Communication and Silence

I have a hangup with communication.

I am not interested in shallow platitudes, yet I’m uncomfortably aware of how saying anything – or even saying nothing at all – will still form people’s perceptions of me.  I feel like the things I have in my mind are much too complex to communicate in mere words, and I loathe being misunderstood.

So I don’t say much.

I joke that 85% of what goes on in my head stays private – but I’m not actually joking.

Maybe that’s arrogant of me, to think that I’m so aloof and unflappable that people don’t see the real me unless I want them to.  But silence has its benefits.

People may think I lack strong opinions, or even delude themselves that I agree with them, because I don’t care to engage in arguments or prove my points to them.

I don’t believe that it’s my mission in life to save others from making “bad” choices, because I recognize that those choices are only “bad” when they’re viewed thru my own subjective lens on life.  For all we know, the “bad” or negative experiences we see others hurtling toward are an integral part of their life plans – and it’s not always my path to walk, to understand what they’re up against or why, let alone try and rescue them from it all.

The best thing I can do for those around me is to be true to myself, to love myself, to honor myself.

But to really do that, I need to communicate more and better.

It’s kind of hard to blaze new trails when you’re always covering your tracks…

So this is one of my next trails to blaze – throat chakra work…communication renewed and refined, shared without fear of consequence.

I’ve traveled deep into the caverns of my psyche, and have learned so much, come so far.  I still have much to learn, but it’s high time I start sharing more about my journeys.

Holiday Blessings, Gratitude, and Perspective

Did you ever set yourself up for failure or sadness – without even being aware of it?  

That’s what I almost did this holiday season.

Truth be told, I thought I’d have a pretty sad holiday this year.

holiday flowers

My husband just started a new job, which is a huge blessing, except for one thing…

He’ll be gone for many months at a time. 

We said goodbye just five days ago – knowing we wouldn’t see each other again until nearly February…

I had steeled myself for this, but it was still a tough pill to swallow.

We are a strong team as parents, and the best of friends.

So, almost without even being aware of it…

I found myself not really wanting to think about the holidays much, this year.  

I even joked that we were just going to pretend it was January, once he’d left for work…

Well, you can imagine how shocked I was, when he woke me up with bouquets of flowers in the wee hours of Christmas-Eve morning!

Gosh, what a lovely present that was—-and I don’t mean just the flowers!

We had just a few hours to celebrate…when before, I was feeling pretty lukewarm about celebrating anything at all–!

In an instant, I realized three things:

  1. I felt flooded with gratitude to have him home with us, obviously–! 🙂
  2. The contrast that provided brought the stark realization that I wasn’t fully embracing or enjoying the moment – even though I thought I was on top of that sort of negative-thinking bullshit…WHOOPS.
  3. Perspective is everything.

We had the best time together, in spite of it being “only a few hours”, or “not what we had hoped for”, etc.

I wonder if having expectations may harm us more often than help us.  They hinder our ability to embrace and enJOY the moments we HAVE, instead of those “perfect” ones we think we should be having.

This holiday was better than perfect, actually.

I don’t think our family’s ever had a better Christmas Eve than this one!

Funny, what a little shift in perspective can manifest!

On Feeling Inadequate as a Parent

As I watch my sweet oldest boy turn more and more into what some might call an angsty teenager – I recall mySelf at his age.

Not so long ago, I was his age….and not long after that, I was pregnant and giving birth to him.  I was 18 the year he was born.  The only child of only children, I’d never been around kids, never babysat.  I only ever held a baby once, briefly and awkwardly, before I held my own precious child.

I tried my best at the time, but I knew I felt deeply inadequate for the task I was up against – raising another human being, when I had barely even begun to become my own true Self…

I comforted my completely befuddled teen-mom-self with thoughts like, “At least when he’s a teen, we’ll get along great, cause I won’t be so out of touch with him like my parents are with me…  It will be great – we’ll bond over music and I won’t force him to do things he hates, and I will welcome his friends…and I will have peace then, if not now.”

