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June 14, 2007


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Hi CJ! I'm in Madison, WI.

Mostly no longer blogging because I finally got a job and the only things I want to talk about on the blog are either my marriage or my job or my house renovations, only one of which I can talk about regularly. And reading about my job is sort of boring... ;)

Southeastern Michigan, which you already know.

Your dilemma with Alex is making me so happy that my child is only eight months old. We can't get her to behave very well - she's always yelling and trying to grab the ribbons on the prayer book - but at least she participates happily. :) Seriously, though, I'm interested to see what the moms of older kids have to say. That seems like a toughie to me.

My husband always claims that Flag Day is his favorite holiday. He's a little strange.

Hi! :)

I technically de-lurked yesterday when I left a comment on another post. I live in the Washington D.C. area. Happy Flag Day, everyone! Today is also my 4th wedding anniversary. That's how I always remember it's Flag Day. :)

Hmm . . . as discliamer: we don't practice religion, so I might be missing the whole point here, but . . . To my mind (and I'm sure you know this 'cause you're much smarter than me!) he's just testing the boundaries, so you let him know: When you get to be a certain age, your relationship with God is between you and God, but at every age your family depends on you to participate respectfully in family time. I think I would tell him that he may believe what he likes, but this is time that the family spends together and he's an important part of the family so you need him to show up and be respectful, and if he's daydreaming about Star Wars or whatever, that's between him and God.

'Cause God KNOWS if you're daydreaming, little dude. God is WATCHING YOU!!! (Ok, that was a joke. I do not endorse scaring children, lol.)

We're in Philly, PA.

Even though we share the same faith, I'm coming from quite a different place on the refusing-to-pray issue. For one thing, I've only got one kid, so if he refuses to pray it's not going to affect my other (non-existent) children. And we don't pray as a family, unless you count our attendance at Mass. (Which is sadly sporadic nowadays. Our new pastor is beyond uninspiring, and I seriously dread having to sit through a Mass if he's officiating.) We don't even say grace before meals. We do have the boy say prayers before going to sleep, but we don't force him to do so. I'll ask him if he's ready to say his prayers, and every once in a while he'll tell me that he doesn't want to pray. That's fine with me. My personal position on prayer is that it should be done when the heart is ready for that connection with God. A prayer said by rote, just because it's "time to pray," feels empty and useless to me.

You can't force faith on anyone. All you can do is live your own faith, and lead by example.

I would be the worst kind of hypocrite if I forced my son to pray when he doesn't feel like it, when I myself have felt too heart-scarred and angry to pray for months and months now.

My little dude is only 11 months old, so no help on that, although Meira's advice sounds pretty good to me!

My flag is hanging outside my house here in eastern Nebraska.

I guess I'd tell him something along the lines of how our faith is a big thing and that no matter how we feel or what we think at any moment, our faith is still with us. We need to trust that our faith is big enough to encompass our doubt and disbelief ("Lord, I believe, help my disbelief." Or something like that.).

Then you could take the "Prayer time is something we do as a family like cleaning up the yard. You don't have to believe in the yard to clean it up." route or you could take the "Prayer time is something you do whether you're in the mood or not. Sometimes you like talking to Mom and Dad, sometimes you don't, but we always talk to each other because we love each other and we're living a life together." approach. Either way, I would mention respect a lot. Respect for other people is something that needs to be heard anyway, especially at the age of ten.

I think it depends on your kid and what you hope to teach him in the moment. Or how seriously you take his momentary "atheism". Either way, I'd want to know what brought on that remark.

I think I may have commented before (snicker), but I'm from the Twin Cities. You bet.

I think I delurked a very long time ago (maybe on your other blog?), but I can do it again. :-) We're in Durham, England as American expatriates so, "Happy Flag Day!"

Like Arwen, I'm in Southeast Michigan. How are ya? Happy Flag Day!

I'm not sure what I'd do in your situation, but I hope it's a phase that passes quickly.

Hi! I'm from the Twin Cities, MN area. I don't have any kids yet, but personally I wouldn't take him too seriously. If it becomes a pattern, maybe. He may not have wanted to participate in family prayer, and was thinking of any reason to not join in. No God, no prayer, simple! To ignore God when He is inconvenient to us is a very human thing.

Dallas, TX, here!

RE: the praying

In the immortal words of The Beatles:

Let it be,
Let it be,
Let it be, yeah,
Let it be
Whisper words of wisdom,
Let it be...

Model, don't force. Don't make him feel like you're upset about it. Don't tell him he's letting you down. Let it be. My parents made a HUGE, ENDLESS production of the whole religion thing, and it did NOT help their cause in my case. Or in the cases of a couple of other siblings who are taking the same path.

I have not had this situation in the particular, however, have had lots on un-enthusiastic participation during prayer time. Back in the old days, we would stop prayers, chastise the offender, and then carry on as if anyone was actually communicating with the Creator at that point. Now, with years behind us, we do not insist on much during family prayer, God discussions or anything relating to our Faith except respect and being present. Truthfully, we have far fewer instances of apathy than we used to.

But, directly to the point, if my child said "I don't believe in God" I would simply give the child a set of colored pencils and a notebook and have him begin a nature journal. Then I would ask him again in a few months and see what happens then. That, and make certain the child isn't really just looking for more of my attention (and the smartie pants knows that denying God's existence would certainly get my attention).

You know I'm in North Louisiana. I forgot to put our flag out. How horrible of me!

