All of the Sabathia kids were born in autumn, so this fall I decided to have a combined birthday party. As I sat down with the party planner and began choosing possible dates, I realized that some religious holidays were conflicting with the open dates for the party. I told the kids, "We can have the party on this date, but everyone may not be able to attend."
Of course that's when the number one question we all dread to hear was asked: "But why?"
I had to sit and think of the best answer so they would understand. I replied, "There are different religions and different holidays that families observe." That's when I realized that, as parents, diversity is something we promote, but need to take a step further. Shouldn't we understand diversity in religion? My children should have already known the answer to this, and yet I don't think I have taught them enough about the diversity of religions. I am a strong believer in appreciating diversity of ethnicity in every experience my children have -- from the classroom to traveling the world. I have found that religion is a subject no one wants to touch. Schools have found it easier to remove the subject of religion rather than teach the myriad of beliefs that exist in the world. I'm not encouraging comparing or contrasting religions, but rather simply exploring them and appreciating their diversity.
I once overheard my son having a conversation with his classmate. The friend asked, "What religion are you? We're Catholic." My son replied, "Well, we're kinda like Catholics, but we're Baptist." When I heard this, I knew I had to sit my children down and explain what religion truly is.
Our close family friends don't celebrate all the same holidays as we do. One family doesn't celebrate Halloween, and my kids are crushed that they can't attend the Halloween festivities. Nonetheless, they know they will be at the next holiday gathering, Thanksgiving. My children are young, but as they grow older, exposing them to other religions and allowing them to go to services with friends and visit other religious temples, churches and mosques will be an amazing experience for them.
Religion may be set at birth, matching the faith of our parents. Our beliefs and preferences may change as we grow older or marry and discover our own convictions. I believe keeping an open mind and teaching children about all religions will contribute to a greater cultural understanding and tolerance of differences.
Teaching what we, as a family, believe and what others around us believe enriches our lives in countless ways. Learning to appreciate and respect the beliefs of others is fundamental in shaping the character of our children. Accepting both similarities and differences will help our children grow to be strong and reasonable individuals, and friends can be the best teachers. Our children's classmates are the best source of religious and cultural understanding and should be embraced at every turn.