Sunday, September 5, 2010

singing at family dinner

We went to family dinner this past Sunday. It's usually a fairly large affair; I come from a big family a good number of whom live close by, and a lot of tradition is embedded in this weekly meal . One of those traditions is singing a hymn as a prelude to the blessing of the food. We all stand in a circle around the table holding hands and sing. EVERYONE knows the hymns, all of us deeply steeped in our family's religious tradition from our earliest years, even if we choose to leave that tradition later on,.

I know these songs by heart. My husband knows these songs by heart.
My son, however, not being raised in the church, does not know these songs.

This Sunday, in particular, it caused a little hitch in my heart as I watched him try to play along during the singing... try to catch the tune and the lyrics that everyone else (including the other children his age) knew. Trying to fit in, to not let on that he was an outsider to this tradition... Yes, I may be over-analyzing it, or projecting my own fears and insecurities. But the fact does remain; my actions make an outsider of my son.

I thought of this again as I read Jessawhy's recent post about changing the words of the hymns. I used to do something very similar when my son was younger. I would change the words to A Child's Prayer and sing "Heavenly Mother, are you really there?..." as he was going to sleep. But even then, I had similar conflicting feelings about making my son an outsider; what would happen when, in primary, they sang that song, and he sang it "wrong"? (And wrong in a fairly provocative way, imho).

And so...

Well... We're figuring it out, bit by bit. Finding ways of being with family that doesn't accentuate the differences, participating in communities where religious traditions aren't part of being included, and strengthening our own little family unit (gonna head out in a few minutes for lunch together, just lover, son, and I).

Btw, random, but have you read this post about the Gay post-LDS guy who is trying to get along w/ his Devout LDS fam, and having it all blow up over a cup of coffee? It's a pretty good post.


Craig said...

It might be temporarily uncomfortable for your son to not know the words to a Mormon hymn, but the fact that you're raising him in a secular, evidence-based, sceptical way is the best thing you could give him.

It not easy to be a non-believer as an adult, and certainly not easy as a child, but the critical thinking skills you're teaching him, and the acceptance of all people, gay, straight, trans, Christian, Muslim, atheist, is worth so much more than the increased social acceptance he may or may not experience being raised as a theist.

And most importantly, he's got parents who not only love him, but accept him just the way he is.

I wish so much that I'd been raised as a atheist. I wish my parents were sceptics, that my siblings were sceptics. I wish I had something in common with them besides the accident of birth.

I'm curious about your husband. I'm assuming from the fact that you say you're raising your son outside of Mormonism that he's some sort of non-believer now.

G said...

thank you Craig :)
For the most part, I think we do pretty good. There's a lot of love and acceptance and openness between us. (Fingers crossed as to how it will work as he goes through adolescence).

My husband does not attend or participate in church, though his reasons are different than my own. I think that 'belief' for him always took a second seat to unity and community, and when I stopped believing his priority was the unity of our family.

JohnR said...

I'm with Craig. Certainly there's a connection between your actions and his feeling like an outsider in gatherings like this, but this seems a small price for what he's gaining, from my (and, I'm assuming, your) perspective.

What's frightening to me would be to flip it around, and consider the price that you all would ultimately might pay if he was able to fit in this situation.

Spyros Heniadis said...

I can identify with your son. I was raised an outsider to our family traditions, the reasons are more relational and familial than anything, but as a child it created a disconnect that carries forth to this day.

I'm not criticizing what you're doing though, or trying to cast it in a bad light. Reading your post tugged at my heart, struck pretty deep really. The difference between your path and the one my parents took when I was a child (and they were still married) was to sever the connections when common ground could not be achieved.

As I child I resented that in many ways, but as an adult I appreciate it and am thankful for it as on my own I learned about the kind of people they were and was able to make my own decision as to whether or not I wanted to include myself in the "family" as it were.

The choice was not to.

Lessie said...

This is something I've worried about as I've left my boys in the primary care of their theist father and soon to be stepmother. I worry that they'll miss out on those critical thinking skills. It's part of why I make an effort to take them to the UU congregation when I'm in town--I want to give them a viable alternative for the narrow ways of thinking they'll be taught until I get done with school and can hopefully be more fully involved in their lives again.

Great post, as always. And to echo what others have said here, your son will ultimately be better off knowing that his parents love him no matter what he chooses in the way of spirituality or skepticism.

Aaron said...

So, this is only slightly off-topic. You should teach Max the words to the Soviet national anthem (in Russian, for effect). They happen to magically coincide beautifully with the melody of "The Spirit of God". :)

G said...

Aaron: MUST learn soviet natl anthem in Russian! :)

Henadis: thanks for the comment! I guess, what I am concerned with is doing what I can to try to forestall as much sense of familial alienation as is possible. We no longer share a similar religious tradition with the extended family as a whole... but I'm hoping there will be other ways to still feel like we belong.

Lessie and John~ thanks for the support and well wishes :)

"Nana" said...

I had an experience like that when Kinely's baby (Jared) was blessed. We were all getting ready for church Aidan asked "where are we going?" and I said "to church", to that he said "what's church?"...this was right in front of mom!! I could see her face fall, and all of her fears about her grandchildren being raised in darkness confirmed! So I explained to him (in front of her) that church was where people go to do some of the things we do at home together like pray, and teaching life lessons. I hope that mom didn't think to hard about if our prayers are different, or how our life lessons may be more about acceptance then ritual.
I don't really worry about their acceptance much since we are not around the family enough to feel it the way I did at baby Jared's blessing all the time. I think I might just teach Aidan and Ava "The Spirit of God" and the Soviet national anthem both, to have them be in the know. since knowledge is power, not educating my kids about Grandmas religion might give them a weakness (one she might use as bad as that sounds).

I teach Aidan and Ava about religion as a whole, a spiritual part of life that you can do alamode, or in a group that's organized. And that there are tons of religions out there because there are tons of different people out there, and I use both sets of grandparents as examples (since they have different religions) and that just because you have a difference of religion/opinion does not make you wrong of bad.

k said...

G, my heart is with you. I always worry about my boys, and how these things will affect them. But the fact that you are aware of it and caring about how he feels will mean more in the end than anything else. You're wonderful, and you are being true to yourself. I think he will see that. (sorry I'm late to comments here :))