Not only did I miss the point of Living in the Moment, then…but I recognize now, how so absurdly naive it was for me to think that way:

Again and again, every moment, every phase of development – I realize more and more how very little I know.

How presumptuous of me, to ever think that I could “learn it all in time”…

But also, I’ve learned that It’s Okay.

His path is not mine to control, whether by threat & force, or by leading him with stifling, sugar-coated coercion down the road that looks most promising…least painful. I have to recognize, the older he gets, that his path may very well include a foray into what, in my opinion, looks like dire misery – but his lessons and his choices are not mine, and do not define me as a person.

I can lead him, guide him, love him so much it hurts – but I cannot ultimately make his choices for him.

It doesn’t get easier as they get older.

I dunno who made up that lie.. You trade diapers and sleep deprivation for much deeper, more profound, less tangible worries, the older they get. You have to make peace with who they’re becoming, and realize that so much of it is out of your hands, by the time they are 10+ years old. The million moments of babyhood and toddlerhood, whether you manage to keep the exasperation out of your voice as you read The Runaway Bunny for the 30th time…they add up to huge things, somewhere down the line.

But we can’t know what, or where.

Our kids know us better than we know ourselves, and sometimes that in itself can trigger us. As they grow, they might have memories of profound, pivotal, defining moments in their lives….that we are unaware of. What seems insignificant to us might be Earth-shattering for our child – and we won’t always be aware of it.

So if you’re feeling unprepared for this huge, monumental task of parenthood – feeling like nobody told you exactly what would be required of you….feeling often, like you’re not quite up to the task? Well, that’s good. Nobody can ever prepare themselves for parenthood “enough”.

There is no such thing as enough.

You give it your all, and then, incredibly, again and again – you find that more is required of you – so you discover more of yourSelf, and learn and grow alongside your children.

They don’t need you to be perfect – they just need you to be real, and willing to grow alongside them.

Image

Parenting is the most immense personal growth journey you can embark upon, in my opinion.

You just have to be open and willing to let it transform you.

Inspired by my friend, Cherise.

Perfection and apologies

It’s been awhile since I updated this blog, and part of that has to do with perfection–or the lack thereof, actually. I figure if i can’t write a “perfect” blog post, then I just won’t write one. But that’s stupid. There is no such thing as a perfect post, or a perfect anything–so why and how did we get so conditioned to think in these terms? And why are we so hard on ourselves??

I read something recently that called any explanation a hidden apology, and that really resonated with me.

I used to be the master of explaining. I could come up with a bunch of reasons why I did or didn’t do X, and would be fully prepared to explain each in detail to any random friend, stranger, or internet troll who challenged me. It was that way when I went veg. It was the same when my kids got older and the question of homeschooling and then unschooling came up. Even when I had a toddler sick with pneumonia, I was stuck in the mode of explaining, defending, apologizing to everyone about my choices. About what exactly the nurse said to me, and why I didn’t feel comfortable accepting their treatment recommendations, etc..

When I would encounter certain people, “interrogators” who would question my choices zealously, looking for any flaw to exploit in my reasoning, this would produce a fight-or-flight response in me. I’d either go into overdrive, finding internet links and research to back my response–or I’d just be incapable of responding–feeling that anything I’d say would be used against me.

What it really must have looked like was that I was wishy-washy, that I only had external, empty motivations for behaving and believing what I did.

The fact is, I can give you a thousand logical reasons why I believe what I do–but probably lots of people could defend the opposite position. Ultimately, however, none of those reasons matter to you. They won’t resonate with you, and they won’t convince you to change your own reasoning (at least, not on its own!).

Your opinion of my reality is not the same thing as my reality. It doesn’t define it, and it certainly doesn’t create it. I don’t have to feel responsible for creating a good impression of my reality in other people’s minds. My happiness is not contingent on other people sanctioning it–telling me it’s “okay” or “not okay” to feel happy. I can choose happiness and embrace fulfillment on my path, regardless of whether the rest of society tells me it’s perfect, allowed, or legit. And I am.

