OK, we're a completely atheist family of four who last stepped into a church more than six years ago for my brother's wedding. Until recently I would never have considered raising either of my kids with any religion but recently my younger daughter has been going through some very difficult times and now I'm reconsidering. For the past couple of years she's been claiming that she hears voices and sees ghosts. She has an active fantasy life and seems to have a difficult time distinguishing between reality and our society's (primarily Christian) fairy tales. For example, we had repeatedly made it clear to her that we do NOT celebrate Easter or do anything special on Easter day, yet my wife and I woke up one cold Easter morning a few years ago to find her running around our back yard in her pajamas looking for Easter eggs. She has often asked us about god and Jesus and we've always told her that they're nothing more than ancient myths that evolved from even older myths. This seems neither to have satisfied her curiosity nor done anything to convince her that they're not real.
Things came to a crisis point a couple of weeks ago when we got a call from her school's social worker. This social worker read us a long passage from her Writer's Notebook that described profound feelings of isolation and depression and thoughts of suicide. We also learned that she'd been telling her 5th grade teacher and the social worker about the voices she hears and the ghosts she sees. At a parent/teacher conference I scheduled with her 5th grade teacher (who was also her 4th grade teacher) I found out that she'd been telling her teacher about these voices & ghosts for the past two years and that they've become MORE troublesome, not less, as time has gone by. When she was asked about suicide she said she wondered if she'd go to heaven if she died and perhaps things would be better there. This from a 10-year-old for crying out loud!!! Wherever she got these ideas, it certainly wasn't at home from her mom or me.
Her biggest problem, I suspect, is that she really has no friends. I can't remember the last time she was invited to a birthday party or was invited over to someone's house and when we try to arrange playdates for her the parents never call us back. Of course this is understandable; I too would avoid someone who hears voices and sees ghosts.
We are, of course, going to be taking her to a shrink and a psychologist but I've begun to think that church might be able to give her answers to her questions about god and spirituality and the sense of community that she needs. She could get involved and make friends with kids her own age in a youth group and she could talk with adults whose brains are perhaps wired more like hers. I really DON'T want to bring her to church; my wife and/or I would also have to become involved and we have many important things to do with our Sunday mornings & afternoons. Somebody please talk me out of this, and convince me there's a better solution.
If you consider a church, consider going to a Unitarian Universalist church. They are accepting of all religions and non-religions, and are inclusive to people of all walks of life. I've attended one in the past that had a lesbian pastor; I've attended gay weddings at UU churches; I have even attended a pagan spring solstice celebration that was held in the church.
I used to go to a UU church every weekend for a community volleyball league and the people couldn't have been any more awesome. They were welcoming, didn't preach but encouraged debate, and were such a mixed variety that it didn't feel nearly so vanilla as many churches seem. It wasn't about being a sheep, essentially.
And, perhaps best of all, the youth activities director was an outspoken atheist and his wife, who was agnostic (recovering Catholic), was the youth education director.
I wish you the best of luck with your situation. I can't even begin to pretend that I understand (other than suffering from depression myself previously - but not to the extent that it appears your daughter has) what you're going through. I hope she knows how much you love her and how she has her family to care for her.
She's told so many different stories over the past couple of years that I don't think even she knows what the truth is at this point. I do know that she's told her fourth/fifth grade teacher and her school psychologist and her mother and her sister and me that she sees and hears things, although the specifics change depending upon the context of the discussion. What I'm worried about is that if she's the kind of person who needs a spiritual/mystical component in her life and we don't provide her with something relatively benign like UU (see above) then something more malignant (such as a cult) will fill this void when she gets older. Some people really do benefit from religion and if she's one of them then shouldn't I get it for her?
I've looked into Girl Scouts & there's not much in our area. I signed her up for lacrosse but she didn't really care for it (she's not aggressive at all). She plays violin (rather well, and my older daughter is a fairly accomplished concert pianist) and that definitely gives her a sense of self-worth but it's a solitary activity (lots of practicing) and it's turned her, in her words, into a "music nerd" which may have exacerbated her situation with her peers.
From an outsider perspective I wouldn't necessarily rule out anything that might help her, but I'd hold off any decisions about taking her to a church until she's been fully evaluated by a child psychiatrist. If it's really true that she hears voices it is very troubling and nothing that religion can help and in fact it might prevent her from getting real help and she may no more be welcomed into the community than she has been in school.
