Modern Parent
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Modern Parent

Can Religion Contribute To Lazy Parenting?

I say yes

Nativity scene portrayed with dolls
Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Before everyone gets angry, I know it is possible to be a thoughtful, contemplative parent while raising religious children.

However, this wasn’t my experience as a child or as a parent.

My parents raised me in a religious home. It didn’t keep me from screwing up in all kinds of ways, and, honestly, I reveled in my rebellion. Religion was always there, though, simmering in the background. I thought my mutiny rejected how I was raised, not necessarily a rejection of religion itself.

I assumed, once I had kids, I’d find my way back to organized religion. I thought that’s what all adults did. As if finding Jesus was a benchmark of adulthood. How else could you raise good humans anyway? I didn’t know anyone raised without some religion. Circling back was a matter of when not if.

Then I had kids.

With a Muslim man.

No problem, I thought. The two religions have way more common than anyone ever talks about—the entire Old Testament, for starters. My kids will learn about both faiths; I’ll focus on what the religions share.

Like the middle section of a Venn diagram.

Venn diagram with Christianity in one circle, Islam in the other. Me and my kids in the shared, center space.
Photo by Amy Torbenson

Middle Ground Problems

Teaching the middle ground meant I did most of the religious instruction at home. Both faiths have identical, complete confidence theirs is the one true religion. Given this, my kids wouldn’t get a middle-ground view if I took them to the mosque on Friday and then to church on Sunday.

This meant I had to do a lot of thinking about what I was teaching them. I had to navigate the differences in doctrine between the two faiths. Not to mention the idiosyncrasies within each.

I had to have answers.

I couldn’t say, “weeelllll, I know Leviticus 11:9 says not to eat shellfish, and Timothy 2:12 says women should be silent in church. But we don’t really go by that part.” Or, “I know the Quran (4:34) says it’s okay to beat disobedient women lightly…but we don’t really go by that either.” We are, however, going to follow the part where we don’t eat pork and the part where we don’t spend money on Sundays.

I had to choose what to take literally and what to take figuratively. This confuses even the most knowledgeable devotee. I was figuring it out as a layperson, trying to integrate two faiths and explain it to kids.

It was…tricky.

The Two — Religion Strategy

If I were only teaching one religion, it would have been easier. I could explain the leader of our religion determined the pieces and parts we chose to follow that the religious leader had some inside information on what we had to follow, like Leviticus 27:30 -tithe 10% of your income. They’d also tell us what not to follow, like First Corinthians 11:6- women not cutting their hair.

When they were little, I focused on big-picture items: the Ten Commandments, the Five Pillars of Islam. Little kids don’t do a lot of philosophical questioning, so it was easygoing at first. It became difficult when they were old enough to reason through the stories. Then they started asking questions about the nature of God.

“God really told Abraham to kill his son?”

“God got angry and killed everyone with a flood?”

“Mary was 14??”

“And Jesus was the son of God? Or a prophet?”

There were times I wished I could say, “listen, I know it’s confusing, but that’s what the Bible/Quran says. We have to have faith it’ll make sense to us one day if we study hard and pray enough.”

Child reading overly large bible.
Photo by Samantha Sophia on Unsplash

Religion as a Parenting Crutch

As my kids got older, the problem wasn’t that I was trying to knit two religions together. The problem was that I finally understood the temptation to teach religion rather than be a parent.

I wanted the responsibility for my kids to be God’s.

Being a parent is so hard, and I rarely ever felt like I was doing it right. I wanted some guidelines, rules, and regulations to follow to make sure I wasn’t messing it up. I wanted God to tell me what to do and how to do it. I wanted to be able to teach my kids a religion and know that I’d done my duty.

As my kids got older, things got more complicated, and I’m a little ashamed to admit the lazy part of me wanted to put it all on someone else. I liked the idea of taking them to church or mosque so someone else could be responsible for their moral upbringing.

If things went to hell in a handbasket, I wanted to be able to feel like I’d done all the correct things.

I wanted life to make sense and have a purpose.

When bad things happened, I wanted to be able to say, “It all happened for a reason wisely. It’ll all make sense at some point in the future. You’ll see, God has a plan.” Or “You’ll get through it; God never gives you more than you can handle.”

I wanted to let the chips fall however, God wanted them to…and for it to not be my fault if it went poorly. I reached the point where I understood the desire to rely on religion for all the parenting answers.

But I couldn’t do it.

My kids were my responsibility. I didn’t feel good about letting anyone else set the agenda. I was uncomfortable with the black-and-white thinking being taught in religion. And much of it didn’t even make sense (don’t blow on knots? consuming flesh and blood of Christ?). The inability to question doctrine or entertain outside ideas concerned me. I wasn’t so sure about their definition of a good human either. It should take more than prayer, scripture reading, and attending services to be considered heaven-worthy.

It was up to me to teach them how to be good people and live beautiful lives.

Woman walking maze on the beach.
Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Solo Parenting

For me, raising my kids in one religion was tantamount to abdicating my responsibility as a mom. I needed to raise my kids with guidelines and explanations, not just rules. When they got to the age where I worried about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, I couldn’t just point to the Ten Commandments and dip out. When they had ethical decisions to make or questions about morality, I couldn’t shrug and say, “take it to God.” I couldn’t tell them, “don’t eat pork, take the Lord’s name in vain, do drugs, or have sex. If you do, you’ll go to hell.”

I needed to have non-hellfire reasons for asking them to behave in certain ways:

“Don’t swear because you’ll end up depending on cursing and won’t develop a good vocabulary.”

“Don’t have sex until your emotional maturity has caught up with what your hormones want.”

“Don’t do drugs because you need your brain cells. Plus, you have addiction everywhere in both your family trees.”

And…I got nothing for the not eating pork rule. Maybe the possibility of worms (trichinosis) from eating it undercooked?

I tried hard to have a reason for every rule. If my kids had reasoned arguments for rule changing, I’d change them. We looked at every moral dilemma and ethical decision from as many different viewpoints as we could imagine. Then we talked ad nauseum until my child felt good about the decision.

From all of this, they learned to think. They learned to reason and rely on their own conscience. Rather than do what they liked and ask for forgiveness later, they owned their decisions. They learned to be open, kind, and loving people.

The Takeaway

I couldn’t let an institution decide how to raise my kids any more than I could have left it up to my neighbor. I couldn’t do it because that was exactly how I was raised. The church was more of a parent than my actual parents. They were very much ‘Jesus takes the wheel.’ That’s not how I wanted to do it.

I understand the attraction religion offers to parents. It’s the reassurance that you are raising your kids the ‘right way—the ability to have answers when life goes to hell.

But there is no recipe or formula to guarantee successful kids. There are no guarantees. At all. About anything.

I understand it, but I respectfully disagree with it. It’s shirking parental responsibilities. It’s lazy.

If the left or the right side of the Venn diagram works for you, wonderful. But the middle space, to me, is the best place to raise good humans.

I wanted my kids to grow up where there is room for everyone and their ideas. Where no one has a monopoly on the truth, and no one knows better than you how to live your own life best.

The middle space is where love, acceptance, and the possibility of being wrong, thrives.

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Amy Torbenson

Amy Torbenson

Mom of two amazing sons and one amazing daughter, lifelong reader of anything and everything, (really) slow runner, and a terrible cook.