If we were merely a group of people who have rejected the faiths of their childhoods and fallen in with other skeptics, I might agree that we have little to offer children. But I believe Unitarian Universalism is much more than a place to go when you’re running away from something. At the heart of our religion is the idea of questioning, seeking, wondering, exploring ideas, and changing our minds when new things become important. And isn’t that what childhood is all about?
Most children handle ambiguity quite well. After all, their world is full of uncertainty. They learn about divorce and wonder if their parents will stay together. They learn about death and are concerned about when they or their loved ones will die. They even wonder what tomorrow will bring—is it a school day or a weekend? While they ask a lot of questions, they are used to a certain level of ambiguity about the world that many adults would find difficult to stomach.
What do we have to offer our children and youth to deal with the pressures they face on a daily basis? What skills do we give our children to help them cope with the bumpy roads they will travel on life’s journey? If we don’t give them easy assurances or definite answers, what do we have to give them?
One answer is that we teach our children to have faith in themselves—that they are each, in essence, a spark of the divine. Through upholding our First Principle—the inherent worth and dignity of every individual—we teach them that they are winners in the competition of life. They don’t have to prove anything to us. They don’t have to recite a creed or profess a belief in something they don’t necessarily understand. We accept them for who they are and love them for their unique individuality.
Unitarian Universalism also offers our children and youth the gift of community. Our religious communities give them supportive friends and an extended family to help them through the worst that life offers—and to celebrate their successes.
We teach even the youngest members of our congregations that they are welcome in our community because we like to hear their voices, we like to hear their ideas, and we think they are special. We believe children should not only be seen but heard—and even listened to.
In a world where our children and youth are constantly bombarded with pressure to be better-looking, stronger, smarter, and funnier, we welcome them into our religious community and teach them that their ideas matter. We give them faith in themselves and a safe spiritual community where they can celebrate their uniqueness—not strive to overcome it.
What do you think Unitarian Universalism offers children and youth? Is there value in offering them more ambiguity in their lives? Is having faith in themselves and a supportive community enough, or are there other benefits of raising children as Unitarian Universalists? Those of you who were raised in our faith can offer those who were not your perspective on the values you internalized as part of your childhood and testify to the real benefits of growing up UU.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).