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Our Religion, Our Kids

by Vibra Eirene, on behalf of RiteHere*

Can kids come to our public rituals? Should we have separate child care for the kids? Who will look after them? Should we pay for child care?

What if parents don't want to be bothered by their kids in ritual? What if parents want them there, but other adults find them distracting and disruptive?

How can a single parent come to the ritual if we don't provide child care? Will Queers feel the ritual is designed for Hets and Breeders if there are a lot of kids?

If kids have to come to rituals, are we forcing religion on them? Is this good or bad?

How will the kids learn what we do if we don't include them at rituals? Don't most cultures with Earth-based religion organically include the children at major rituals and celebrations?

Will having kids at the ritual make us tone it down, or even "dumb" it down?

These are perennial hot topics in the Reclaiming community, and if you are involved in planning public rituals, I bet you could add dozens more questions.

RiteHere (Reclaiming in the East Bay, near San Francisco) has been struggling with them since the inception of the group three years ago. We have focused on these questions at retreats, meetings and post-ritual evaluations.

We have strongly felt the need to integrate our values, our kids, and our rituals. We have tried having (almost) totally separate child care during the adults' ritual, and having children in the ritual the whole time, and having them do stuff in the ritual and then run around or stay in, as they wish.

It might be useful to other groups struggling with these issues to see what we have been able to reach consensus on so far. Here is a summary of our conclusions and some ideas for practical application of them.

First, we perceive the children as members of our community in their own right, not simply as children of members of our community.

Second, we, as a Reclaiming ritual planning cell, want to offer ritual and magical opportunities, and public celebration of holidays, turning the Wheel, etc., to all the members of our community, so that means children as well as adults.

Third, we recognize that beliefs and desires of adults with kids vary with regard to the part that organized, outside-the-home religious activities should play in their kids' lives. Some people want their children to have religious "training," to be intentionally brought up "Pagan." Others want the children to feel welcome and to learn by social osmosis, but not to be subject to indoctrination.

Fourth, we also recognize that often children's interests, agendas, and attention spans are different from adults. On the other hand, sometimes they are not. Sometimes adults are too intense for kids to tolerate, and vice versa.

Fifth, however difficult the challenge, we believe that failing to include our children in our planning is care-less towards the kids, as if we can't be bothered to think about their needs in advance. Failing to include them sends a message to the children that they are not important. To what avail is all our Magic and political action if this is what we tell our own children?

The Nitty-Gritty

When we are planning a ritual, we will consider throughout the planning process how/whether the children could/should fit into it. Obviously they can asperge, but we have also had successful invocations when the children called with an adult (e.g. invocation of the ancestors, or of a direction). It may be easier for kids to be (relatively) quiet during some parts of a ritual if they have a role to play at another time.

We will offer the option of a separate children's Circle (not the official name; we haven't gotten that far) during the time of the ritual. Some adults want their kids with them all the time, some kids don't want to be separated from their adults, and some adults strongly want/need not to have the distraction of their kids during the ritual. So each family will decide whether a child will be with the children the whole time, or move between the two groups, or be in the larger Circle the whole time. We do not conceive of the kids' Circle as "child care," but rather as a children's magical experience, akin to Witchlets in the Woods (children's camp).

We may develop a RiteHere tradition of giving the kids' Circle some magical working that supports the work of the larger group — making objects, painting faces, learning a song or dance, whatever — and then asking them to share what they have done in the larger Circle.

We are a relatively small ritual planning cell (about a dozen committed, working members at the moment, plus volunteers whose numbers vary), and each ritual is planned by an even smaller group that we call a "pod." We are finding a reluctance among cell members to be the Children's Priest/ess because we need the person-power for the larger Circle. It is also hard to be "left out" of the larger Circle even though we all love the kids. We have not resolved who will priest/ess the optional kids' Circle. Maybe one or more cell members will fill the role, or maybe we'll hire the right person.

We intend to ask our own kids, i.e. children of cell members, to help us show and explain to other kids that come to our rituals how we do things. We see this as an opportunity for them to learn healthy, non-hierarchical, peer leadership, and to be a real help.

We ask adults in the larger Circle to help their kids be sensitive to the energy of the whole group, and not to be disruptive. Learning to be aware of other people's energy, and to behave harmoniously with group energy, is a fundamental part of our religious tradition which we want to teach our kids. We will deal with disruptive behavior during the ritual by anyone, including children, gently, respectfully, and on a case-by-case basis. On the other hand, we tolerate a certain amount of talking and motion from children that would probably be disturbing if it came from an adult. The standard for "disruptive behavior" is different, especially for little kids.

We are not comfortable with kids running around at rituals with no adult accountable for/to them. Primarily, this is because it seems unsafe, especially if we are outdoors and they run out of sight. Even indoors there are risks, like running outside, or going into a room or using equipment that is off limits. So at a minimum, there will always be adult supervision during the ritual.

We do not provide child care to the public before or after the ritual. Adults are responsible for the children they bring.

All this will be made clear to all participants in advance in some gracious way, e.g. on the website, and will be repeated in some succinct and gracious way when our Greeter tells folks other practical info before the ritual starts.

Ask the Kids

So that's RiteHere, right now.

You might want to ask your kids how they feel about public rituals, what they would like and not like to do, etc. We did this in Rite Here with kids as young as three years, and the answers were very interesting! They helped us reach our conclusions and make our plans.

Try not to have an agenda when you talk with the kids, describing your own preferences as the more attractive options. Try to be neutral. Really ask open questions. Let the kids speak. And listen.

And we all need to look at the power in our relationships with the children: power over them, power with them, power within them. What are the dynamics, and what do we want them to be?

Bless the shining children!

*RiteHere is the Ritual Planning Cell of the East Bay, near San Francisco, California. Current Active Members of RiteHere: Allyn, Andrea, Brighde Indigo, David, Jan Dance, Jean, Jodi, Moonfire, Selchie, Storm, Tiffany, Vibra Eirene