Unless you’re a narcissist or lack a moral compass, you want what’s best for your offspring. All parents do. But the means to that same end vary from parent to parent because…well… we all have different ideas of what “the best” looks like.
Teaching our kids how to make their own, informed decisions is not a new concept. It’s this very premise from which the old adage, “if your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?” was birthed. As parents, we continually teach that independence is one of the cornerstones to creating a life centered in happiness, confidence, and self-autonomy. And yet, we fail miserably at reinforcing this notion through our own parenting practices.
A little about my own journey:
I was the product of a Protestant mother and a non-practicing Catholic father. My dad, having had a tumultuous relationship with his super-religious parents, condemned religion in its entirety at a fairly young age. My mother, having had a very different experience from my father, stood fast by her God-centered upbringing. Neither of my parents pushed any ideologies on my sibling and I, regarding any kind of higher power. They would encourage us to explore different religions and would take us to church sometimes so we could form our own opinions about God.
As a result, I ended up agnostic (I believe in a God, but don’t follow a particular tenet.) My sister, conversely, is a devout Christian.
More interestingly, my mother is a far-right conservative and my father is a registered Democrat. I’m a middle-of-the-road conservative and my sister is a socialist-democrat.
It’s a weird blend, admittedly.
What I appreciate about my upbringing is that my parents never forced political or religious agendas or ideologies on either of their children. We had a continual, open dialogue in our house that lent itself to exploring different thought processes and ways to look at the world. I never worried that questioning things would be met with scorn or frustration.
In other words, when my parents said, “if your friends were to jump off a bridge…”, they included themselves in that group.
Raising your children to think independently is a catch-22. As parents, we so badly want our kids to follow our lead; to arm them with knowledge and faith that have been such driving forces in our own lives. If you are of the belief that your faith in God-Almighty is conflated with your identity and moral code, it’s nearly impossible to teach your kids that morality and religion (or intelligence and political affiliation) are mutually exclusive.
Teaching our children independence is one of the greatest dichotomies (and challenges) of being a parent. On the one hand, we want them to navigate their own lives in a way they deem “true” and “right.” On the other hand, we innately want them to be just like us because we feel we know what’s best.
It’s TOTALLY ok to guide your kids in matters of religion and politics. After all, they need direction and a foundation. But, on that same token, it’s just as crucial that we give them enough slack on the proverbial “leash of life” to let them come to conclusions on their own terms. I realize it’s a difficult undertaking that sometimes feels counterintuitive, but I think it’s crucial in childhood development.
I believe my faith in God is as solid as it is because I was given room to decide on my own terms what my relationship with Him was going to be. I believe my conservative affiliation is not the result of a parental unit hounding into me that “the other side is wrong and bad” – it was the natural manifestation of being educated and open-minded.
Being good, moral, faithful, and empathetic are not qualities that should or even CAN be hounded into us at impressionable ages. They should be the end result of a household that maintains an open and honest narrative; one that doesn’t judge or push or insist. This in turn, nurtures a faith in Christ that is significantly more powerful and meaningful and a political platform rooted in insight, not identity.