Q. We're raising our family in a spiritual, though not religious, way. In our tight-knit neighborhood, everyone seems to go to church or temple. My kids have expressed feeling left out. How do I stay true to my spiritual values while making sure my kids don't feel excluded?
--Carol M., Demarest, New Jersey
A. My own daughter attended a small "world religion" Sunday school when she was little. Each week, my husband and I would drop her off, and while we went for a hike, she learned about various belief systems and the different definitions of morality. Of course, it didn't take long for her to ask, "Why do I go to Sunday school and you don't?" We soon understood that the deeper question for our family wasn't whether we belonged to a traditional religion, but how we were growing together spiritually. This realization prompted a journey that seemed more rewarding (and difficult) than simply showing up at a place of worship because it was "the normal thing" to do. It involved integrating our spiritual beliefs in a more personal way.
Churches and other houses of worship do provide the stability and support of community, filling our ancient human yearning to belong to a tribe. But with gentle prompting from you, your kids can still feel connected without belonging to one. Keep an eye out for similarities between your family's spiritual practices and those of your neighbors, and point them out. Discuss these commonalities, as well as the differences, and ask your children what they think. Why not weave some field trips into the spiritual program, perhaps visiting a new church, synagogue, mosque, or temple every other weekend? Attend as the guests of various neighbors who can help welcome your children into that particular religious community and explain any customs that might seem confusing or mysterious. Then, on alternate weekends, continue those spiritual activities that celebrate and articulate your own family's beliefs. Invite another family or your children's friends over to share in the experience. Over the course of a few months, your kids will have acquainted themselves with diverse belief systems while taking pride in their own.
Author, creative catalyst, and coach Jennifer Louden leads retreats around the United States. She has written six books about creating a life you love, including her newest, "The Life Organizer." You can learn more at lifeorganizerbook.com. If you have questions about life issues such as finding balance, managing time, or handling difficult personal relationships, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.