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Friday, April 16, 2010


My boyfriend is really very open minded about my odd inclinations. A girl at the Hindi meet-up group asked him how he felt about my passion for Indian culture and he told her he thought it was great. He jokes about my last ex-boyfriend, who as part of his break-up speech said that I have "this whole Indian thing going on." This boyfriend loves my "whole Indian thing." He also thinks that Ganesha is awesome. Apparently, Ganesha is featured as a character in a webcomic he likes.

It can be easy to forget that he does not hold the same beliefs. There are just moments here and there when I come slammed up against the fact that he's an atheist. I can respect that. I have an easier time getting along with and being in relationships with atheists in many cases. I find that most of them still have what feels to me to be a spiritual energy to their beliefs. I'm not sure how to phrase that exactly. It just feels like I recognize the energy.

And it's all good and fine that we live together and go through our lives, me believing in one thing and he in something else, me doing my rituals and he reading science textbooks while I do them.

But I start to wonder if the vision I have for our children is actually possible. I've explained that if we were to get married and have children, I would want to give the children a strong spiritual base early in life. To my philosophy in life, that's very important. I think that young children need a structured religious life, but also the freedom of knowing that when they are reasoning adults, they can follow whatever path feels authentic to them. The boyfriend and I discussed, and he was amenable to waiting until the children are 10 or 11 to discuss his atheism with them.

There are certain situations where I feel like I have to be in control. I don't think I'm generally a controlling person, and am completely willing to let go and let someone else do the controlling in cars and in various other situations. With my hypothetical children this is much harder. I worry about them so much and I want to have some control over what messages they are getting.

This is impossible, of course. We give our children the best basis we can and then we let them figure it out in the world. To me, the best basis will involve telling them the mythology I was told as a child, telling them stories of the gods, and involving them in a Hindu community.

One of the things that got me thinking about it was my law class. We are about to start studying family law and I read about prenups in my textbook. It said that prenups are often upheld by courts in financial matters, but not for decisions made about children. If we were to split up (and I will say I absolutely don't believe in divorce, but I'm pretty sure the majority of divorced people said that before they got married), I would not have much control over the childrens' spiritual upbringing.

Case in point:

Here the father converted to Judaism and agreed to raise the kids Jewish, but after he divorced the mother, he brought their daughter to church and had her baptized. Personally, that horrifies me. I know the spiritual education I want for my children and that does not include church and that does not include baptism.

This is not to say that I think this will or would happen with my boyfriend and me, but it's an interesting thing to consider in an inter-faith couple.

It's easy to make plans based on how you think you will feel in the future, but once you actually have the child, does it change how you think? It seems to.

I've seen friends get much more religious after their children were born. I've had a friend who is Jewish and whose husband is an atheist start to have disagreements over a Christmas tree when she got pregnant. He had for many years told her that he was fine with raising the children completely Jewish. But then, faced with actual children it seems, he remembered how much he enjoyed the tradition of a Christmas tree and wanted it for them. She was quite upset, considering that they were married and she felt that he was backing out on what he promised.

It's fine for yourself to do whatever and risk your soul to damnation (if you believe the evangelicals), but when it comes to your kids, you can't be too safe. I will have to do some real research on how inter-faith couples deal with raising children respectfully with each other.

I was thinking also about how strange it is for my grandmother and other extended family. This weekend, back at my parents house for my birthday, I came across my father's baby book. My grandmother had written about his first words, his first Christmas, and saved his one year birthday cards. Putting myself in her shoes, it is impossible to imagine what it will be like for her if she has to face that some of her great grand-children will grow up in a culture that she may never have even heard of, certainly doesn't know anything about.

My parents could not have known thirty-five years ago, when they took that first step down the path of uncovering a new spiritual identity, that what they would get is a Hindu daughter.

Of course, this just shows that you don't ever know how your kids are going to turn out or which events and things they notice early on are going to become major influences.


  1. I was born and raised into a hindu family and had my whole schooling in a ramkrishna mission. i am also quite a voracious reader . though my parents are theists they never really directed me towards anything . as a kid i read both ramayana, mahabharata and a lot of the puranic stories along with different other books which included iliad and odyssey. yet my believes are not exactly traditional hindu . i am agnostic though i call myself a hindu. because i feel being atheist or agnostic doesn't really contradict hinduism and i am certainly culturally a hindu.

    i myself like my parent's way of introducing me to the world of books . they never pushed me towards anything. and i somewhat evolved among the contrasting and interesting ideas. i am also hoping to take this path for my children when i will have a family.

    - Basu

  2. That is a great idea. I remember spending many days pulling books from the bookshelf in my parents' bedroom. Having a large variety of high quality books around the house when we have kids will be a priority!

  3. u can raise ur kids as hindu atheist.& teach him importance of true knowledge which is above all beliefs n religions. with knowledge ucan become approximately equal to god. no other relegion give this much importance to knowledge
    as it will not contradict hiduism n still be in line with ateist ideas

  4. As a parent, as a deeply religious and spiritual person, and as a theology student and student of religions, allow me to comment.

    Kids learn from watching you. If you worship as a Hindu, in the home and openly, they will want to know what you're doing. Or they'll just see and copy. I do not have any goals for my 3 year old's religious upbringing -per se- but he asks about my altar. He can identify the Virgin Mary, Buddha, Kali and Ganesh, and sometimes Jesus. I do believe that religious literacy is an important facet of education and being a functioning human so I do have one great comic book style book on various world religions that we read together. If he asks about something I'll tell him.

    Ultimately my kids will grow up surrounded by religions but able to follow the calling of their own god soul. Obviously you choose to raise your children-to-be as Hindus so that will be far more deliberate than my path. But they will see will that only mother is on that path and that dad doesn't practice.

    Kids are amazing mirrors.

  5. I have these instincts for control that I need to stop. I have this desire to control my children's experience of life even though I know it doesn't work! I know it didn't work for my parents! Hopefully that awareness will help me to curb my smothering. If I end up having kids, which is up in the air, as I'm now single.

  6. I'm not sure exactly how old you are but I think you're not yet 30. I had my first 2 weeks before my 33rd birthday, my second at 35 and may yet have a third (I need at least another to decide!). So you've got time.

    It is *wonderful* that you recognize your urge to control now - rather than later when your kids are in the world. As parents it is a hard line to walk - a knife's edge - between keeping our kids safe and surrounded with the values we wish to impart, and controlling their every input, which comes from a place of fear. My husband and I already talk about how challenging it's going to be when my son brings home friends we don't like, or that friend has parents we can't stand. Eek. But we trust him and we trust our parenting. I remember the first time he went to day care (more for the play aspects than for any other reason) and I had a day of freak out about not knowing his every interaction and what he ate etc.

    You may find this amusing: this morning at the breakfast table my son held his fork up in the air and said he was Ganesh and his fork was his golden prod pushing us into action. He really likes Ganesh. Having an elephant head doesn't hurt. :)

  7. That is so cute!

    Yes, the coming from a place of fear thing is my biggest issue. I try to stop myself and think in each of my actions whether or not it is motivated by fear.