A while back (I think it was over the summer), I walked in on a conversation and was asked my opinion (by someone that didn’t know my religious beliefs) on raising a child to be a “Good Christian”. My response was that I’d rather raise my child to be a good person, and if they also happened to be Christian, that was their own business.
I think that applies to raising Pagan children as well. That being said, I also happen to think If you really believe something to be “true” (whether that be a religious opinion, or a moral stance, to eat their vegetables etc) and beneficial, then, as a parent, you have a duty and responsibility to teach that to your children (the best way to teach a child something is for you to consistently emulate it in a positive manner). Luckily, the hubby and I happen to think that the things we value make for the foundations of a “good” person (otherwise, it would be pretty darn dumb to continue to believe them).
I happen to think that religious education in an open and nurturing environment that emphasizes responsibility and self-determination is a great thing–as such, Sophie (and Collin when he’s older) goes to “Sunday School” at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. As a parent, it is my responsibility to hand my children a map and compass, and teach them to chart their own course in life, not to march them down the path that I choose for them (I realize that not all parent subscribe to this view…which might be a warning for parents that *don’t* want their kids to “stray” from their chosen path–I know far more people that rebel from that sort of upbringing than stick with it, and it seems to be incredible damaging to both the child as an individual and the family as a whole).
Some of these ideas (and how we have chosen to deal with them) (in no particular order):
* Children should be culturally literate–that includes an understanding of world religions (including Christianity) and their mythological basis (including the Bible). It has been my experience that the most efficient and longest lasting way to teach specific ideas things to young children is through play. As a child, I was fascinated with religion and mythology–particularly the religion and mythology of ancient peoples. After reading the book The Egypt Game, my friends and I created our own version..and, at one point, my best friend and I even sacrificed a tomato in a fabricated Aztec ritual.
* Emphasize a love of reading, and use the books you read together to tell a story that echo your values and morality (religious or not), lessons you find to be important, etc. Paganism is a personal religion…and should (IMO) require a great deal of research. Start teaching your children about the world around them, past and present, now. Our kids book library includes a number of mythology books, alternative creation stories and poetic illustrations of evolution, alternatively illustrated bible verses, books on the solstices, etc. We have other books that emphasize caring for one’s surroundings, respecting others, respecting one’s self, being comfortable with the human body, etc…but in a fun way. Discuss those books and what the story means–at 3, my daughter gets a helluva lot more out of a book than the story at face value. (a book list for Pagan families)
* Emphasize experiential knowledge. Let your kids do stuff. Go to the beach and teach them to pick up trash in return for a pretty shell they find. Let them to stir in the love in a batch of pancakes, or sprinkle on the sprinkles of happiness on a birthday cake. Let them dig in the dirt and jump in puddles. If you are familiar with edible wild plants, let them taste wood sorrel (its sour), mulberries off the tree (a breakfast fave) or peppergrass. IMO, the most important lesson a parent can teach a child (after the fact that they are loved), is to teach them that actions have consequences that they are responsible for. Let your kids get hurt (I’m not saying let them run into a busy highway or jump off the roof, but if they climb something they shouldn’t have and fall off, make it a lesson), let them be uncomfortable (Sophie is occasionally stubborn on what she wants to wear–if I tell her its cold and she needs a coat, and she says no, I let her be cold–and make her follow through as long as its safe), and let them fail (and teach them to try again).
* Include your children in what you do in a way that is sensitive to their development. Simplify family rituals in a way that includes them. Show thankfulness–thank where you food comes from with mealtime prayers, or at the end of the day, or with actions–clean up litter at a park you play at. If you meditate, teach them meditation–there are several childrens books of guided meditation, kids yoga books and vids. If they have interests or skills that you lack, look for resources that can foster those skills and let your child bring something unique to the family practice. If music is their thing, looks for a kids drumming class, if they like to dance, let them dance (some studios offer kids belly-dance classes), if they like to paint, let them make a ground cloth for family rituals.
*Find opportunities for your child to socialize where they aren’t the only one that’s “different”. Kids can be unkind, either deliberately or accidentally. They are often reflecting the views that their parents likely have, but have (sometimes) learned to be respectful enough to keep behind closed doors. While children (and adults!) need to learn to deal with difficult people and situations, it shouldn’t be something they face without some escape. Finding play groups with similarly minded families can both relieve some of the stress of being the “different” kid (Yahoo! groups and meet-up are a great place to look for other alternatively religious parents), more structured groups like Spiral Scouts can also offer opportunities for Pagan kids to learn, play and socialize, while formal RE classes and groups through many Unitarian Universalist congregations can offer a diverse variety of religious and non-religious lessons and experiences.