I am deleriously happy with the life I’ve created and the choices I’ve made–even the ones that don’t make sense, even the ones that might appear to be “wrong” from someone else’s perspective.

So if I don’t write out a paragraph-long explanation for every article I post on facebook, or be able to clearly articulate exactly why I do the things I do, it’s not because I don’t have my reasons. It’s just that I am too busy enjoying my life to want to spend so much time trying to bring others into alignment with my choices.

I am Who I Am. You are Who You Are. No apologies. That’s just as perfect as it gets.

Why I Don’t Like Rewards and Punishments

Gentle discipline. That sounds pretty progressive, right? Not spanking or hitting children IS still a pretty progressive concept in our society. In my opinion, it’s disheartening that we’re still not collectively as a culture at the place where hitting kids is just accepted as absurd, archaic, and wrong for any reason…

But I digress. This post isn’t about non-gentle discipline. It’s about the ways in which we are moving forward, but in very small, still-misguided ways. Not that I’m the perfect parent, as if there is such a thing–but I am willing to admit that there’s still plenty of room for positive change. I am willing to acknowledge the ways in which we (collectively and personally) are still held back from relating to our kids from a place of love and trust, instead of fear and control.

One of the things–tools, if you will–that parents often turn to, or use more heavily, when they are working toward a more gentle way of relating to their kids, is using rewards and consequences. “Hey, the kids did what I told them to, there was no yelling or hitting (which is spanking, don’t kid yourself), and everything is great!”

Well, yes. But no. There is much more going on with rewards and consequences than just the immediate behavior changes that are effected. For many parents, the question of whether rewards and consequences “work” is rather a moot point. We don’t care whether they “work”, because we are more concerned with the long-term behavioral and psychological consequences of using such techniques.

Incidentally, of course they “work”. Pavlov proved that with doggies in the 1890s–but I deeply question the integrity of behaviorism as a school of thought when applied to human beings–in other words, beings who are intrinsically motivated to think critically and to make decisions based on internal judgments, not external carrots and sticks. For more on this, please check out Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn. You can read the first chapter, which goes into behaviorism and why it’s not appropriate for parenting, here.

The thing is, the concepts of rewards and punishment are so ingrained in our culture and our thinking that it’s at first hard to see how it might be damaging. Think of it this way: We are putting out little fires again and again, instead of investing a lot of time and money to create a fire-resistant structure. And we’re neglecting to notice all the little scorched spots adding up…

I am not merely interested in changing the day-to-day behavior of my kids–and I believe that that’s all rewards and punishments really do. Behavior is really just a symptom of the way that the child is currently perceiving the world to operate.

Behavior is like the mushroom (incidental), while the essential substance of belief/worldview (which manifests behaviors of all sorts) is the mycelium–invisible, yet vast and essential. Just stamping out the mushroom won’t get of the mycelium from which it sprung.

Punishing “bad’ behavior might get rid of the behavior, but punishment does not help the child to internalize why the behavior is being labeled as “bad”–WHY he shouldn’t do it. He is learning that the adults in the world around him don’t like when he does X, so he learns to avoid doing x when they’re around, or until he’s grown up.

Or–perhaps just as bad–he learns that pleasing the people in his external world is what’s important in life, and he dissociates from or subverts those parts of himself that display as “bad” in the opinion of the people around him. Never questioning why x is “bad” is the first place, what circumstances make x “bad,” or whether x is indeed “bad” at all.

Punishments create a worldview in which the child learns to look to others for what’s right and wrong, and critically thinking about WHY things are the way they are is not emphasized. Even the laws of the land, ideally, are followed because they make sense, because there is a rhyme and reason to them that we generally agree with. We don’t all drive on the right side of the road solely because we’re afraid we’ll get a traffic fine or go to jail if we don’t.

