Having Real Conversations about What Matters Most in Life

Numerous sources have identified conversations between parents and children as one of the most important ways to strengthen family ties. When parents make a practice of genuinely listening to their children with respect and care, the children learn they can talk freely about what matters most in their lives. Not surprisingly, morality and spirituality are bound to come up as topics for conversation from time to time. Not all Unitarian Universalist parents feel they are well-versed enough in our faith tradition to confidently talk about issues such as God, faith, and religion from a liberal religious perspective. Congregations can prepare parents for these conversations in a number of different ways.

Unitarian Universalist Sources

Obviously, not all Unitarian Universalist families think alike. However, as Francis David, one of our Unitarian Universalist forebears said, “We need not think alike to love alike.” Fortunately for Unitarian Universalists, there are a lot of different ways of thinking (and talking) about God, faith, and religion that fit under our liberal religious umbrella. These different ways are perhaps best expressed in the six sources of our faith: mystery and wonder, inspiring people, world religions, Jewish and Christian teachings, reason and science, and our sacred Earth. Unitarian Universalist parents will most likely gravitate toward one or two of these sources as the basis for their own personal beliefs. And when they openly and honestly share those beliefs with their children through caring conversations, they are inevitably sharing something about the heart of Unitarian Universalism.

Family Meals & Bedtime Rituals

One way to increase the faith forming power of any of these seven practices is to put two of them together—having a caring conversation at the dinner table, for example. There are plenty of resources available to help families get conversations going at mealtime. Congregations can help with that process by offering specifically Unitarian Universalist conversation starters to their families.

Another good opportunity for parents to have conversations with their children about what matters most in life is bedtime. Talking with children about the joys and worries of the day can be a natural part of any bedtime routine. And approaching those joys and worries from a Unitarian Universalist perspective is wonderful way to for families to bring their faith home.

Here’s an example of how families can use our Unitarian Universalist principles to guide conversations from Meg Cox, UU author of The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Everyday:

There are seven principles and seven days in a week, so one option is for parents to concentrate on one principle each day, talking about it briefly at dinnertime or bedtime, perhaps mentioning a related item in the news. For example, when an Evangelical minister stands up and denounces Islam as “an evil religion,” ask the kids, “Would a Unitarian say this? And if not, why not?” It is this sort of dailiness that will help our children grow up knowing the principles the way Christians know the Lord’s Prayer. (From New Family Rituals in the July/August 2003 issue of the UU World)

Resources for Caring Conversations

The UUA Bookstore as a variety of resources for helping families learn about our Principles and Purposes. My favorites are:
Welcome: A Unitarian Universalist Primer, now available as an e-book, too.
Sunday and Every Day: My Little Book of Unitarian Universalism, another good resource, available as an e-book as well.

Family Meals

For an excellent example of the kinds of questions that can lead to meaningful conversations with children at dinner time, check out Family Fun. Sample question: “If you could go back in time to have a 15-minute conversation with one person in American history, who would it be and what would you want to know more than anything else?”

Another good web resource is Dinner Conversations with Kids. Lots of good ideas, like 100 Questions to Ask Your Kids.

Bedtime Conversations

See the resources for my previous post on Bedtime Rituals.