Sandy Eisenberg Sasso —
The Spirituality of Parenting

More and more people in our time are disconnected from religious institutions, at least for part of their lives. Others are religious and find themselves creating a family with a spouse from another tradition or no tradition at all. And the experience of parenting tends to raise spiritual questions anew. We sense that there is a spiritual aspect to our children's natures and wonder how to support and nurture that. The spiritual life, our guest says, begins not in abstractions, but in concrete everyday experiences. And children need our questions as much as our answers.

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is rabbi of Congregation Beth-El Zedeck in Indianapolis and author of many children's books.

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Discussion Guide

Looking for a way to talk about parenting and spirituality with friends, your book group, or class? We've written a concise, downloadable guide that features introductions by Krista with essential background and context, compelling discussion questions, and facilitator notes. Take a look. [color | B+W ]

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Thank you for talking about animals on the side of the road. I thought I was the only one who was deeply saddened by it. It is hard because I see it almost every day of the week and more so during time changes in the spring and fall. There has to be a better way.

I read an article in a local Bridgehampton newspaper on the high number of deer hit by cars. They asked people to slow down, so you have time to react.

I am not a parent, but I am a nanny. I feel like a parent or co-parent. I try to teach the children reverence for life. This includes insects, the river, the animal world, plants, etc.

I thought I was over sensitive until I heard your show. I do feel grief when I see roadkill whether it is a raccoon, a deer or a cat. It is tragic. A violent end to a life. Thank you.

I thought it was excellent. So good that I passed it along to our church Children's Director. So many struggle with the distinction of spirituality and religion and Rabbi Sasso did a beautiful job of clarifying. I also agree our children aren't taught or given time for reflection and silence and our world needs it more than ever.

This broadcast particularly spoke to me as I have come from a background of mixed religious ideologies that my parents blended and integrated into my upbringing. I think Ms. Sasso’s ideas about children and their existential pondering were both very interesting and insightful. I believe as parents, it is most important to encourage children to think freely and to have stimulating conversations about spirituality that are not confining or stressful, but encourage intellectual growth and ability. We must teach our children to nurture their spiritual lives as well as their daily lives.

I agree that children are capable of encountering spiritual experiences that merit some sort of language or means of communication that can be encouraged by parents. Religious rites and rituals can be used to express those spiritual ideas. Like Ms. Sasso, I believe it is the ideas and spirituality behind religious rites that are most important to pass onto children.

I think the most important thing in guiding your children’s spirituality is allowing tolerance and teaching your children the spirituality aspect of religion. An important aspect of this is allowing your children to choose a religion that best fits them, as Ms. Sasso points out, “We find a home. I mean, it's wonderful that there are so many different expressions of spirituality. It's just that we need to find the home that fits for us.”

I found this interview with Rabbi Sasso very interesting and comforting because I have struggled for a long time with the idea of faith and religion and I have yet to find an ideology that is "right" for me. Because of this, I did not raise my children with any sort of religious background and I have often felt guilt and remorse about that.

Rabbi Sasso explains that most people, upon having a child, feel they should have all the answers to the religious questions that they ask, such as "Where does God live?" and "Why do people hurt each other?" and "Where do people go when they die?" It was comforting to me that there are other parents out there that also struggle to answer these questions. Rabbi Sasso says that these questions are "the essence of spirituality" and that is is okay that we don't have the answers.

More important than the answers, Rabbi Sasso asserts that it is the discussion or the conversation about religion that will provide the basis for a childs religion. I guess I have done something right, then, since my children and I do regularly discuss these topics. It has been particularly gratifying to me to see both of them exploring and trying different religions with their friends and then discussing with them what they like or don't agree with. And THEY are helping ME to find my way as well -- isn't that wonderful?

Wow! awesome program this morning on Spiritual Parenting. There were things said by the rabbi Rabbi Sandy Sasso that moved me to consider other ways and places of presenting my stories. Her point of parents being a descendant and an ancestor was particularly interesting to me because I always think of being a descendant. Being an ancestor sums up legacy and responsibility whether I want to or not to my children and my grandchildren. Traditions are important. I always speak of the traditions of my ancestors not realizing that those things which were important to me as a child with my parents was family day every Wednesday. We did things together. Bless you for getting me to think again with this show this morning. The conversation got me to Think on how I can use my story telling as an ancestor. Once you become a parent you become an ancestor. On what and how I can share my spirit my love for my history, ancestors any my decedents. It should be a continuing thread that is clear, spiritual and encouraging no matter how bad some of the experiences were for them, me, or what those who come after me may face. My parents did not claim any religion, but made all of us go to church every Sunday. My children all know that there is a God and they are very familiar with various religions. They are struggling to find their spiritual expression and my prayer is that they learn to do it with love for all people and respect for all religions and their evolution as they too as individuals evolve. This program helped me to be comfortable with their struggle and help me to be focused on my journey without excuse and be happy to share it with others in that light. Looking at religion as a language is a unique view as well. I missed where to find that meditation piece. You said that there was a meditation that your listeners could hear. Can you help me find it? God bless you. Continue your inspiration on the air waves. Today’s’ me ssage filled a void that I did not even know was there. Thank you for plugging a hole that is now ready for healing. Thank you for plugging a hole that is now ready for healing. Joy

