This piece originally appeared in Dovetail September 1997.
It seems not so long ago, right? You were seriously dating, and often asking: What will we do about the children? Now that child holds tightly onto your hand and the question takes a different spin: What are we going do to with the children?
I draw your attention to that little preposition with. Building a spiritual life for your interfaith children is a family journey. The course is often uncharted, so remain flexible, curious, and open as you navigate and accommodate to its vagaries.
Perhaps interfaith families can learn from bi-lingual homes. As when learning to speak another language, the process of learning tow religious language and symbol systems cannot be achieved sporadically. Furthermore, would you expect your child to learn to speak a language that you have not uttered since high school?
In a support group you will have an opportunity to meet adults and their offspring in various stages of growth. This naturally evolves into a way of showing your child that he or she is not alone: other families are living in bi-lingual, bi-religious homes.
In starting a new group, relax, dive in, but begin slowly and patiently. The motto for families should be: Let’s just get the kids together. Look at the age distribution of the children and plan accordingly.
0-4 years old: Oh, just let them play! This is the age of pure egocentrism. Formal schooling and activities are usually a waste of your time. Form a baby-sitting co-op for meeting times. Who knows? This may even evolve into a support network for those “date-nights” you and your husband need!
5-7 years old: Keep activities short, active, varied, and fun. You can plan activities around the holidays, the Golden Rule, basic Bible stories or characters. Read the story, sing a song, make an art project, share a snack, and play!
8-11 years old: These are the prime ages for modeling, imitation, and engagement. Children at this age want to mimic the parents, and in turn receive their approval. Activities around Bible heroes, making choices, and communal celebrations are appropriate.
12 and up: The child’s cognitive skills are slowly growing toward formal reasoning ability. The frustration of this period comes in the child’s move away from the parents as the primary source of spiritual information. This is the time for community service projects and wrestling, in facilitated discussions, over emerging interpersonal ethical dilemmas.
Observing and nurturing the spiritual life of a child is an honor and an obligation. It helps to have companions on the journey. Find other families and link minds and hearts. They too will serve as your child’s links to the Transcendent Power. Do it soon, for it will not be so long before you will be asking: What are we going to do without the kids?