What would I do? hmmm. I would make him come to family prayers. I would tell him that I respect his feelings, but that I am also thinking that he doesn't want to stop what he's doing. Either way, it is time for family prayers. In addition, I would say - if you wish to decide to not believe in God, that is your decision and one that I would be very sad about. But that is a very serious decision and one that you should think about for a while.

I wouldn't force my child to pray (can I? I don't think so - it wouldn't quite be prayer, would it?), but to come and sit respectfully with the family is certainly within our family's boundaries.

No secret where I am--Charlottesville, VA.

I frequently have the reverse situation in my house. My five year old declares that she believes in God and Jesus. My answer to her is always, "That's good. There's room for many types of belief in this world." We then discuss the different types of belief systems in the world. If she's going to choose Christianity, I want her to know what else is out there. Like others here have commented: it is about respect.

Plus, he's too young to really reject a god. That takes years. It should take years. As someone who has sat through prayers without wanting/needing to pray, I just take quiet time. Perhaps your son can do the same.

It is my husband who should really answer this question. He was one who completely rejected both his mother's and father's religion. He wasn't much older when he did it. I'll ask him his thoughts.

I don't have a flag, and to my knowledge neither does Arwen (or at least I don't think it's flying anywhere in the vicinity of her house), so don't let her husband's ostensible patriotism fool you for a second. But I'm where she is, at least for the summer, so that takes care of that.

In re. Alex's temporary self-declared atheism, I'm gonna have to agree that it sounds more like he doesn't want to pray than that he actually doesn't think God is there to hear his prayers. After all, there are books to read and Legos to play with (although he could very well be past the Lego stage at age 10, in which case I stand corrected)--who has time for God? Not having any parenting experience myself, I am obviously Not An Authority on this topic, but with that caveat, I will say that the whole "you will do this because this is what our family does" bit always worked for my parents when we whined about having to say prayers every night after dinner. They also unfailingly pointed out that we would appreciate this when we were older, a statement which never failed to offend my 12-year-old sensibilities but which, in that annoying way that parents' statements have, actually proved to be true. As far as actual atheism goes, I don't think you have anything to worry about. After all, as the late John Paul the Great was wont to point out, the truth speaks for itself, and you have done a great job of nurturing his innate desire to seek the truth--heck, you acknowledge that truth exists, so he's leaps and bounds ahead of lots of kids--so I have a hunch that he'll be fine. However, I will say a special prayer for faith for Alex and a hitch-less meeting for you with no mishaps and very few revisions. Take care and keep posting!

my youngest wore an old navy flag tshirt (albeit from 2003) to school yesterday, does that count?

I think Meira's answer is good, and maybe it's time for family prayer to be optionally non-participatory, in the sense of, tonight you don't have to offer your own petitions but you do have to sit quietly and respectfully because this is family time. It sort of isn't great that the younger kids learn that pattern because of the eldest child, but that's the way it goes, right?

I think L'Engle deals with exactly this question in one of the middle or later Austin family books, in fact. I think Vicki gets a bug up her butt about family prayer? Or maybe it's just that the older brother starts ditching family reading time. Hmmm, I need to dig those books out again....

I would expect one or more of my children to decide from time to time that the whole God thing is silly, especially as they approach their teenage years. Gemma has already decided she doesn't believe in heaven. We're mostly laid-back about this particular question: all we ask is that she understand we believe what WE believe, and we want her to keep asking the questions. I do have faith that the Spirit will lead her where she is meant to be. (Of course, I also believe this of my Buddhist brother, so maybe I'm just hopelessly wishy-washy.)

Milwaukee WI

Sigh! I'm in SE Michigan (but northeast of Arwen) usually, but today I'm in Pennsylvania visiting family. Our flag was NOT up on Flag Day, because we were en route to here. but we normally fly it, and a Coast Guard ensign and a service star for my son, daily. Regarding the ten-year-old: if he's like mine were, you can try the "What happens if I'm wrong?" (You are bored.) vs "What happens if you're wrong?" (You get in bad with God.) method. But I agree it's just a testing phase.

I'd have a somewhat different response than anyone else here, I think. I'd be studiedly dispassionate about it--not show disappointment or anger or any other emotion--and ask, "Really? Why not?" If he could come up with a reason, I'd do my best Socrates impression and try to draw him out in dialogue. This is because I don't think kids should be encouraged to see religion as a question of arbitrary personal preference, but rather as a set of beliefs that we can and should reason about, that have real consequences for our lives (beyond whether we have to do prayer time or not!). All this would be independent of treating prayer time as a family obligation, as everyone said above. This approach could end up provoking an endless string of silly reasons, but I think it would still send the message that faith and doubt are important topics, and worth treating with some seriousness.

Hmmm, interesting discussion. I'm in the Philly area (PA) too. As for flags, for now our preferred flag is the Brazilian flag (we don't hang it out or anything)... maybe one day in the future if I do choose to become a citizen of this country, I'll have a flag. (of course we do have several small American and Brazilian flags that the boys play with -- they know that they're citizens of both countries and were born here). I was just thinking about this yesterday when I looked at flag paraphernalia at Kohls -- whether I'd get to the point that I'd have patriotic American stuff in my house. Being an expatriate is a difficult thing.

As for the family prayer question, my sons are much younger (5 and 3) so they've been mostly willing to participate in prayer at home. I like some of the suggestions given here.

CJ, how's your foot? I hope it's lots better and you're able to gradually start exercisingit again.

Long time no read! I lost track of your blog address but am glad to have found it again.

North of Boston, by the way... :)

Why am I always so late to these things? Read this on holiday in Birgi, Turkey (everyone should go! lovely place and people! adoring to little children!), and am now back at home sweet home in Jerusalem.

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