Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tending the Flame


Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting by Michelle Richards, is a new book by the author of the UU Parenting Blog at UU World. I received the book as a Christmas gift, and decided to do a parent discussion group at my church, where I was joined by three other moms over four gatherings focused on four different sections of the book.

What it's about

The main point of the book can be summed up by these three quotes:

“As parents, we are the primary religious educators of our children. They will learn their concept of faith, morality, responsibility, and justice from us” (Richards, p. 1)

“Many of us are concerned about indoctrinating our children with our personal beliefs. We encourage children to question and think for themselves, but in reality they want to know what we think” (Richards, p. 1).

“Eventually they’ll stop asking us religious questions and look for answers elsewhere. Many of the other people they encounter in life will not be so hesitant to pass on their beliefs, opening up the possibility that the vacuum we leave in our children’s lives will be filled with a belief system contrary to our own” (Richards, p. 3).

The book discusses how and why we should intentionally educate our children about religion, spirituality, and ethics, and it also hits many of the hot-button issues that confront UU parents in particular, such as interfaith families, a lack of concrete easy answers, and evangelizing and discrimination that children may face from other children.

What I thought of it

I honestly have to give the book a mixed review. Some sections were very useful, even excellent, such as the series of 7 chapters on how each of our 7 Principles can inform our parenting. Other sections just seemed to drag on, such as the chapter on spiritual practices that you might try for your kids. There were a few times I didn't really agree with the developmental stages as Richards described them. But there were also times when she phrased things in very inspirational and mind-opening ways, and our little discussion group responded well to that.

Overall, it is a useful book for UU parents, and I think these are conversations we need to have more of. How do we deal with the Bible with our children? How do we unpack our own baggage around religion so that we don't hand it on to our children? How will we deal with grief and death when our children encounter them? How will we handle it if our children engage with spiritual practices or religions different from our own?

What to do with it

UU parenting does present some unique challenges, and it might be nice if we just had some pat answers to give to those tough questions the kids ask. But, while there is no ultimate truth we can defer to in our parenting, we still don't have to do this alone. I would encourage others to gather and discuss these issues with other UU parents - these were some lovely and rich conversations my little group had.

(If any religious educators or UU parents out there would like to see the discussion questions I wrote for my group to use, just ask. I'm happy to share.)

1 comment:

  1. I have read that book, too. I totally agree with your assessment of it (I have actually met Michelle a few times - we are in the same district). I would LOVE to see your discussion questions. I have been wanting to get a parents group together at our congregation. Thanks!