By Shannon Ralph
Yesterday, I experienced a great parenting “epic fail” moment. You know what I am talking about. You think you’re doing a good job. You think you are being a stellar parent. Your children are doing well in school. They are well-spoken. They are well-behaved (at least in public). They are well-educated on the ways of the world. All is well. Or so it seems. Then one of your darling children says something or does something that brings the entire house of “wellness” down on your head. Yesterday, the culprit was Lucas, my soon-to-be ten-year-old son.
We do not take our children to church. Part of it is that I was raised Catholic and Ruanita was raised Southern Baptist (more or less). As a same-sex couple with children, we’re not exactly thrilled by the stance of either of these churches on gay people and, more importantly, gay people raising children. So we made a decision long ago that our children would not be raised Catholic or Baptist. That leaves us numerous other choices, of course, but we’ve had difficulty finding a church with which we really “click.” I like the pageantry and ritual of the Catholic Church. It’s hard to find that same sense of tradition in the Protestant world. We have tried a couple of churches, but they didn’t have enough ritual for me and they weren’t Jesus-y enough to satisfy Ruanita’s Baptist leanings. So we do not currently take our kids to church.
That is not to say that we do not talk about God and Jesus. We try. We talk about how God made the entire world and how Jesus is his son. And that both love us and take care of us. We may not be religious, but we try to be spiritual. And we try to instill in our kids a strong sense of morality and compassion and respect for others.
Lucas has always been a science freak. He has loved science pretty much since birth. He has watched hundreds upon hundreds of hours of science documentaries in his short life. He checks out science-related books from the library. He gets science-y toys for Christmas every year. We have encouraged his love of science because 1.) It’s nice to see him so excited about something; 2.) I love science, too, and enjoy the discussions we have about it; and 3.) He has exactly zero athletic ability, he is not particularly artistic, and he can barely write a legible sentence…so science may just be his nitch in life.
So last night, I picked him up from a choir performance at 7:00 p.m. He had not eaten dinner yet, so we were in the car headed to McDonalds to get him something to eat when—somehow that I can’t really remember—our conversation turned to God. I should not have been surprised, but I was still taken aback when my son told me that he doesn’t believe in God. He went on to say that he “greatly respects people who do believe in God.” But he is not one of them. I asked him why, of course. He said that he doesn’t believe in God because there is no proof that God exists. He said that he believes in science and that science has produced no proof that God exists.
I was a bit flabbergasted and wasn’t sure what to say. I told him that I believe in God and that I think God made the entire universe. He replied, “No, the Big Bang made the universe.” I said that I believed God created each and every one of us. He replied, “No, our parents made us.” I asked him if he had considered that perhaps God created science. That God created all the atoms and molecules and elements that make up everything in the world and that God put them in motion and created all the rules and laws that are the fundamentals of science? That he created everything science has ever discovered and has yet to discover? I told him that he could believe in science and still believe in God. He, however, was not buying that argument. He said that could very well be, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest that God had a hand in making anything or that God exists. So until science proved otherwise, he was sticking with his belief that God isn’t real. And again, he reiterated that he respects people who do believe in God. I just sat there, unable to form an argument in my head that might sway my science-loving son. I heard Lucas ask shyly from the back seat, “Mom, are you mad at me?” Of course not. Of course I was not mad at him. I was actually rather impressed with him, if the truth be told.
So…I am raising a nine-year-old atheist. Nice, huh? I must admit that part of me is a little proud of him. He is a free thinker. A rational person. A kid who marches to his own drum. He doesn’t just accept the information he is fed. He thinks about things and comes to his own conclusion. He’s not just another lemming. He’s an individual. That’s the type of person we want our children to grow up to be, right?
At the same time, however, I worry about him. I believe in God. I believe in a higher power. I grew up saying prayers at bedtime. To this day, when I am scared or lonely or anxious or simply having trouble falling asleep, I will recite old Catholic prayers in my head. I don’t know that I am necessarily “praying,” but it calms me. Helps me feel a sense of peace. A sense of control when everything is out of control.
How scary a place will the world be for a little boy who doesn’t believe in a high power? How will he deal with all the ugliness in this world if he does not believe that there is a source of eternal good? What does he think about in bed when he is scared or lonely or anxious or can’t sleep?
I realize that he isn’t even ten yet and his belief in—or relationship with—God will change throughout his lifetime. But I had truly hoped I was doing a better job of instilling my beliefs in my children. But maybe that’s not what parenting is supposed to be about, after all. Maybe I shouldn’t want a son who just regurgitates the beliefs I’ve expressed. Maybe he’ll be better off if he comes to those beliefs on his own. Or doesn’t. As long as he is a compassionate, moral, kind person, I guess that’s all that really matters to me. And I believe he is. So maybe last night wasn’t an “epic fail” so much as just another curve in the parenting road.
Either way, I think Mommy needs a glass of wine.