I grew up Modern Orthodox and have been through various stages of religiosity. I no longer practice, except to celebrate some traditions like holidays and cultural events. I married a secular atheist, though, who celebrates the same cultural Jewish milestones I do, but he is vehemently opposed to anything religious, especially the idea of God. I have never given up on the idea of God, or perhaps a benevolent being or “the universe” or something amorphous beyond our rationalist minds.
We are expecting our first child and while I don’t plan on raising him/her religious in any way, I’m not sure how to approach this idea of God. Do we say, well, Mommy believes there is a God but Daddy doesn’t? I generally agree with my husband on most matters—especially since I’m in unchartered territory of how to raise a kid without religion (almost all the parents and kids I knew were observant)—but I’m not sure I’m supposed to suppress my beliefs, as irrational as they may be, for the sake of unity.
Married to Godless…
I struggled a lot with your question, because it hits close to home for me. I too chose to make a family with an atheist-leaning trout. I too believe in a benevolent being beyond our rational minds. I too am in unchartered territory, and I want my brood to see how vast the ocean is, but also trust the compass in their hearts.
Yes, you have my permission to print that up as a greeting card and sell it at your first PTA function.
Seriously, when I met the future Mr. Gefilte and he told me about his unbelief, I could have walked out the door and put on a strapless number for the next Oneg. But instead, I stayed. I tried to work out our differences in a small dark corner of my closet, where I prayed. I shut that door and all communications about my faith and me.
Until I realized I couldn’t be a mom unless I got naked. Physically, I think you already know what I mean. (If you don’t, just email me at deargefilte(at)kveller.com. But also, you should check your uterus.)
Harder still, I had to undress my spiritual beliefs so I could really share them with my new family. Truth be told, I’m still in the process of disrobing and demystifying. I actually use almost your exact words sometimes, but with a slight variation: Mommy believes in God and Daddy believes in the martial arts. We also have a sign in our home listing all the things that we both believe at the same time, which includes, but is not limited to:
Celebrate each other’s victories
Farts are always funny
These are places where we’ve found common ground. The world is always spinning and shaking and we need at least a patch of land where we can stand together, right?
While it’s hard to explain to my kids why I like to light the Shabbat candles or sit quietly in the morning mumbling prayers, I know I have to. After all, you didn’t know what you didn’t believe in until you understood what your parents did, right? It’s a little like how you’re going to have your kid taste bananas, peas, sweet potatoes, and avocados.
I hope you don’t skip the peas just because you don’t like them.
Although I will say rice cereal is totally unnecessary and tastes like liquid boredom.
Here is a fascinating interview on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast with actor Jason Segel about the Muppets, David Foster Wallace, and Segel’s embarrassing explanation of his bar mitzvah to a room full of Christians.
Segel grew up in an interfaith household. He says (about his parents), “Neither of them are religious. So they made this decision that they were going to let me decide, which is like the dumbest thing you can do for a kid.”
MTG, I hope you’re going to introduce your child to the swing set, the pool, and beyond that, evolutionary theories and air travel. So why not include your opinions and uncertainties? Why not do a little research with your kiddo—take a trip to the Quaker Meeting House and the Episcopalian potluck. Read up on all the big ism’s and get one of those follow-along-at-home meditation CDs.
Just to scare you even more, you’re going to have to brush up on your geometry if you want to be of any help with fourth grade homework. And you’d better look at this terrifying text-slang dictionary before purchasing your kid a cellphone. Unless you want her/him to find out all of this stuff without your guidance and support.
Believe me, I know it’s hard. And it leads everyone down the toddler path of Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?????
Which, as annoying as it seems, is really the healthiest thing we can do.
Question. And then question again.
With love and schmaltz,