Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q: I have one child, a beautiful 2 1/2-year-old daughter. I'm feeling the responsibility to be prepared to teach her about spirituality, and I want her to have respect for different belief systems. I have a profound awareness of God and an unyielding belief that he is watching over me and my family. I link to him daily. I think that the stories of Christianity and Jesus Christ are beautiful and majestic, but I can't say that I believe them. I feel cynical about organized religion, and I currently do not attend church, yet feel the obligation of having her "dedicated" or baptized. I would like her to know the stories of the Bible, though I've not read the Bible myself, and honestly, I have no interest in doing so. This obligation I feel is part of the social norm, I'm sure. I also feel: "Why not have her baptized...just in case? It couldn't hurt." Then I feel like a hypocrite.
The manifestation of spirituality for me is more aligned to charitable work, living simply, giving, loving my family and creating a fabulous person in my daughter. Also, I am a work in progress and want to be a better wife, mother and neighbor. I've come to this spiritual awareness only recently, more so as a result of being turned off by religious people at different points in my life, and I've now tried to carve my own path. I'm just not sure that the spiritual path that I'm cultivating is where my daughter should start. Where do I begin? Where do I begin in teaching her about religious beliefs, particularly since I am not compelled to participate in a religious group?
— Trina C., Springville, Utah
Because your question is stated in such global terms—you'd like to know a great deal about parenting and spirituality—let me start out by saying that you might benefit from reading an entire book on the subject. I wrote one called The Seven Spiritual Laws for Parents, but there are quite a few others. My specific aim was to dispel the belief that practical life and spiritual life are separate, or even opposed. Instead, the more spiritual you are, if your growth is based on self-awareness and the expansion of consciousness, the more you will attain life's greatest rewards. You will become a success on your own terms, whatever they are.
Now to the specifics of your question. I feel that you are being pulled in two directions. You want to guide and shape your child, but you are aware that letting her become her own person is just as important—welcome to the dilemmas of parenting. This pull is natural, confusing and it won't go away. But there are some caveats as you work your way to a solution that balances guidance and freedom:
Don't visit your doubts upon your child. Open-ended answers don't work with young children.
What you don't truly know, keep to yourself. Be the adult. Let her be the child.
Don't introduce any kind of religious influence until age 6 or 7, and then only gently.
Bible stories and other simple scriptures appeal to children. By all means introduce them, but not as a stepping stone to creating faith and belief. Those elements are not certain in your own makeup.
Grow on your own. That's the strongest and best way to teach.
Even though you have set beliefs that being spiritual means leading a life that involves simplicity and giving, nature is full of abundance. Don't short-change your child on this abundance just because you judge against it. Scarcity and Puritanism aren't spiritual qualities.
I sense that the urge to control your child is stronger in you than the urge to let her unfold on her own, using her own impulses as your guide. Be aware that controlling a child or projecting yourself on to her is a recipe for rejection and rebellion later on, not to mention stunted growth in the present.
I've given these caveats at some length because it's obvious that you are a conscientious, caring mother who thinks about every issue thoroughly. That's all good, but it would help if you took a deep breath and relaxed. If you did 10 percent of what you imagine is necessary, that would amount to 100 percent from most parents.