There are plenty of things in life with natural negative consequences–we don’t need to arbitrarily create more of them to teach kids about actions having consequences. If your kiddo leaves his skates out in the rain, and they get mildewed, he will likely learn from that without any additional negativity imposed by you. He’ll have to scrub the mildew off, or the skates will need to be thrown out, or he’ll have to save his money or wait until you can buy another pair for him. He might miss out on skating with his friends for awhile, etc.

Incidentally, this is not the same thing as purposely cleaning up the rest of the yard but leaving his skates there to “teach him a lesson”. There’s a line between natural consequences and on-purpose consequences–and you also don’t want to miss an opportunity to be nice for the sake of niceness. Next time he might remember, and bring your garden tools in along with his skates, for niceness… Think the best of your child–giving the benefit of the doubt to him will teach him to do the same with others…eventually.

That’s not to say we should embrace and encourage tantrums at the grocery store–but we’d certainly do well to recognize that children don’t WANT to lose control, or make us angry, etc. If they do something that makes us angry, most likely they had a need that they were trying to meet (in their not-yet-developed, immature way), that precluded our opinion about what they were doing.

One caveat here, however–if there’s already a controlling/manipulative, adversarial relationship firmly in place, an older child might actually be retaliating with his behavior–i.e, trying to make his parents angry. By the time I was about 8 years old, I did sometimes try to make my parents angry–becasue I felt like I had no way to make them understand me, so i wanted to get back at them for making up arbitrary punishments and “consequences”, and never believing me when I explained the reason why I’d done something “wrong”. Kids can be hurt so much more deeply than most parents realize. We say kids are resilient, and they are, but that’s no reason to treat them as if their emotions are trifling.

We can apply this concept of whether the child is “trying” to make us angry to this common scenario: The two year old who tells bald-faced lies. You see them unroll the toilet paper.

“Did you just unroll the toilet paper?!”

“No,” they say.

Most parenting “experts” would say the child should be punished for lying AND unrolling the toilet paper, at this point.

Here’s an alternative interpretation of what’s going on, which I believe is much more plausible:

The two-yr old has poor impulse control (incidentally, impulse control is not fully developed in humans until somewhere between 18 and 22 years old), and also has a magical and/or very subjective (i.e. what HE believes is what IS) view of reality. He saw the toilet paper and thought it would be fun (educational!) to unroll it! Whee!

Then he saw your face and heard your tone of voice, and realized that he’d upset you. Ohh–oops. He wishes he hadn’t done it, so he says “No” when you ask him if he did it. He is responding to your question in accordance with what he *wishes* were true, now that he realizes he upset you. Further, the two year old knows fully well that you saw him do it.

So, it’s setting him up for confusion and asking him to displease you even more, when you ask him a question that he knows you already know the answer to!

It’s much more helpful to just clean up the toilet paper mess together and calmly talk about why we don’t play with toilet paper (it hurts trees, that’s not how we use it, it’s expensive, etc etc)–or even better, just laugh with your child about it–delight in his delight! Then, make sure the toilet paper is not available for playtime in the future.

I already hear the objections: “That’s not feasible/convenient for everyone!” But of course, nobody said that mindfully raising a child was going to be even close to convenient 😉

So we’ve talked about punishments and consequences–now, rewards.

I know, I know. When I was first introduced to the concept of rewards as harmful, I felt frustrated! I’d already come so far from hitting and yelling–even rewards are harmful?

“I give him chocolate, he pees in the potty! I let him watch TV with me for an hour, after he eats all his dinner! How can this be wrong?”

The research of behaviorist psychologists has found again and again that introducing rewards for certain activities actually decreases motivation for those activities, compared to before rewards were introduced. So even if we do succeed in getting rid of a negative behavior by offering rewards, we are actually reinforcing the desire to do something if, and only if, a reward is involved–still not addressing the underlying cause of the “bad” behavior.

