'God Talk' Doesn't Come Naturally to Every Parent

Have you ever made that quip about how you've got two savings accounts for your child — one for college, the other for therapy? Yeah, me too. We modern parents are such a self-aware lot. We know that, no matter how hard we try, we are screwing up our kids in all sorts of unique and surprising ways.

But it's my sense that beneath all this genuine self-deprecation is a fair amount of good, old-fashioned pride, too. When it comes down to it, I think most of us believe we've got a solid handle on this whole parenting thing. Our kids are so ridiculously awesome, we tell ourselves; we must not be that bad.

And we aren't. We really aren't. In addition to the love and attention we shower on them daily, we spend countless additional hours deliberating over how to raise them up well. We read parenting books and blogs. We talk to other parents, and model our own. We subscribe to magazines. And, lucky for us, an awful lot of it just comes naturally.

I was talking to a friend last week who hasn't had children yet. She noted my preoccupation over my kid's sleeping habits (don't get me started) and voiced her apprehension about not being able to figure all that out when the time came for her. What I told her, and what you already know if you have kids, is that parenting is a basic instinct. One that comes from the heart. It's as though, upon the birth of a child, each parent suddenly unearths this huge, previously unknown arsenal of skills.

Unfortunately — and this is the part I didn't mention to my friend — no parenting arsenal is complete. Parents might surprise themselves by finding they have the ability to deal with sleep issues or potty training or discipline. Or they might not.

When my daughter wanted to talk about God, there was nothing natural in my reaction. I didn't know if I should say nice things about religion, or use cautioning words, or try to be neutral. And what the hell was "neutral" anyway? I'm a journalist — I know damn well that even neutral has a point of view.

It scared me to find so much uncertainty inside myself. I knew I was at risk of saying things I didn't believe, sending messages I didn't want to send. I knew I needed help on this one.

Over the past several months, I've become convinced I'm not alone. The truth is, it's not just atheists and agnostics who struggle to find the right way to talk to their kids about religion. People who consider themselves “spiritual," but not particularly religious, often are heavily burdened by the God Talk, as well. Mixed-religion couples also have a hard time finding a common language to use with their kids. Not to mention parents who, for whatever reason, aren't keen to fall back on their own religious upbringing (or lack thereof).

All of us are looking to embrace a fresh approach to religion with our children — but haven't yet figured out what that approach might be. Is it possible to do this just right? I don't know. But I think we should try. We owe it to our kids.

Just like we owe it to them to keep depositing money into those therapy accounts.


So what about you? Did the God Talk come naturally to you? Or did you have to look for outside resources? If so, where did you look? What did you find? And are you satisfied with what you learned?