why a spirituality of parenting?

We don’t text. We cloth diaper. My kids love vegetarian food. They don’t watch TV.

But all those eye-rollers? I’m not dogmatic about their place in our family life. Frankly we fell into each of those choices, somewhat surprised to find ourselves there, and we’re just bumbling along in our day-to-day like everyone else does. We worry about ourselves and that’s enough.

But the one thing I am dogmatic about (and we’re all dogmatic about something, aren’t we?) is that this family is going to give faith a fighting chance. We’re not going to be self-righteous and we’re not going to be smugly sure of our beliefs about the unfathomable mystery of the Divine and we’re inevitably going to butt heads over religion and God and going to church on Sunday mornings.

But we are going to give faith a fighting chance.

So when I read the latest round of atheism’s-enlightened-and-organized-religion-is-for-the-simple-minded, I was reminded for the zillionth time why giving my children a religious foundation is both the least popular and the most counter-cultural choice I’ve made as their parent.

As the number of nones increases, those of us who check a box for a particular affiliation are left feeling lonelier by the day. (Frankly I’ve found more support from kindred spirits in this small space, this cobwebbed corner of the Interweb, than anywhere else in my life, including the parishes of which I’ve been a part.)

So what’s the point? With statistics that depressing and companions so few, why try to raise my kids Catholic? And furthermore, why bother wasting time and energy reflecting and writing about such a futile effort?

This is why:

Every so often I find myself re-reflecting on why I do what I do here. I tentatively call these questions and musings my fumbling “towards a spirituality of parenting” – not because “spirituality” is some catch-all, New-Agey, feel-good phrase, but quite the opposite: because it means something particular, something deeply rooted, something incredibly challenging.


So what is a spirituality of parenting?

It’s a school of thought. A spirituality of parenting is the way I approach the questions, changes and challenges that face me every day. I try to think deliberately about how to reframe the frustrating parts of raising young kids in order to see the God’s-eye view of this calling. I’m far from the first to find family life a source of both deep joy and troubling ambivalence, of astonishing wonder and mind-popping rage. In the midst of all these emotions and tensions – my children’s and my own – the clearer vision of this calling as a spirituality of parenting gives me the perspective I need. It’s the way I see and think about my actions as a parent. It’s a lens.

It’s a set of practices. A spirituality of parenting involves conscious, chosen practices that help me to be a more mindful mother. Some of these practices are disciplines (praying), others are pure delight (playing). Whenever I try to breathe deeply instead of fly off the handle at my preschooler, I remember (annoyedly, but remember nonetheless) how concrete practices help me to be a calmer mother. Approaching parenting spiritually helps me to be intentional about everyday actions. It’s a lesson.

It’s a way of life. A spirituality of parenting is nothing to achieve. It can’t be mastered; it can only be tried, again and again, and found to be a faithful way of living together. Intertwining my faith in God with my love for my children feels like the most natural thing in the world at times, and the most irreconcilable tension at other times. But I know that searching day-to-day for the sacred moments among the mundane is the best way I can live as a parent. It’s a lifestyle.

. . .

To approach parenting as a spirituality means that the everyday monotony matters. The hard stuff matters. The exasperating mistakes matter. The beautiful, breathtaking moments matter, too. When all of the work and wonder of raising a child is held up in the light of the goodness of this journey, and we who stumble down the twisting path of faith say with surprise there’s Spirit there, too.

That’s when I remember why I do what I do.

To help them – and me – give faith a fighting chance.

Spirituality is not to be learned by flight from the world, or by running away from things, or by turning solitary and going apart from the world. Rather, we must learn an inner solitude wherever or with whomsoever we may be. We must learn to penetrate things and find God there.

– Meister Eckhart –

8 thoughts on “why a spirituality of parenting?

  1. As always, very thoughtful and articulate. I find myself contemplating the “nones” often, particularly as my children grow into young adulthood wanting to be Catholic but unable to find a place to practice where they feel at home.

  2. I am very grateful to you for taking the time to share your thoughts on a subject that I struggle with every day. I was raised Catholic; my husband’s a Conservative Jew. Our three kids? For now, at least, they’re counted among the “nones.” Having said that, though, issues of faith and spirituality are at the center of much our family life; much of what we discuss is whether and how to move ourselves out of the “none” category into one that works for all of us. I’m always interested to read the perspectives of articulate people living somewhere else along the spectrum. Thanks again for sharing this thoughtful post.

    1. Thank you, Kristen. Have you seen the latest issue of Brain, Child? The cover story is about exactly what you describe – parents who wonder about the question of raising kids to have some understanding of spirituality and faith when they aren’t a part of a religious tradition. I appreciated its author’s approach so much more than the Babble.com piece that I linked to here, because even though I disagreed with her conclusisions, she modeled some serious and open soul-searching as part of her research and writing, which I absolutely think is the most important piece.

      1. I have that magazine sitting right here. It’s one of my favorites actually. And I definitely appreciate that author’s balance approach to a very complex issue in the lives of so many families. Here’s to thoughtful and meaningful conversation!

  3. Beautifully put. I’ve just come across your blog recently, on the suggestion of a dear friend. You’ve helped me feel less alone in a world I wasn’t sure understood my questions and concerns (through a number of your recent posts). Again, you’ve beautifully crafted a small but important pillar of support. Thank you.

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