Dear Unicorns: Taking My Daughter to Church

I’ve been a mother for nearly seven years, and I think I’m doing it wrong. I had this realization over the holidays, as our family was sitting down to dinner on Christmas Day. My mother in law suggested we say grace, and my daughter smiled and said, “I’ll say it!” My husband and I looked at each other with trepidation. We were both raised going to church, but have not introduced her to any particular faith. I couldn’t wait to hear what she would say!

She folded her hands, closed her eyes, and said, “Dear Unicorns…”

A few days before she invoked the holy unicorn, I took her to shop for some presents for the local shelter’s gift drive. I explained to her that we were going to Target to buy some presents for other kids, and she got tears in her eyes. I was touched, thinking she was moved to tears with compassion, but instead she burst out with, “I’m just going to be so jealous buying things for other kids!” I try to do both intentional and random acts of kindness throughout the year, so the tears of jealousy really threw me. Suddenly, I had a flashback of the recent video circulating on social media. You know, the one where the little children were given the option of a present or time with their parents and they all choose time with their parents? In that moment, I was 99.9% sure my child would not forgo a Barbie for quality time with me.

Just when I think I’m doing a great job of parenting, sitting up on my high horse (unicorn?) providing early literacy and three squares a day, moments like these remind me that if I’m not careful I’ll raise a self-absorbed unicorn worshipper.

I must insert a disclaimer here: My daughter is fabulous. She’s intelligent, fierce, funny, and kind. Also, unicorns are lovely. But these incidents gave me pause.

The unicorn prayer was a big smack-on-the-forehead moment that we had somehow, over the past six years, not addressed the question of faith. And the present-buying jealousy made me think that we weren’t talking about intentional acts for others enough. The combined effect of these two incidents was the feeling that we weren’t raising her to think about something bigger than herself. And that felt really bad.

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My husband and I began to revisit this issue of faith. We didn’t know what our lives would have been like, how our perspectives would have been different, had we not been exposed to religion. So, to not include it in her life didn’t feel right…If for nothing else than to give her the framework within which she could question, reflect, and choose for herself when she’s ready.

There are as many faith traditions out there as there are unicorn tales, and I have had a kind of twisty journey to finding out what faith means to me. But I had the journey. My parents each practiced a different religion, and I was raised with a deep understanding of “something bigger than us.” My husband was also raised in a faith tradition and we have talked periodically about “going to church” and what that would mean (beyond missing the second hour of NFL Sunday Morning) for us and our family. Our daughter is also old enough to have started hearing about church and faith from her peers and to ask questions about what it all means.

I cannot predict where our daughter’s faith journey will take her—unicorns or not—but we decided to take the unicorn incident as a catalyst to help her begin. And beginning for us meant “going to church.” My husband and I talked about it at length. We decided that we would choose a church and make a commitment to be consistent in practicing a faith tradition with our own family. We decided to go to the church of my childhood (because, Mom wins) so she could see what it was all about with her own eyes.

We walked into the big, beautiful chapel a few Sundays ago, and we dipped our hands into the holy water and then we took her hand and showed her how to do the same. She looked up at me with equal parts suspicion and wonder, which is just about the perfect way to start a faith journey.

Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.

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