I put “bad” in quotes because often we label behaviors of children as bad or good, when really we aren’t aware of the underlying reasons why a child is acting the way he or she is.

If we provide rewards for our children reading books, doing chores, or other “desirable” behaviors, then we actually dampen the natural desire and instinct of children, which is to learn and interact with their environments. Rewards interfere with the natural process, which is to derive joy from learning, helping, or otherwise participating in daily life.

I understand that offering rewards is a really hard habit to break! My mother raised me on a steady diet of “good job!”, presents for good grades, and chore charts–and it just created apathy and distrust.

“She said my drawing was awesome when I barely even tried. Does she really even look at my art? If I get a dollar for “doing the laundry”, what if I can’t fold the sheets? How much less can I get away with?”

Incidentally, it’s the same with grading work in school:

“If I know I can get an A with minimal effort, why waste my time doing more? If I don’t do the report at all, I can still pass with a B? How many days can I miss and still pass the class?”

These are the sorts of questions I think virtually every opportunistic teenager asks in junior high and high school–because schools especially train kids to focus on “getting the grade” rather than actually challenging their mind or pushing to learn and try new, difficult tasks. Hyper-focus on grades is a big part of the reason why I think our schools are failing. We are looking at education as a product to be prepared, instead of a process to be explored and savored.

If the goal in school is to get the grade, then minimal effort is going to be expended to achieve maximum grade percentage. Kids usually aren’t willing to risk a lower grade for going out on a limb and pushing themselves to improve upon their personal best. If they can get a 90% (i.e, a “reward”) with moderate effort and few mistakes, why would they risk getting a lower grade (i.e. getting “punished”)–even if the alternative assignment is more challenging, interesting, or mind-expanding?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is your underlying beliefs about human nature. Are we self-destructive, hapless beings who naturally gravitate toward negativity in our relationships with self/others/environment if not for artificial constructs keeping us in line (rewards, punishments, rules, laws, etc)? Or are we naturally self-affirming and growth-oriented, naturally inclined to meet our needs, and in need of only minimal, gentle guidance to help us learn to do so in ways that are respectful and helpful to the world/others?

I believe the latter, without a doubt.

What do you think?

Rethinking “TV-free”: Why I don’t censor television-watching

Earlier today, I was watching Disney channel with my kids, and we got to talking about childism in action on that channel. In particular, the show Good Luck Charlie. It’s about a “big” family (four kids), but the parents are self-absorbed, hapless idiots and they are constantly making comments that indicate that they would rather not have had kids. I am all for jokes and sarcasm, but IMO there’s a line that these shows cross, and I think it’s hurtful. Why do we want to perpetuate a cultural opinion of kids as a hassle or an inconvenience? How is that helping the relationships between parents and children?

These sorts of things are what my kids and I talk about as we watch TV. I think we get about 100 channels–maybe 200, I don’t know. We regularly watch less than ten of them. Personally, I think a lot of what’s on TV is garbage: disrespectful, overly commercialized, superficial, designed to get you to behave and think (and shop!) in certain ways that are not necessarily desirable, etc.

I don’t censor the things my kids watch, however. TV is a mixed bag. I want my kids to be able to discern programming that they feel comfortable watching for themselves, without my hovering and censorship.

I didn’t always feel this way. I was very limited in what I could watch as a kid. By the time I had my first child, I was very anti-TV/anti-media. I didn’t have cable in our home, and only allowed certain, approved-by-me videos to be watched. I was a big fan of books like The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers, and Family Life, which harshly criticize “screen time” of any kind, for kids and adults alike.

Then I discovered unschooling, and my thinking started to shift.

Once, when my oldest was 4 or 5, he wanted to watch Lord of the Rings with his dad. I did not want him to be scared–I knew he was going to see Gollum and get freaked out. But he REALLY wanted to watch, even when I warned him that it would probably be scary. (I also probably got mad at his dad for wanting to watch a movie like that before I’d put him to bed–which, if it had happened now, I wouldn’t be–but I digress. This was at the very beginning of our unschooling journey.)

