Friday, August 9, 2013
P is for Parenting
I've been doing a lot more thinking about Pagan parenting lately as my oldest daughter prepares to go to kindergarten in less than a week. Like most any parent, I worry about my kids, and my oldest is especially sensitive. And we as a family are pretty strange in the middle of white bread, midwest America. She has dark skin at a school with less than 10% minority population. She doesn't eat pork in honor of my husband's Muslim roots. She has different holidays, as we're celebrating Eid tomorrow and this last weekend attended a Lughnasadh circle. She does have church and Sunday school, but it's at the local Unitarian church, and she doesn't know much about Jesus besides his name and a lunch-time prayer my mother taught her. She's incredibly precocious and is already doing division and reading chapter books at home. We don't have much money but are lucky enough to live for a cheap price in a nice neighborhood, which means she'll be going to school with a lot of kids with a lot of money. She's about as different as you get around here! And I fear, terribly, that it will leave her the odd girl out.
How does one reconcile their Pagan faith, and a desire to pass that down, with the stronger desire to raise a happy and well-adjusted child? My strategy has been to teach her to be as strong and self-reliant and proud as she can be; to take great joy in her traditions and differences. I've been reading The Pagan Family by Ceisiwr Serith recently, and it's convinced me that the two greatest weapons we have in the fight for our children's happiness are Family Traditions and Pagan Community. Children need a sense of stability that is easily imparted by established religions with dogma and traditions and community laid out and easily accessible; but for Pagan parents it's much more difficult. We have to make our own traditions, and stick to them. We have to make our own community, and hold it together to the best of our abilities.
Family traditions are super fun, and great, but you have to commit to them. You must perform them each year (or each month, or whatever set length of time) for them to truly become a tradition. It is this stability that will help anchor a child when others bring up more mainstream traditions. Sure, their friends go to church every Christmas Eve and then go home and read the nativity story before the family dinner the next day; but our daughter helps me light the candles the night of the winter solstice, then we turn off the lights and sip hot cocoa while watching the cold outside world and waiting for the new dawn. Then the next morning we all go out to greet the sun and come back in to open presents and have a special solstice feast. If my daughter has something similar to talk about when other kids are talking about Christmas, there's much less chance of her feeling left out or weird.
The other really essential thing is Pagan Community. This is great if you have a local community, especially one with other kids, as I have been really blessed with the past year or so. Teach your child a useful skill he or she can bring to gatherings. My daughter practices drumming with me, and when we go to circles she brings her own drum and helps us raise energy. She's learned some of the chants we use in circles and helps to sing along. BUT this is something you can accomplish even if the "community" is only the two of you. My husband is an atheist and isn't really comfortable taking part in rituals, so for a few years my daughter and I were all each other had spiritually - and it was okay. The important thing is to talk about it, openly with your children, and not make Paganism seem like a touchy or strange subject. Take them for nature walks, have them help with recycling, make them aware of the world and get them involved in your Paganism. I think this is the best defense against proselytization and bullying for Pagan children.
After one year of preschool, my daughter is still proud and confident of her differences - but that was three days a week, two hours a day. I'm not sure how things will pan out in a full-day kindergarten, where her dietary differences will be much more obvious, and we'll be pulling her out of school for a few holidays. Like everything else in parenting, I try my best and wait and see how it turns out!