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Does your child believe in God?
March 01, 2005
ow do you bring up your child to believe in God?
Do you want your child to be religious?
If you do not believe in God, is it wrong not to acquaint your child with some version of God?
How do you bring up a child in a multi-religious household?
I do not believe in God. My children have never seen me pray. Nor have I taken pains to talk to them about a God in the sky. Or anywhere else
Two years ago, when my eldest daughter was about to turn nine, she lost a classmate with whom she had studied with for the past four years. Her friend fell out of the window of her flat and died on the spot. My daughter went to school the following morning and was stunned to discover that her friend would not be coming to school thereafter.
How do you bring up your child to believe in God? Let us know!
When my daughter reached home, she called me at office and said, "Do you know that so-and-so died yesterday?" She sounded very matter-of-fact. I realised she was in turmoil.
I rushed home to talk to her. She was very upset. She wanted badly to go to her friend's house so she could understand what had happened. That was not possible. She wanted to meet her friend's mother and go for the funeral. That was also not possible. She finally drew out a lovely picture for her friend's mom and, armed with a condolence letter, we visited her friend's building and delivered the envelope to the watchman.
But what plagued her more than anything else were the questions she asked me over and over again: Where has her friend gone? Did she go to God? Wouldn't it be terrible for her to be in another place without a mother and father?
I realised that because I had not brought up my child with any concept of faith, she was suffering more than other children. Had I talked to her, ever since she was tiny, about a wonderful and beatific God and a shining heaven/ afterlife, she could have found plenty of refuge in a statement from me to the effect of "She has gone to God, the father in heaven."
That day, I spoke to her at length about a God that people believe in. And about my agnostic tilt that was my approach which did not have to be her approach.
It was then that I did a re-think on my approach to religion with my kids. I thought I should alter it a little.
A little backgrounder: it is difficult to bring a definite concept of faith to a multi-religious household. I am a Hindu and my husband is a Protestant. Neither of us are strong believer types. I have some principles that I hold dear, and my husband wanders into church a few times a year, max.
If I am unable to get down on my knees every night and thank God, it would seem hypocritical to tell my kids to do that?
Instead, my husband and I concentrate on exposing our kids to the culture of our respective religions. We celebrate Holi, Easter, Dussehra, Diwali, Christmas in a traditional way; the works. Probably, each of these festivals are celebrated with more dhoom-dham in our house than in anyone else's in the neighbourhood.
Our kids have visited all places of worship. And I am not averse to stopping by at a church somewhere to hear a hymn service, even in an unknown language, or watching an entire Navjote ceremony.
I try to interest my kids in religion per se and buy all kinds of books on different types of faith for them. I would like them to know about all religions, be knowledgeable and have an open mind on religion, and not be rigid. That is more important to me than what religion they finally choose, if they choose anything at all.
But when it comes to teaching them faith, the going is tougher. I can only communicate my adherence -- a kind of faith -- in principles, like vegetarianism or good thought, etc.
I am definite that, more than anything else, I would not like them to be rigid believers who feel there is only one kind of God, who is x, y and z and better than so-and-so God. I do not want them to have blind faith or merely knowledge of rituals. If they want to be religious, it must be religion that stems from an educated grasp of religion. That is my hope.
Post the death of my daughter's friend, I spend much more time talking to her about people's thoughts on God and her thoughts about religion and faith. But I have not been able to do much more.
I have met dozens of kids, now adults, of mixed religious marriages. Invariably two things happen:
1. They strongly choose one parent's religion
2. They have no religion or faith or knowledge of religion, and are kind of unmoored.
Perhaps this will happen to my children, too.
I am not sure that that is what I want. But I do find it difficult to find a better middle path.
I read somewhere that families who are successful in blending their religious cultures are happier because they create an affectionate atmosphere based on communication, compromise and respect.
Now let me ask you, dear reader, some questions:
If you do not believe in God, how do you give your children an idea of God?
Do you think a child with a mixed religious identity can get confused or lack confidence?
Does a child need to be known as belonging to one religion either Hindu or Muslim or Jain or Christian for the purpose of identification for school, passport and other forms rather than saying none or both?
Is it wrong for a mother to want her child to know her religion as well as her husband's religion? Or should a child necessarily follow her/ his father's religion?
What are the best ways to bring knowledge of different religions in a multi-religious household?
What are the best ways to teach your child about God?
Are our schools doing a good job of bringing religion to our children?
Isn't it more important to make your child a good human being irrespective of his religion and concentrate your efforts on that rather than spend time giving him a very well-defined religious upbringing?
How has religion helped your child?
I'd love to hear your views. Write to me!
Zelda Pande's earlier columns
Illustration: Dominic Xavier