Our first child is five years old and the second one is two. My husband and I cannot come to any agreement about what form of religion the children should be taught. He is deeply into reading religious scriptures for an hour, reciting shlokas twice a day and many other rituals. I believe in god but don’t find these things necessary and have never done them; I see godliness in small kind acts, in loving nature, etc. When it comes to the children, I really don’t know what to have them follow. I don’t want them to be caught up in the rituals, and my husband very much wants them to. In fact, he now wants me to get more ritualistic, so that the children can learn from me. What would you advise?
Godspeak: How to pray is a personal choice.
I don’t know how many years you have been married...this information would have helped (and for those planning to marry, these are important aspects of parenting that have to be discussed pre-maritally, or at least within the first year of marriage. Do not leave these discussions for when the children arrive and begin to grow up. At that point, arguments on such topics will cause stress between the couple and confusion among the children).
The fact is that you have a different way of connecting to spirituality. So far, your husband has accepted this, but he is obviously not at ease with it. A husband and a father insisting that his wife and children should approach religion only in a certain way seems to be a rather narrow view of things.
Now you have work to do, in trying to turn this difference into an opportunity rather than a threat to either of you. It is actually an opportunity for you to introduce your children to the two different ways that people can approach faith and god—the meditative way and the prayerful/ritual way. Both ways are fully and deeply valid for each person. It’s important for your own balance as well as for your children that you don’t “stamp out” one way and “establish” another way. Find an appropriate moment, sit down with your husband and ask him why the insistence that you do it his way. Tell him that you can take part in some of his rituals if he believes it is a family thing to do, but that you cannot be as involved in rituals as he is, and that he needs to respect this. What you need to get across is that your way is also a conscious acknowledgement of the divine around you, only it is not codified into a ritual. Your husband needs to understand this and come to terms with it. Only then will he not behave with you (and then with the children) as if you are “godless” and in some way opposing or negating his belief system. On your part, do not show disrespect or scorn for his practices, as he is entitled to his own beliefs/ways.
Do work on this between the two of you, as a couple, first. Enlist the help of a counsellor or religious person with a broad and expansive view of things, if need be.
Once you are both at peace with each other’s way of approaching this issue, you will find that you can be allies in bringing up your children with a sense of good, god, the divine, etc., instead of being on diametrically opposite sides. As your children grow, if they ask why dad does something and you don’t (rituals, etc.), you will be able to respond from a position of mutual understanding and ease with each other’s choices. And best of all, you will be able to provide a broad canvas for your children to consolidate their own sensibilities.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org