Parenting Without Faith

I want to preface this by mentioning that this is not an easy post for me to write. Although I’ve been documenting my life as a parent online for well over a year now, it isn’t often that I share intimate details of my thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. What I want to discuss tonight is something that’s been weighing heavily on my heart for well over a month and I hope that you’ll allow me the rare opportunity to be vulnerable with you without judgement.

Last month, I had lunch with my incredible friend Bethany. She’s someone I’ve been close with for several years and I was happy for the chance to spend some time with her while she was back in town. As we were eating, we witnessed a father and his young son at a table near us. Before they began eating, they sat together and prayed. It was really moving. But it was also heartbreaking, for me. Heartbreaking because that’s not something that I can share with my own daughter. We’ll never (at least not at this particular moment in our lives) share a moment like that together because I am parenting without faith.

Having grown up in a Christian household, been a leader in my youth group during high school, and active in my religious community during college, I am no stranger to what it means to have faith. While attending undergraduate studies with a major in a religion and culture so vastly different from my own, I began exploring other faith based systems. My journey, thus far, has led me to a place with a lot of unanswered questions. When my husband and I had a child of our own, coming to terms with the fact that we simply don’t know, was even more difficult to accept.

Fast forward to last week when my little family of three was sitting together in the kitchen. My daughter, now almost three, asked my husband (after he let out a loud cough) if he was okay. He replied, without thinking, “I think I’ll live.” Without missing a beat, my daughter said, “I want you to always live. And mommy.” Speechless. As the tears pooled in my eyes, I found myself thinking back to that father and son last month and how I wish, more than anything, that I could provide that same comfort and promise to my own child that this stranger was undoubtedly able to offer his son.

You see, parenting without faith (at least for me and my spouse) is not simply a choice that we’ve made for our family. I want, more than anything, to be able to provide my daughter with answers to life’s biggest questions (Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?) but the truth is, I can’t. We’ve flirted with the idea of attending some sort of religious institution for the sake of giving her a foundation of faith but, for us, that would be disingenuous to where we’re at in our journey and what we believe about life. There is comfort in religion – a comfort my family does not have.

For now, we’re teaching our child that the World is a beautiful place. That life is a precious, precious gift that we should cherish, respect, and enjoy. That we should treat this planet and all of its inhabitants with love and compassion. That people have all sorts of beliefs, ideas, and differing answers on life’s biggest questions and that it’s okay. One day, when she’s old enough, we’ll encourage her to explore and find her own path…wherever that might lead her. While we certainly can’t make any promises about what tomorrow may bring, and as heartbreaking as that may be for us, we’re forced to simply focus on today.

I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re not parenting without faith because we reject God or because we somehow are apathetic or indifferent towards having beliefs. I wish, more than anything, that I could be certain that I had answers. But that’s not my life. We’re not parenting without faith because we don’t care about our child’s future or her (perceived) eternal salvation, we simply don’t have the answers. Parenting without faith doesn’t make us immoral people and it certainly doesn’t mean that our child will grow up to be any less respectful, loving, or compassionate towards herself, others, and the World around her. Our goals, our hopes for our child (and any other subsequent children we may have later on down the road) are the same as yours.

So, please, don’t make assumptions about our lifestyle and don’t assume things about the way we raise our child. I may not be parenting with faith, but I’m still parenting with love.

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13 thoughts on “Parenting Without Faith

  1. The Pajama Mama says:

    This was really brave of you to write this. We, too, are parenting without religion, but I don’t consider it to be without faith. I have faith in humanity. I see the divinity in people every single day. I have so much faith in this little family of mine. But we don’t go to a house of worship. I definitely don’t think that makes us bad parents.

    If you are interested in a community, have you looked into Unitarian Universalism? We were married by a UU minister and regularly attended a UU church years ago. I like that they are (or the one we went to anyway) very inclusive of all belief systems and extremely education and acceptance based.

  2. Sarah says:

    I know where you are coming from100%. Eric and I were both raised in “church” houses. I HAD to go to church every Sunday. As I got older I realized that organized religion isn’t the way for me to go and it kills my mom. I got the kids baptized, I hate to say this, but basically to make my family happy and to cover my bases.

    Like you, I would like my kids to make their own choices about what they believe. While I may not necessarily believe there is a big man in the sky sitting on fluffy clouds, I like to think that there is something. What that is, or what the right path to follow is, I don’t know.

