Raising A Child With Strong Faith When You're Not So Sure

by Becca Carnahan
Originally Published: 
Little girl praying in her bedroom
JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty

I was making dinner one night when my 3-year-old came up to me with a stack of papers in his hands. He hands me the papers and says “These are to teach you about Jesus. Share them with your husband.”


Apparently I need to be keeping a closer eye on the cartoons he’s watching. Or maybe he picked up something from church one of the four times we have gone since he was born. Or maybe I cursed under my breath one day and this was his way of calling me out. In any case, my kid has some seriously strong faith.

As for me. I’m not sure.

I grew up in a Catholic household and went to church every Sunday and CCD every week. I was baptized, received first communion, and confirmed. Throughout my childhood, church was a given, faith was a given. But I never felt pressured to hold these beliefs and my parents made certain I knew that I could choose for myself.

It wasn’t until college that I explored what that meant. I had some serious questions for the Catholic church and found that my belief system didn’t align with some of the teachings and practices. Despite being at a Catholic university, I found myself disassociating with Catholicism and deciding that while I was Christian, I didn’t feel a tie to a particular church or religious group.

Several years later, I was engaged and we were considering where we wanted to get married. My husband-to-be was a Baptist and I was a big question mark, so we found a lovely Baptist church for our wedding that I liked because of the stonework and the fact that the preacher allowed us to change up the vows to be more socially progressive. It was beautiful, but honestly the concept of getting married in a church was more tradition for me at that point than a religious feeling.

We then started to look for a church closer to our home that we could attend regularly, thinking that since we both grew up going to church, we wanted the same for our kids. But we found ourselves striking out at every turn. For two months, we attended church after church and just were not feeling it. One of the churches I quite literally ran from because I was so horrified by the message, but in most of them I simply felt an emptiness.

So we decided to keep God in our own way, have private conversations, and come back to church when the time felt right. And we have tried again, and felt nothing again, and honestly, it’s confusing. And frustrating. And maybe a little scary.

I find myself having more questions than answers when it comes to my own religious belief system. There is a pendulum swing that happens between thinking I know exactly how a greater power has impacted my life, and thinking that maybe everything is a bit random. That we are all here while we are here, and then that’s it. That’s not a comfortable feeling, the faith feelings are preferable, but it comes up.

Now as a parent, I have two small children in front of me with a lot of questions. But something that my 3-year-old seems to have more answers about than I do is faith. He talks about people who have passed away looking down on us. He speaks about heaven as if he knows exactly what that is. Discussions about Jesus revolve around love and gratitude. When he asks me about faith, I do my best to relay the lessons of my youth, and try not to let my uncertainty color his views. Because if he inherently feels something so strongly, then who I am to shake that?

I find that I run in circles of people who believe very strongly, those who teeter on the edge of faith, and those who are fully scientific about life. Each one of these people are interesting, kind, generous, intelligent, and incredibly special to me. Whatever my children choose, today, tomorrow, or in 25 years, I’m going to be in their corner. I’ll raise them to be interesting, kind, generous, intelligent, and to know without question that they are incredibly special to me. I hope that they continue to hang on tight to their belief systems, while at the same time being open to new ideas. I hope that they feel fulfilled in their faith, or lack thereof.

Raising a child with strong faith when I am unsure can be difficult because the answers I provide surely fall into the gray area between black and white. I question myself daily as I try to figure things out for myself while providing an example for my children. However, the figuring out is part and parcel of this whole parenting journey, and life on the whole. So if I question while they believe, or they question while I believe, or we are all believe and question at the same time, we’re going to figure it out. Separately, together, and in our own special way.

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