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Losing My Religion While Trying to Find Answers to My Kids’ Deep Questions

Here’s the thing about having kids: once you feel comfortable in any given stage, your kids get older and grow into new and wholly different stages.

So even when I feel like I know what I’m doing, I really don’t. The saying, “Fly by the seat of your pants,” might as well be my mommy-motto. Except, my pants are usually dirty, or are leggings, and are often times still in the washer.

All this said, I’ve gotten rather comfortable flying by the seat of my dirty leggings. Once I accepted that mothering has a huge learning curve and you do the best you can, I settled into a very happy role of learning alongside my kids. I definitely do not have all the answers, but I’m okay with not having the answers, because I know my kids. We will figure it out together. Just like I shape my kids into the people they will be, they shape me into the mom and person I want to be.

Except there’s one thing I’ve been struggling with lately, and I definitely do not have the answer.

I’ve been struggling with religion. Particularly, how do you talk to your kids about religion, especially if you disagree? I guess this is a new stage with a new learning curve.

Growing up Christian

For those who do not know me, my husband, or our childhoods, we both grew up in the same small town in Virginia. We grew up in (different) churches. There was Sunday school, Bible study, mission trips, and more. I was baptized at age 11 and my husband worked the after-school daycare at his church.

We were born and raised Christians. While I grew up questioning everything because, well, that’s just who I am, my husband accepted everything at face value. When we got married, we did so under God by a pastor from my church. We tried out churches in every town we lived in, and even had our son recognized by the church I was baptized in. Our daughter never got around to being recognized, but she and my son were gifted with many Bibles, angels, books about Jesus, and crosses. It runs in both of our families, and in us too. Until it didn’t anymore.

Questioning the faith

I do not know when this change happened. I’m still not sure it happened with me. I have recently messaged my pastor (in the past two weeks) because I am still questioning everything. However, my husband is a nuclear engineer, and damn if his studies do not defy what we’ve both been taught.

Faith is believing without seeing. It means having a deep, existential understanding that what you are taught in the church and read in the Bible are true. My sister has an enviable faith. Between me, my brother, and my sister, I feel my sister has the strongest faith. She always seemed to take church a little more seriously, mission trips a little more to heart, and, as she grew older, she shaped her life and her family around God. Not only does she (pun intended) religiously attend church, but she also volunteers at the nursery, attends weekly Bible study, works nine to five as a child therapist, raises two children under the age of five, houses foster children on any given day, and does everything else a modern woman and wife does. She doesn’t simply claim to be a Christian, she lives as one.

She’s also faced many hard challenges. When you have so much going on in your life, you’re inviting that many more chances for something to go wrong. From the trivial like locking her keys in her car, to the more trying things like sick children, she has never wavered or broken in her faith.

I do not have faith like my sister, but I do watch her, and especially her kids, and see how much fulfillment and peace they find in their religion. At times I envy them. I feel like I should be doing that. My husband felt like he should be doing that. We tried doing that, but we weren’t getting the same results.

Losing our religion

My husband is now a complete atheist. He’s scientific by nature and has traveled too far into the wormhole of astro- and metaphysics to firmly hold the belief that Jonah got swallowed by a whale or a giant got defeated with a slingshot. And, while most of these stories are metaphorical, he asked me what differentiates them between everyday fairy tales: stories that also teach lessons and are metaphorical. I couldn’t answer him.

Bringing all this back to our children, our son is old enough now to where he is making real-world connections to Jesus and Bible stories. He is asking huge philosophical and religious questions and, frankly, I cannot answer them. Some I do not have the answer to, some make me uncomfortable, and some make me mad.

My husband no longer puts on the pretense of being religious in front of our kids. When he is asked the deep, soul-searching questions, he deftly dodges with a noncommittal answer that leaves our kids satisfied. He does not choose the Biblical children’s books we used to read to them at night anymore. Instead, he takes them to space shows at the Children’s Museum and discusses math and science concepts. His perspective is that he’s teaching them the truth, but this truth negates religious truth, which is the truth my children believe in. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, with no way to answer my kids’ questions, and fearful of committing one way or another.

My son told me a couple months ago that he wanted to die. You haven’t felt fear or sadness until your five-year-old (or any age child, for that matter) tells you that he no longer wishes to live. In a matter of seconds, I went from fear to anger to sadness to defeat to clarity until I could confront and discuss what the hell he was saying.

I’ll never forget this moment. We were both sitting on my bathroom floor and tears began to fill my eyes. I was devastated and heartbroken. He was confused. As it turns out, he had heard that Jesus was so awesome and that Heaven was so cool that he wanted to just go ahead and go. Skip what would hopefully be an extremely fulfilling and successful life so he could sit on the clouds and watch TV with Jesus.

