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The unique challenges of Unitarian Universalist parenting

By Michelle Richards

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Unitarian Universalism offers a different parenting experience than many other religious traditions do—and not just because of our diverse theologies. Parents raising their children in our faith frequently face situations that other parents may never encounter.

During the five years I served a congregation in the Midwest as director of religious education, and in my years since as an author and religious education consultant, I have visited many congregations to present workshops and speak with many parents, ministers, and religious educators. Some parents are seeking to recreate the specialness of the religious traditions they remember from their own childhoods; however, having rejected the faith of their youth, they are unsure how to adapt those traditions or how to develop new rituals for their families.

Other Unitarian Universalist parents have had little or no exposure to a religious faith during their childhood years but still desire to “do religion” with their children.  They seek to give their children the experience that many Christian, Jewish, and Muslim parents give to their children without any apparent effort—a special sense of their religious faith and a deepening sense of spirituality expressed through their family life. Even parents who were raised as Unitarian Universalists may still be challenged in this regard; many of them were raised in a time when fear of indoctrination made it taboo to expend much effort instilling a Unitarian Universalist identity in children.

Unitarian Universalist parents have had ethical dilemmas about whether to allow their children to participate in a school play that depicts Native Americans in a stereotypical fashion, whether their sons should join the Boy Scouts in spite of that institution’s stance on non-believers and homosexuality, and whether to confront a teacher who presents misinformation or biased religious ideas in a public school classroom.

Parents need resources and information to create and share meaningful religious experiences with their children at home and meet the unique challenges of raising children as Unitarian Universalists.  This is why I wrote the book Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting and will be keeping this blog over the next few weeks. In the book I have written, and through this blog, we will address how parents and children can live their Unitarian Universalist faith everyday—from engaging in social action projects as a family, to exploring the natural world and the feelings of awe it evokes, to appreciating the interdependent web of life, to searching for truth.

Please share your questions, thoughts, and ideas as well as we address what it means to raise children as Unitarian Universalists.

Because whether a family chooses to light a chalice as they share meaningful words, engage in a regular meditation practice, pray together, or walk a labyrinth, they are choosing to give their children a special gift for the future, the gift of a faith tradition. And in doing so, parents are also giving something special to themselves, the gift of a close, connected family drawn together by religious faith.

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