Frustrated, I sat down and watched with them both for awhile, and my son sat there happily–until Gollum came onscreen. Immediately my son hopped right off the couch, turned to me and said, “Okay, I’m ready for bed now! Let’s read a story!” At the time, I was scared that moment had traumatized him, but actually he had been able to decide for himself when his comfort level was surpassed, and this empowered him. I didn’t say anything, didn’t “rub it in” that I was right. I just let him make his own conclusions about that experience, and we read some nice bedtime stories together.

Kids who are not allowed to choose for themselves what feels like *too much* will often sit through things that make them uncomfortable, against their own inner judgment, just to exercise their own autonomy! If you tell someone they’re too young or they don’t understand, they will often try to prove you wrong once given the opportunity.

If you help a child to choose their own comfort levels with media (and other things), without judgment or “I told you so”s, there will be collaboration, trust, and ultimately a strengthening of the child’s own inner judgment–calibration of his comfort levels. This is essential for growing up–yet many kids aren’t permitted to start this sort of self-exploration and learning until they’re teenagers or older.

Many unschoolers embrace TV, but many others, like Laurie A. Couture, have consciously and cooperatively chosen to forego TV and media. This article talks about her and her teenage son’s mutual decision to stop gaming and watching TV.

Incidentally, Laurie’s an excellent speaker, visionary, author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing, and a passionate advocate of children’ rights. Her whole blog is very illuminating.

Like Laurie, I am a big advocate of deciding things together (explained further in this article, by Alfie Kohn)–and for us, right now, that means we watch TV.

There are things on the TV that are really, really world-expanding, in a good way. My kids have watched things on TV and then ran off on tangents of exploration, reading, pretend play, and more–all from the result of a 30-minute show. We’ve watched cooking shows and they’ve learned about new ingredients, or different foods that other people eat. We’ve also gotten up and cooked what they were cooking! We’ve watched cartoons and talked about how animation works, and how drawings can be exaggerated to show emotion or character.

We’ve watched HGTV and talked about different design styles, or how homes can look nice but actually be falling apart, or dangerous, due to faulty construction. We talk a lot about advertisements–how they’re convincing, or stupid, or exaggerated, or what techniques they use to compel people to buy their product; why sales and offers work, and what the manufacturer’s motivation or goal really is. We might hear a reference that the kids or I don’t get, and so we google it, and that leads to other thought-tangents.

I am not a wealthy mom, able to bring my kids to Europe or on multi-state vacations five times a year. TV brings the world to us in ways that I can’t necessarily replicate in the real world–at least, not yet! The internet is amazing, because you can find exactly what you’re interested in.

TV is amazing because it opens doors that you never even knew you didn’t know about, until you caught 15 minutes of this or that show.. 🙂

Raising Kids Beyond Religion: A Booklist

Yes, I said “beyond” religion. I am not a fan of the concept that there is only one right way, central to so many major religions. I’m very much a freethinker in that regard, and I raise my kids to be freethinkers as well. As a parent and as a homeschooler, I don’t want to shield them from the world–or religion. We approach religions of all sorts from a place of finding the commonalities, instead of focusing on the differences. I also want to offer my kids the opportunity to be culturally literate in terms of religion–to think critically about the information they get from the world.

Most importantly, I want them to be in touch with what they feel in their hearts, and whether any form of organized religion speaks to them. I don’t view beliefs as something external that one should try to conform to, but rather, something that is already inside oneself, waiting to be discovered and given words to.

Learning about different religions is, in my opinion, just one way to figure out if there’s a name for what you already know, feel, and believe to be true.

(Another fun way is by taking the Belief-O-Matic quiz, which sounds silly, but is actually a really in-depth and useful tool for the spiritual seeker or belief-questioner, to fine-tune and zoom in on their true beliefs.)
Got ten spare minutes? Why not take it?!