Greetings from a local listener (and occasional MPR/PRI performer)-- I just caught a bit of the interview with Rabbi Sasso. In the midst of it, I was startled to hear Bobby McFerrin's version of the Bach/Saint-Saens AVE MARIA-- a lovely rendition of that beautiful piece, of course, but (to my mind) rather a perverse choice to include in an interview with a rabbi! I don't think of Jews, even the most liberal sort, as praying the "Hail Mary." ;-) The more I thought about it, the more angles I came up with... 1. Hyper-ecumenical rabbi likes to use sacred music of different religions 2. Someone at SOF loves that music, and thought it was universally prayerful 3. Someone at SOF loves that music, and thought it would make an ironic statement to include it in an interview with a rabbi 4. Someone at SOF has no idea what "Ave Maria" means, but thought it would be pleasantly contemplative at that point 5. Rabbi Sasso may have expressed a personal lov e of that particular setting of the Ave Maria, and spoken of it in a part of the interview which missed 6. Someone at SOF was wondering if anyone actually listens to the musical interludes, and used an Ave Maria in a rabbi's interview as a test. Whatever it was, it definitely caught my ear! I love the piece and his rendition, but would never have selected it for that interview. Then again, I'm an ex-Catholic. ;-) Regards, Maria Jette Excelsior MN

Greetings: I have listened to "Speaking of Faith" for some time now. I have found the various programs enlightening, challenging, infuriating, interesting and, always educational. For the first time, however, I have found one of your programs as truly valueless. Your program on "The Spirituality of Parenting" pointless, aimless and virtually without spiritual, moral, educational, experiential value or substance. Rabbi Sandy Sasso offers trivial and/or concocted anecdotes to support her unending strong of semi-spiritual cliches. I did look forward to the program given the subject an title but was totally disappointed I will continue to listen, learn and grow with yur program. Thank yo Peace and blessings Bill

This discussion between Krista and Rabbi Sasso I found to be very interesting. As a mother of three this is an issue I have thought about on numerous occasions. Being raised in a strict Catholic household, I was not sure that I wanted my children to be raised in the same fashion. I thought I would want them to find their own path so that they may embrace their choice more enthusiastically than I have. I have yet to figure out if I have made the correct decision. I have always taught them the basics of God and the Christian faith, but without the structure of church. I read them stories from a children's Bible and try to answer any questions they have the best that I can. In that sense I found what Rabbi Sasso was talking about to be somewhat validating. I try to be as open as I can, but on some level I do wish sometimes that they had the solid foundation of religious teachings that I did as a child.
One of my favorite quotes from the interview is when Rabbi Sasso stated that "children remind us of what is true and what is most important in life". I find that statement in particular to resonate with me. There is so much our children can teach us about the world, sometimes more than we can teach them. To see the world through the eyes of a child is one of the greatest gifts we as parents have. I believe that children have a natural openness to spirituality because they are so innocent and not yet affected by the experiences of adulthood. I just hope that sharing what I know and being open to their inquiries about "the big questions" is enough to keep them continuing on their own spiritual journey.

I am very thankful for the comments in this interview on providing places for quiet reflection and contemplation for children. Growing up as a Friend (Quaker) in a liberal Friends Meeting, my earliest memories of experiencing the divine occurred when I was in worship. Our un-programmed worship begins in quiet. If a person feels an inward call to offer an unplanned message they can offer it to those gathered. I learned as a child to listen in the quiet for that still small voice and Light inside of us (Christ, the universe, human goodness, God). I observed others in that quiet and the peace it brought them. I felt in myself the cool quiet pool of love that came from God, and I learned that in my daily life I could "play" at listening inwardly and finding out my own life questions. In our Sunday classes- the format was often a theme related to topics of humanity and morality- we'd get to provide our own answers-or questions- to the topics. The teacher listened and encouraged us onward!

Currently, I lead a committee at our Friends Meeting in Atlanta, Georgia that is figuring out how to welcome babies into our community, and how to be true to children as they grow in our midst. Our proposal is to have a ceremony where children and adults will listen to question about our commitment to being part of youths’ lives in positive ways. We may use this quotation below and these queries (query meaning a spiritual question for prayerful consideration). I find these words mirror much of what was said in this interview!

“Our children are given to us for a time to cherish, to protect, to nurture, and then to salute as they go their separate ways. They too have the light of God within, and a family should be a learning community in which children not only learn skills and values from parents, but in which adults learn new ways of experiencing things and seeing things through young eyes.”
-- Elizabeth Watson, 1980, as quoted in Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting and Association Faith and Practice

Promises by the Meeting Community: Will you promise to welcome these children as full participants in this spiritual community, forming a community learning together across all ages?

Do you acknowledge that these children bring many valuable gifts to our community and that we would be the poorer without the love, insights and questioning they provide?

Do you promise to see our children as individuals we want to know and care for, and provide opportunities when they can get to know and care for us, growing together
through sharing prosperity and adversity?

Do you recognize that this Meeting as a whole shares a responsibility to impart to every child within it those values and practices that are central to our practice as Friends?
Will you always strive to be mindful that the manner in which we live our lives should serve as patterns, as examples, of the Light within, teaching by example how to speak and to listen with love?

*Meeting for Worship described at Atlanta Friends Meeting (Quaker)- We welcome children into this spiritual community!