My first thought was, “Sweet baby boy, Heaven isn’t real.” Then I was shocked all over again. What was I thinking?! Of course Heaven was real. I’d been indoctrinated with that my whole life. I believed it, but suddenly, confronted with the idea of my son taking his life so he could go on a permanent vacation with the man in the sky, I wasn’t so sure.

Finding your own truth

That was a hard conversation. Finding the line between shattering belief systems and getting my point across was like trying to juggle coffee mugs while playing hopscotch barefoot in the gravel. I wanted my son to know the truth, to know what’s real, but that’s a personal thing, isn’t it?

My sister’s truth is different than my husband’s. My own truth is different than both of theirs. As a parent, it’s my duty to teach my children and help mold them into kind, smart, caring people. However, is it my job to tell them what faith to believe or not to believe in? Or, for that matter, to tell them that religion is all a fairytale?

I do not have this answer. At almost 29 years old, I’m still trying to find what I believe. I cannot refute evolution, I believe the world is billions of years old, I think the story of Noah and the Ark is allegorical, but I also believe in the message of Christ. I find importance and power in nature. I cannot label myself wholly as one thing, so am I the best candidate for trying to shape my children in this manner? Me, the lady flying by the seat of her yoga pants that have never seen a yoga position a day in their life? I don’t think so, and that’s okay.

Here it is: I believe that religion, faith, spirituality – whatever you want to call it – is a personal choice. I cannot tell you how to raise your children any more than I can make my children believe in Zeus or Buddha or Christ. How I think it’s best my husband and I raise our children, though, is to let them learn through exploration. It’s important to me that they know these subjects are personal, and that even though Tom preaches his belief as the truth, and Dick has another version, and Harry doesn’t believe in anything at all, that that is okay. None of them are wrong.

Strength and answers together

At the end of an exhausting day of parenting, I want to go to sleep knowing my kids are informed. I want them to have all the options to choose from, so they can find their own way to their beliefs. Religion is a huge thing. It is literally a thing people chose to dedicate their lives to. I do not want to tell my kids some things are true and others aren’t because, well, I don’t know. I don’t want them to be scared or guilted or misinformed and resent me and my husband because we led them astray. I do not have these heavy-hitting answers. My children have moved into a new stage that I am adjusting to. This is one of those stages where we will learn from each other.

My kids do not need to believe what I believe, or what my husband believes, or what anyone else believes. This is a hard road to navigate, but together, I know we will arrive at an answer that strengthens us all, even if it is not found in the Bible, Quran, or even an astrophysics textbook.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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We've seen the tired old trope in articles, commercials and television shows so many times: working moms just have too much to do. They're chauffeuring kids around to evening practices, making lunches after said kids go to bed and staying up till the wee hours of the morning catching up on their relentless and stressful jobs. The message is clear: working moms are tired and burnt out. They don't get enough time for themselves because they're so busy giving it all to their families and their jobs. But does this really line up with the working mothers you know?

Here's a secret many working mothers have figured out: less really is more. The minimalist movement—simplifying your life and stuff to gain more time—has revolutionized life as a working mother. The minimalist mom gets a full night of sleep, has time with her kids and, importantly, has time for herself. Here's how:

1. She says no.

A minimalist mom knows her limits, her interests and what the tipping point is for herself and her family. So, she limits volunteering to what interests her and what she can reasonably fit into her life. She guards her Wednesday nights—the night she always takes off from family duties to hit a yoga class or do something for herself—fiercely. She also says no to her kids: it's one out-of-school activity at a time and Sunday mornings are always for family. She's also mastered saying this at work: No, I can't take your work on. No, I won't be staying late to finish your last-minute request.

2. She knows where to spend her money for increased quality of life.

She would rather hire a bi-weekly cleaner than buy a pair of designer jeans. Weeknight meals are easy and from the slow cooker or just a simple spread of crackers, cheese and fruit. Fast food and takeout is expensive, and she'd rather spend that money on a babysitter and three courses at that new trattoria for date night. She is happy to buy the expensive snow boots for her oldest so they last through all three kids—saving not only money, but also time shopping. The kitchen renovation can wait until the youngest is out of daycare. Until then, she'd rather use fun money to buy an extra week of vacation and road trip as a family. Her spending aligns with one of her biggest values: having time for the things and people she loves.

3. She doesn't care what other people think.

Her workwear is five outfits for each season and no more. It's professional, flattering and easy. No one notices if you've worn the same outfit for seven Tuesdays in a row. She doesn't care what grandiose delicacies are brought for the school bake sale: She brings the same delicious butter cookies (the ones that they can freeze a quadruple batch of dough for) to every event requiring a cookie or baked good. Keeping up with the Joneses—who are stressed out and broke—isn't her thing.

4. Her kids do some things, not everything.

The family lives by a shared Google calendar and there are set rules around weekend playdates and kids' activities. Their kids have a healthy mix of structured activities and unstructured play time. She is a person first; chauffeur, playdate arranger and sideline soccer mom second.