    Except the Great Spaghetti Monster in the sky. I am PRETTY sure that isn’t real.

  3. Michael De Los Santos says:

    I know this was not an easy post for you to write, and I must say having known you and Tim in college and the groups you were involved in. I was a bit surprised by this. However, I am very supportive of this and have so much respect for parents who choose to do this. I was raised in a very hard core religious family I was in church or around the church 7 days a week. I slowed a bit as I got older and had my own freedom, but my parents and particularly my mom are still heavily invested in that. My experience changed in 2005 when that church excommunicated me.

    We are taking a slightly different, but similar approach with our children. Gloria and I come from different religious backgrounds (her mom is a Jehovah’s Witness) but were both turned off by the forceful nature that it is imposes on kids. We don’t go to church, but we don’t hide faith from them either. Jordyn goes to preschool at a baptist church and so is exposed, but we are also teaching them to be open to all forms of belief so that when they get older they can choose which way brings them peace. We occasionally visit different types of churches so they are exposed, but ultimately want them to be able to find their own path to peace without us forcing it down their throats. Which is why raising with no faith is not the same as raising with no spirituality which is inherent in all of us.

  4. Melissa Keller Foster says:

    I have wanted to reply to your post since I saw this, but one thing or another has kept me from actually logging online long enough to do so. I just finished reading all the other posts and I come with a different perspective.
    I was raised in a home where we did not go to church. It was not regularly discussed. If we had stayed in Germany (where my mom is from), she says we would’ve gone to Catholic church. However, it seems that most of my family there are part of the holiday crowd. My dad was raised in a Baptist home and felt like he should let his kids choose because he hated being forced to go to church. My mom said her experience with churches in the U.S. was all about money and not faith, so she did not want to expose us to that. We talked infrequently about God and just assumed Heaven & Hell were around. I learned most of my “religion” in history class.
    When I joined Delta Pi, I let everyone know straight away, I would go to church during Pledge week, but they would not be seeing me there any other time. After I left E&H, I started feeling that tug…to find a spiritual home and connect to God. It took me 2-3 years to find that home. Not that I went to lots of churches…I did lots of driving around and very little talking about it…because I didn’t know how or who to talk to about that.
    Now, Emory and I go to church every week. James works the weekend shift, so most of the time we go alone. Emory loves going to her class where she gets to “Pat the Bible” and play with the other kids. Emory proudly says “Amen” multiple times a day and will even fold my hands together when she’s ready for me to say a prayer.
    Looking back, for me…this is the kind of life I wish I had as a child. Learning about God from an early life. I studied other religions outside of Christianity in those history classes and in classes at E&H. Regardless, I ended up a good person. I made poor choices before accepting Christ and I continue to make poor choices at times because sometimes that’s the only way to learn.

    Holli, I admire you for positing what must be difficult for you. I wanted to offer you the perspective of the child who grew up opposite of you…<3

  5. Jessica Peeling says:

    This is a wonderful post. I completely understand — I was one of those children, like your daughter. My parents are not religious, and they simply gave me the opportunity when I was a bit older to attend church school. The door was always open if I wanted it…they never outwardly rejected religion, they just based their parenting more on good morals. I can tell you that even though I went to church school, it wasn’t for me, and I think they are the greatest parents in the world. I may not have faith, but I am a good person who was raised well, and surrounds myself with other great people. I don’t feel like I am missing anything. The questions are always there, but I think that’s human nature. I expect to do exactly the same thing with my children, in the future! 🙂

  6. Melissa Smith says:

    I have never been a religious person myself, but I still completely get what you’re saying. I just try to do my best & raise my children with morals & respect for others.

  7. Patty says:

    Very well written! I get what you’re saying completely! Our family does not go to church. Instead, we have a deep appreciation for nature and all its glory. There is nothing more serene than being on a boat in the middle of a lake watching a sunrise. We have discussed finding a church to call home, but I feel like God knows we are good people, he doesn’t need to take attendance. 🙂

  8. Danielle Stewart says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I know that i don’t go to church or anything like that but my six year old is very interested in God. He asks about God all the time and about angles and things that I have never talked to him about. I realized that it was very important to him even at such a young age. I took him to see Heaven is For Real and he cried which made me feel like I had been keeping him from something. I totally understand and appreciate your position.

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