very difficult to fit it in to our busy lives. It’s just not a priority, unfortunately. So, I have no answers, but you are not alone in thinking about these issues. BTW, there are some good books on raising kids without religion: “Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion” and “Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief” both by Dale McGowan.
Sarah Corbett October 20, 2011 at 06:15 PM
Thanks, sk--I really appreciate your comments. (And the UU is what I occasionally consider as well.) Will definitely check out those books.
Kathleen Surdan October 21, 2011 at 01:21 PM
I commend both of you ladies for thoughtfully considering this topic. Yes, we go to church and our kids do, too. My husband and I are both Catholic. We were married in the Catholic church where I grew up. I won't say we went to Mass every single Sunday before kids. But once our oldest was in 1st grade and preparing for First Communion, we became very consistent. Both my kids' grandmothers are/were (one passed away) very religious and always took their families to church. They both told us that we were blessed and could spend one hour a week honoring God and reflecting on these blessings by being thankful. We also saw them turn to God in times of trouble and find comfort, and minister to others. These were powerful messages growing up, ones we want our kids to hear and benefit from. I'd say we go for ourselves and for the kids. My opinion is that, without the religious background, celebrating Christmas and/ or Hanukkah is pretty meaningless. How do they differ from Halloween or birthdays? As far as former church-going kids electing to stop attending services once they leave home, I am sure the statistic is real. I've only got one to report on so far. She became a volunteer peer minister after Confirmation and mentored younger kids. She went to Holy Week services (sometimes alone!) on days that were not mandated. Her top three choices for colleges were Catholic schools. She's at a Jesuit school--BC--and is attending Mass there. Our religion means something to her.
Patrick Clark (Editor) October 21, 2011 at 01:57 PM
I think it would be great if our readers from any the Acton Church's could weigh in on this topic.
Sarah Corbett October 21, 2011 at 03:53 PM
Thanks, Kathleen. Love the idea of spending one hour a week (at the very least) refelecting on your blessings. So interesting (and helpful) hearing other people's perspectives.
KarenL October 25, 2011 at 01:52 AM
Sarah, great article! I love your attitude of acceptance, which your kids surely will pick up on. My husband and I do not practice the religion our parents raised us with. We practice another less traditional religion which doesn't involve weekly church meetings. For our kids and ourselves, we feel connected to a higher power that can help us and love us. We have a place to direct our gratitude, our questions and our prayers. For the kids, the buck does not stop with us, the imperfect parents, but they are finding that there is a whole universe of goodness and love to count on.
kith December 28, 2011 at 05:14 AM
For our kids and ourselves, we feel connected to a higher power that can help us and love us. We have a place to direct our gratitude, our questions and our prayers. http://www.xanaxdosage.info


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