5. She delegates like the boss that she is.

She hasn't done kid laundry since her oldest could reach the stacked washer dryer on his own. Her husband alternates meal planning and grocery shopping with her every week and makes all the kids' dentist appointments (she does the doctor appointments). She only takes the dog for a walk when she wants to; otherwise the kids do it. When an older kid forgets his or her lunch at home, they know that they have to figure it out for themselves: raiding their stash of granola bars in their locker or borrowing money from a friend for lunch. She understands she can't do it all, but rather, she and her family can do the basics together.

6. She knows what she and her family need (and want).

Her non-negotiables are her running group that has met every Saturday at 7 A.M. for a decade, a long weekend away with her spouse every fall and bedtime stories with the kids at least three nights a week. She knows what people and things fuel her—this makes it easy to say no to things that don't. She has a rule for friends that invite her to those kitchen gadget/jewelry/leggings parties: if she knows the salesperson well, she'll buy one item but won't attend the party. Every other invitation is a no.

7. She has hard and fast rules around taking work home with her.

Her team knows that if they have something urgent after 6 P.M. they better call her. She doesn't check email once she has left the office until 6 A.M. the next morning. When she gets home from a week of work travel, she takes a four-day weekend. Her schedule is blocked out from 4 P.M. onwards. so she isn't scheduled into end-of-day meetings that could run long. She meditates for 10 minutes at the end of her shift so she can leave the work stress at work. She guards her personal time and mental space fiercely.

8. She views work as a break from family time and family time as a break from work.

Being mentally present and engaged at work and at home means no guilt over enjoying her balance of work and family life. She cheerfully enjoys that there's no diapers to change for nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and when she's home she revels in being out of her office and untethered from her phone and laptop. Learning to quickly switch gears from work, family and personal time is a skill she has mastered to simplify her life.

The minimalist working mother doesn't do it all: she does the things that are important to her and to her family. Her list is unique to her and no one else. How she spends her time and her money directly aligns with what she values. This ethos of living her values makes it clear, fast and easy to make decisions. She knows that time is her most valuable resource and she spends it wisely at home and at work.

Originally posted on Working Mother.

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When I was pregnant I worried about what would happen if the baby cried for me while I was in a deep sleep. Like so many pregnancy worries, though, blocking out my baby's cries was something I didn't really need to be concerned about. An alarm clock can go off inches from my head and I'll sleep through it for hours, but if my baby cries at the other end of the house, I'm wide awake.

It turns out, the sound of my baby crying impacts my brain very differently than a beeping alarm.

I'm hardly the first parent to make this observation, and science is on to it, too. There's plenty of research about how a baby's cries impact its mother on a physical level. A study of mother mice published in Nature found that adding oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation) to the brains of the mamas changed the way they processed the sound of crying pups—and helped them learn how to recognize and respond to the sounds.

A dose of this “motherhood hormone," it seems, leads to increased sensitivity to the sound of your child in distress.

According to Robert Froemke, that study's senior investigator, this suggests oxytocin amplifies the way the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own babies. He says the same seems to be true for female mice as female humans: The sound of a crying baby stirs up a great sense of urgency.

This physiological reaction allow us to develop rapid, reliable behaviors to our babies' cries, says Froemke. In time, it also helps us learn what the cries mean—and how we can respond in a helpful way.

When our babies cry, “[as parents, we] don't know what's really going to work, we just try a bunch of stuff. Let's change a diaper, let's feed the baby, let's do a little dance," he says. “Eventually we learn this repertoire of parenting skills because we're all in, we're all invested and that baby depends on us absolutely to take care of it."

Researchers believe that it may be this hormonal shift in the brain that alerts a mother to the sound of her child's cry.

Mothers' brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies

In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby's cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

"There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out," he explains, adding there is something about living with a female and child that contributes to a natural oxytocin increase in mouse dads. (Further proof moms aren't the only ones to deal with big hormone changes.)

But when it comes to the brains of human parents, there is more evidence that the brains of men and women respond to crying babies differently. A study published in NeuroReport looked at the brains of 18 men and women who heard a baby crying while inside a brain scanner. The women's brain activity suggested an immediate alertness, while the men's brain activity didn't change.

That study suggests there are gender differences in the way we process baby sounds, but a lot of dads will tell you they can't and don't sleep through a baby cries. And that's for good reason: According to Froemke, it's no biological accident that babies signal distress in a way that can pierce parents brains even when our eyes are closed.

"Parents have to sleep, too," he says, but, "Sounds penetrate our brains, they tap into something deep and we can quickly rouse from a deep slumber, jump out of bed and tend to infant needs."

Just as my son is biologically wired to be my personal alarm clock, I am biologically wired to hear him—even if I can still sleep through everything else.

[Originally published October 18. 2017]

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.

During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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