Sometimes parents ask me how they can best nurture the spiritual life of their children.
For those of us who identify as belonging to any particular faith tradition, or who might call ourselves “spiritual, but not religious,” this question has a special urgency.
When I talk about the spiritual life children, I’m talking about all the things that fit under the category of religious observance.
These might include
- A sense that Universal Love is infinite. And that it’s there for us to draw on when things get rough.
- A sense of belonging to a community. People we can rely on, and who can rely on us.
- Traditions we look forward to each year that enrich our family culture.
- Knowledge of stories that point back to wonder, magic, and the immanence of Universal love.
- The idea that however hard things might get sometimes, underneath it all, our spiritual resources go deeper than our present difficulties.
In my work as a teacher, and in my own life as a mother, I’ve spoken with hundreds of women about this. And I’ve noticed a trend.
A lot of us value the above qualities incredibly highly.
And yet, interestingly, in this time, many studies have found that fewer and fewer of us are participating in organized religion.
How can we bring spirituality to our children? For some of us, this may include going to church or temple. But what if we don’t do those things?
Is it still possible to give our children a rich spiritual life, even if we don’t identify ourselves as belonging to a particular religious tradition?
I believe strongly that it is possible. Moreover, even if you do belong to a faith tradition, it is no less important to think about spirituality in your every day life with your child.
Because with or without organized religion, when it comes to little ones, what happens at home with you every day is by far more significant than a structured, once a week event with a formal teacher or leader.
We teach our children about spirituality through how we are with them every day. We teach them through how we structure our days. Most importantly, we teach them through who we ARE.
In this spirit, today I want to offer a concrete way to bring spirituality into your every day life with your child: By making space in your day for gratitude.
There are many ways to do this, but today I want to start with the most simple – begin each meal with a blessing.
Important note: You don’t need to believe in God to do this. You can use the word God, or substitute in Spirit, World, Earth, or whatever feels right to you.
How To Do It
Commit to eating meals together as a family. After you come together at the table, light a candle, and sing a song or say a verse together. With older children, you can model saying what you feel thankful for, and they may also offer things that they are grateful for as well.
When it comes to the verse or song, with little ones, simple is best.
I’m including a few possible blessings in the video, including the one I use with my own children.
It bears mention that some children, especially when they reach nursery or kindergarten age, may start to resist the mealtime blessing. 😉
This has happened in my family.
But like a lot of things that children may resist, like cleaning up, getting in the carseat, or taking a bath, the blessing moment in our family is not optional. It is a part of our family culture, and we do it no matter what.
How the children participate is up to them. We do not require them to sing, or be silent. We do not reward them for participating, nor do we give them negative feedback if they don’t. We do it because “in our family, this is what we do.”
Peregrine likes to sing her own words to the song. Ember sometimes raps on the table in time to the beat. They take turns blowing out the match.
For now, that is enough.
I look forward to the day when the children will understand this moment more deeply, and perhaps feel its necessity. A gratitude practice is a gift. And like many of the gifts life brings, it may take some years before our children unwrap all that it is about.
I love that they will understand it in time.
Because in fact, the greatest lessons in gratitude are the ones my children have taught me.
It’s not always easy learning. Sometimes it’s challenging, even painful.
The biggest lesson?
That ALL of it is precious. The runny nose, the loud voice indoors, the scrambled egg on my shoe, the way they like to run around naked, singing.
I need a gratitude practice because it helps ME remember how grateful I am for them, every day. Because I think more than anything, that’s the kind of mother I want to be.
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