Posted by Emilie Kuperman in Family, Tribal Concerns
It was your average December dilemma time: that shapeless stretch of time between Chanukah and Christmas when our eight crazy nights had wrapped up and the man in the big red suit seemed to be looming, Big-Brother-esque, too closely on the horizon. Half of H’s classmates weren’t Jewish (as is common at nearly every JCC preschool), but this didn’t mean a heck of a lot to any of the lot. I had just finished explaining to H that even though we know that Santa doesn’t exist, we don’t need to impose this truth on anyone else in case they believe differently.
“Just like we know that God doesn’t exist?” she remarked, eyes wide with commitment and conviction.
“Well, kind of…. Just keep it down about the Santa business.” I said, not so adeptly sidestepping my four year old.
It didn’t create the firestorm of faith and questioning I had envisioned, mostly since she was able to avoid Santa and God topics entirely for the rest of the month. But it wasn’t that much of a surprise when she repeated a question from some narrow-minded adult or another: “If you don’t believe in God, how can you believe in anything?”
Truth be told, I don’t press upon my child a traditional higher-power ideal, or any sense of abstract “faith.” But to say that lack of belief in this one thing is to lack belief in “anything,” well, seems a bit hollow. I would never say that we’re atheist, or agnostic, or really anything. Shoot me: I’m an Aquarius and naturally resistant to any type of categorization, even the tapestry of Reconstructionist Judaism (which is probably a good fit for my family).
But yet belief is a critical piece in our family, especially when it comes to faith in parenting. Most of the research that can be found on parenting with faith points toward Christian or God-centered methodology that speaks to a certain audience. But in my definition of parenting with faith, I adopt a much more stringent and ardent zeal in tune with core-albeit select-Jewish values.
The American Heritage Dictionary notes that faith is, among other things, “Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.” Sometimes it’s good to suspend disbelief, as you do at the theatre, and reason with your child that “everything’s going to be okay.” But when we break it down in our house, we say “Everything’s going to be okay because we have the power to make it so.”
In a fascinating piece by Paul Graham (oddly enough, an essayist and IT-nerd) called “Lies We Tell Kids”, he notes “Telling a child they have a particular ethnic or religious identity is one of the stickiest things you can tell them.” Sure, we want all of our kids to grow up with a strong Jewish identity, but does this mean a required belief in God? And without that in place, can they, as H asked, believe in anything?
Raising a kid with the Jewish type of faith is ripe with the opportunity to open your child to an outstanding tableau of humanistic and soul-growing experiences. Parenting with that faith means teaching the importance of helping others, of being the best you possible so that you can bring justice to the world, and performing everyday tasks in a kind and planful way. It means establishing and practicing a deep and profound respect for our fellow planet-dwellers and all that they believe and represent. Our family is bursting with belief and faith, because we have the power to fill our souls with belief and faith.
The next winter, H proclaimed that she had made some decisions about what she chose to believe in. She knew in her heart, she confided, that there is a G-d. And a Santa. And that the latter provided much more in the way of gifts.
“And I know who I really believe in most, even more.” She declared in her typical matter-of-fact way.
I couldn’t wait to hear this.
Emilie Kuperman grew up in the sticks and is still pulling weeds out of her West Coast mop top. With a snarky look on life, her perspectives approach a harsh genius… kind of alike a train wreck that you can’t look away from. She will challenge you to a duel before she ever admits any imperfection, in her writing or otherwise.
Photo: Simon Eugster, Creative Commons License