That said, it’s hard to find books that approach topics of values and morality from a non-religious standpoint. It’s even harder to find children’s books about religions that are informative but unbiased. Now, I’m a pretty big book nerd, and have been amassing kids’ books on spirituality and religion for over ten years now, so I’ve got a pretty fat stack of them.

To be clear–I don’t make my kids read these or any books. I don’t “teach” religion of any sort. I do, however, strew these books (and many other interesting things) across their paths–perhaps leaving them on the kitchen table, or in the bathroom, or in the car. I might do a random read-aloud, and they’ll gather round, or more often, be listening while drawing or playing with toys. That’s just how we do things, though.

So, if you’re new to this concept of introducing religion and beliefs to kids without expectations, this post includes some basic titles to start with. Some discuss general spiritual topics, while others are more historical and informative in nature. All are free of any “one right way” dogma, however; which makes them pleasantly readable for many religious folks, agnostics, atheists and spiritual seekers alike.

  • This first book is for the parents: Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion. I know it has the phrase “without religion” in the subtitle, but really, this book is not against religion, so long as nobody’s being forced to practice it. Parenting Beyond Belief is a book that addresses the concept and approach of morals, values, and beliefs in a conscious, thoughtful way. It purports that unexamined beliefs, whether religious or otherwise, are some of the most staunchly held, most inflexible and most difficult to uproot. If you already consider yourself a secular family, if you are “spiritual but not religious”, or if you just want a sort of roadmap on how to model ethics and values outside of any cumbersome religious pretext, this is an excellent book to check out.
  • One of my very favorite childrens’ books is Old Turtle. This book is gorgeously illustrated in watercolor, and very artfully put together. It’s enjoyable from preschool-age to, well, adulthood. The book is about an argument that began among all the animals and things of the earth, about what God is like. Each creature or creation believes that God is like itself–and therefore NOT like the others. It also touches on how we humans are prone to forgetting to see the connectedness around us, and instead focus on the differences and disparities. Old Turtle has spurred many thoughtful discussions in my house–and it’s also an award winning book.
  • What Is God? is a very thorough if somewhat wordy book, with one-page overviews of five of the world’s major religions.  It also touches on the concept of religious freedom, and the fact that some people don’t follow any religion at all.  It talks about what prayer is, and it focuses on the similarities among many religious beliefs.  It mentions that some people believe in many Gods, while others believe in one. What Is God? also talks about how you can try to “feel God” by thinking of the ways in which we are all “connected to everything”. I really like this book as a nice introduction to the idea that other people might have different beliefs and worldviews outside of a child’s own family. The wordiness might not appeal to very young kids, but I’ve read this to mine at 3 and 4 years old, and they were interested.
  • One Earth, One Spirit – A Child’s Book of Prayers From Many Faiths and Cultures is a lovely, poetic book with glossy photos–a compilation of many prayers, from short four-line couplets to page-long verses. The back of the book has a section of notes on each prayer, highlighting the culture or belief system they come from, and what they’re about. When we did handwriting practice, I offered this book for my kids to copy from. If they memorized a verse here and there while doing their copywork, that was great too. I especially like that One Earth, One Spirit includes prayers from Native American cultures, and less conspicuous belief systems such as Sikhism, Russian Orthodox, and Taoism.
  • The Golden Rule.  How much more is there to say? This book is full of amazing artwork, and a conversation between a boy and his grandfather about the Golden Rule:  Treat others as you wish to be treated. It mentions how this concept is found at the core of most major religions, and also the irony that there is so much fighting and disharmony in the world, despite people knowing about The Golden Rule. This book is appealing even for toddlers–an easy yet thought-provoking read.