It's understandable that you want to help your daughter make friends and find a community, but as you've discovered so far it's just not something that you as a parent can make happen. Once you see a professional I imagine they can give you some advice for community building that would be more appropriate. Just thinking out-loud here, but I wonder if there is any opportunity for some animal therapy–horses, her own pet to care for–an animal can help give her a purpose and someone non-judgemental to talk to when she needs to work out her own feelings.
I wish you the best in figuring out how to help your daughter.
Yeah, I'm not doing anything until she's seen a psychologist for a few months; she has her first appointment with one this Thursday. I wouldn't expect religion to help with voices; that's for the shrinks. I would expect it to help with community, socialization and just feeling good about herself.
I have my own issues with pets. My mom's one of those crazy cat ladies and a hoarder and my dad left when I was little and I grew up in a house that was full of clutter and that reeked of cats & cat piss. I really, REALLY hate cats. I like dogs if they belong to someone else. We have a large fish tank in our kitchen that's quite beautiful, but fish are more like moving art than they are like pets.
I would definitely recommend your local UU church before considering your local non-denom church.
At my UU church, they teach the children about all religions. They don't pray and we get to be a part of something bigger. She may really enjoy it.
As an Atheist parent, I still celebrate the 'holy days' with my children. We just get to celebrate more of them than I did, having grown up religious. :) I think it's been helpful for my children to not feel so isolated, but they are still really young. (3 and 5)
I have never considered raising my children in an organized religion, but I can understand how you have arrived at considering it. My heart goes out to your family and I hope that no matter what your decision, your daughter starts feeling better.
I would definitely get professional help and even consider volunteering as a family. She may not have many friends in school right now, but as she grows and gets involved in things, the chances for making friends will grow.
Rob, I am sorry to hear about you and your daughter‘s struggles. I know how painful it is to see your child suffer. Been there done that. My son was a very troubled kid, but now at 16 he appears to have grown out of it. I know it may seem impossibly difficult right now but only time will tell how serious your situation is. Growing up is harder for some kids than others. Being lonely is a very common human experience, even people with lots of friends can be lonely.
I would think taking her to the local UU church would be ok, but only if she wants to. In her condition I would not take her to any other church. I grew up going to different churches and yes sometimes I enjoyed it, but unless there is a good group of kids there that may accept your daughter, she might be rejected. Even church kids can be mean, especially if they are forced to attend. I guess people seem to think people who go to church are supposed to be nice and supportive. Some are, but many are not and go just because they feel they have to.
My daughter, when she was very young enjoyed going to mass with her dad, and still goes to the local Baptist Wednesday night youth group. She stopped going to Mass a few years ago but she still likes to hang out with her friends at the youth group. She is not religious, I made it clear to her early on that she should not take anything they tell her seriously. And she doesn't.
Anyway, my point is letting atheist children attend a youth group is ok and I think having a religious education is a good way of preventing your children from falling into a cult later. They should not be isolated from it. We celebrate all of the religious holidays like everyone else. We live within a Christian culture, and going with the flow works for us.
I hope we at the Nexus were helpful, good luck
Just to be clear, I do not expect any church I take her to to be able to do anything about the auditory hallucinations she's having. We've already found a psychologist and things are going well so far. The psychologist met with my wife & me for more than an hour and then spent an hour and a half with our daughter and my preliminary impression is that this psychologist knows what she's doing and will be very helpful.
All I'm looking for from church is the sense of community that my daughter's lacking at school. I wasn't going to take her to church until she'd met with the psychologist a few more times but my daughter was so excited by the idea that the whole family is now going to Christmas eve service. We're going to a UU church that looks really cool (for a church). From the UU website:
Wow, if someone had told me even two weeks ago that I'd be taking my family to church on Christmas eve I'd have said he was crazy. Oh well, let's just hope it goes well.
As churches go, the Uies are pretty decent in terms of providing a supportive community that promotes acceptance.
Personally I'd suggest also getting her involved in theater (or other arts), and find some Sci-Fi and Fantasy fan kids to introduce her to. With arts and F&SF geeks she can internalize the idea that having an active (or hyperactive) imagination is something that is not shameful but rather can be embraced and put to positive use. It won't be a cure-all, especially if she has a real psychiatric condition that needs treatment, but it is a viable outlet for flights of fancy. And you definitely get a sense of community from these activities.
When I was a child, I thought I had seen ghosts and so on, but I eventually came to realize they were just tricks of the imagination, my mind trying to do pattern matching on phenomena that were fragementary, ill-defined, or poorly understood and mapping them onto things that were familiar from my cultural context. I don't know her situation, so I don't know if she'll get there, but you can try to teach her this.