I grew up going to church. Until I was confirmed and somewhat older and realized there were a lot of holes in this Christianity situation.
My ex was raised in a more conservative and cult orthodox church. So when we had kids, we were both fine with not bringing the boys to church. I did like the community aspect to church and the community support. Growing up we became very close with many members of the church- I in a healthy way, my ex in a cult-like depend on us and only talk to us and no one else ever type of way- but regardless- it provided connections to people.
In terms of the holidays it provided context and some structure and fun events. There was always a kids pageant and then an adult run nativity pageant that was done outside. With real sheep. The sheep got loose one year. My Dad was a Shepard. It was hysterical.
Now I’m raising boys who have never been inside a church. It’s weird. They ask random questions about God and I try and explain and it usually devolves into us getting into a fight about whether God is a man or woman. I had finally sort of explained a genderless concept of the Christian God. Preface to this next bit- I also had explained sperm donors and that you need a piece of a man and a woman to make a baby. Trust me that is important.
Up goes my nativity scene that was handcrafted by my Dad (who died in 2019). I am looking at it rather nostalgically and one of my sons asks who the people are. I start to explain the story of the birth of Christ. It went something like this, “In the Christian religion there is a story of the son of God being born. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the son of God. Mary, right here, is Jesus’ mom. Then Joseph is his, well, sort of stepdad I guess, and then these are the wise men, they are three kings who travel far to see the birth of Christ, and then here are the shepards with the sheep, and they all meet up in a stable where Mary gives birth…” “But why do they have to have a baby in a barn?” “Well there are many people, bad people, like bad kings, who are threatened by the birth of Christ so they are kind of in hiding, and there is also no room for them anywhere else,” “Bad kings like Donald Trump?” says one of my sons. … “Um, I don’t think I have ever described DT as a bad king…so kind of not like DT, but, okay, so then,” “So Joseph is the dad?” Me- “Well no, Jesus is the son of God.” “But Mama, you told me that God is not a man.” Me- “Correct.” Skeptical eyes regard me, “So if God is not a man and you need a piece of a man to make a baby then who is Jesus’s Dad?” … “Um here’s your stocking. Why don’t we hang up your stocking?”
Apparently Christianity understands how whacked their story is because they prefer to indoctrinate people from birth. Because my kids questions were all totally solid. And honestly, if you’ve read Mathew, Mark, Luke and John, well the whole birth of Christ story is a bit hodgepodge. One linear narrative would have been very helpful. And the whole “The spirt of the lord came upon her” is just not a satisfactory explanation to a seven year old and in fact is kind of creepy post the whole #metoo movement.
I never thought the story of Christ was creepy before I had to explain to a 7 year old boy though. I also never thought I would have to be the one explaining it. I guess I assumed I would raise my kids in a church. I don’t regret not doing it but it makes religious based conversations rather challenging. There are concepts and storylines I just accepted because I was raised from birth hearing them. But when they are being explained for the first time perhaps at age seven…when I’ve spent the first seven years educating them in a very logical, science based, concrete way…well it gets interesting.
I’ve tried comparing God to Santa Claus- not that God is like Santa Claus, but that we believe in Santa and we have faith he exists, and that’s sort of how people feel about God. That we have no evidence He exists but that many people have faith that He does. “But Mama, you said He’s not a boy,” “I did say that yes, I just revert to calling Him ‘He’ sometimes because that’s how it’s referred to in the bible,” “So He’s a boy?” “Well no, He was written about by boys though in a way to subjugate women, so it makes sense that they gave Him a more masculine presentation…” Then they stare at me.
Listen parenting is hard. Explaining the concept of God to an adult let alone to a black and white concrete thinking 7 year old….it’s rough. There is a part of me that feels they are missing out on an experience by not being raised in a church. But it also feels hypocritical to partake in Christianity when I believe it was a religion made for very political purposes and the holidays are clearly based off Pagan holidays and paganism was women driven. I probably should not have attended a religious college because the deeper I studied religion the more skeptical I became.
If my kids grow up and attend church and engage with religion though I will support them 100%. Unless it’s one of the cults. Then I’ll be moderately irritated and likely have to infiltrate the cult in order to produce an expose documentary which will include saving my children from the cult.
In the meantime I do the best I can piecing together the stories of Christianity, interjecting Pagan traditions, and trying to educate myself further on Judaism. Because enter a discussion about Chanukah. “Mama, can we celebrate Chanukah?” “Well we generally don’t because we are not Jewish.” “But we don’t go to church and we celebrate Christmas.” …. Touché my children. Touché. I have a year to study up. I told them it would not mean more presents. They seemed okay with that proclamation and were more focused on wanting to see a menorah lit up.
This year I anonymously ‘adopted’ a family of three children from my town and the boys and I went to Target and overfilled two carts with Christmas presents for the three kids. Throughout the store the boys had to be reminded a couple times that we were there to help a family who needed our help and this was not a shopping trip for them. When the total rang up the boys asked if I would have any money left to get them presents. I told them even if I didn’t they should be grateful that we are helping out a family. They helped me wrap the presents, it took awhile, and a lot of gift bags and tape, and a list of what was in all the bags…and then I got an email there are a few tags left that had not been taken. I brought a check with me to cover at least three more tags along with the presents for the family we shopped for.
I did all of this rather quietly but those boys see all. Flash forward three weeks to this morning, Christmas morning, we finished unwrapping our presents and one of my sons said, “Mama, you know those families we helped, I bet they are happy too. And they don’t even know who we are and we don’t know who they are! That’s so weird.” I smiled, and hugged him, and said, “Weird but good right?” He smiled back and said, “Weird but very good. You helped people and that’s what Christmas is all about; that and being grateful. I’m thankful for my family and it only matters that we are together.” And it’s those moments when I think, you know what? I’m doing okay.