  • On My Way To A Happy Life, by Deepak Chopra. This book is another of my favorites, because it’s written to show that we are each ultimately responsible for our own happiness, and that everything we encounter is affected by us. To me, this is a liberating and empowering line of thinking–for kids and adults alike. On My Way To A Happy Life includes seven principles or life lessons: Anything is Possible, Giving and Getting, What You Do Comes Back to You, Creating Peace, Growing What You Want, Be Open to Life, Your Place in the World. The whole book is written in verse; which might seem trite, but it’s well done–and the vibrantly colored illustrations are joy-inspiring just by themselves. This book does not talk about religion, but rather, a new way of looking at–and relating to–the world around us.
  • Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher. This book, in all honesty, I have not yet read myself–but I have done a LOT of research and a lot of talking to other parents, trying to find a children’s book that is an accurate yet objective look at Christianity. Meet Jesus is the best one I’ve found thus far.  Now, for the record, I am not a Christian. I think that even in our secularized society, you can’t avoid coming into contact with Christian beliefs–and I would never try to prevent this. However, I think that it’s very desirable for kids to learn about Christianity in a historical, factual, non-proselytizing sense. Meet Jesus–if it really is what it seems to be–fills this glaring void in the realm of children’s books.
  • Muhammad, by Demi, is an amazingly-illustrated book about the life and times of the prophet who wrote the texts of the Koran, Islam’s holy book. Interestingly, Muhammad‘s body and face are not pictured; only his silhouette, as per Islamic artistic tradition. Scripts from the Koran and an account of Islamic beliefs are included–yet it’s written as a biography–very engaging and readable for both young kids and adults. I think this book is excellent as a starting point for dispelling myth and misinformation about the world’s second-largest religion.
  • The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching is another visual masterpiece by Demi. This book includes a short biography of Lao Tzu, who “may or may not have been born, and who may or may not have written the Tao Te Ching”–and it includes 20 passages from the Tao Te Ching, or “Way of Heaven”. The Legend of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching does not present a lengthy explanation of what Taoism is, but instead, the short, simple passages are allowed to speak for themselves.
  • Prince Siddhartha: The Story of Buddha is a book my kids especially love. This is not a book about Buddhism, but a biography of the Buddha–which interestingly, amounts to the same thing. It’s a long, deeply engaging story even for adults, but also speaks to the younger kids. It’s broken into short chapters and is perfect as a bedtime read-aloud. The book talks about how Siddhartha was born into riches as a prince, and had everything he could dream of handed to him. Later, he walked away from it all for a life of poverty and suffering–and embraced it. The values of nonviolence, loving-kindness, and selflessness are embodied vividly and tangibly within Prince Siddhartha–not in a preachy way, but in a way that is easily identifiable and able to evoke emotion in the smallest of children.
  • The Ancient Celtic Festivals: and How We Celebrate Them Today. This book is more of an informative read than a bedtime storybook, but it’s nonetheless fascinating. It highlights the eight solar festivals of both ancient and modern Pagan traditions: Where they came from, what they signified, and how they are still celebrated today. This book discusses the nature-based roots of modern holidays, from Groundhog Day to Halloween. The Ancient Celtic Festivals explains how the solar cycle of the year was used to tell time, and why the sun’s cycle was intimately important to daily life 2000+ years ago. I love this book because it’s a technical “why-manual” explaining the Pagan wheel of the year, in practical and spiritual terms. The Celts are a common ancestor of many Europeans, and so their heritage is very much our heritage, as well.
  • All I See Is Part of Me. This book is an excellent story that describes a decidedly Pagan worldview. At its heart, Paganism is about recognizing the interconnectedness and blessedness of all things. All I See Is Part of Me highlights those two central, far-reaching concepts in lovely color-pencil drawings that have a dreamy, ethereal quality about them. It gently offers the concept that we are all connected, and everything is blessed, divine, beautiful.

I have lots–LOTS! more books to share regarding spirituality, both for children and adults–but this list should give a pretty good idea of where I stand and how I approach religion and spirituality with my family. I hope these books are helpful and enJOYable for you!