Twenty years ago I set out on a journey to attempt to parent our children in a Quaker manner, based on the beliefs and values as I understood them. While in theory it seemed to be an achievable goal, in practice it was much less clear. My strong desire to learn to connect my Quaker beliefs to my parenting at every age has brought me to times of deep examination and reflection of my own beliefs and values. I have often found myself questioning my own faith and practice. Along the way, the road has often been challenging, yet somehow full of personal growth, ongoing inspiration and revelation.
I came to Quakerism by living in a Quaker community through my four years at George School. This was an enlightening experience that built a strong spiritual foundation and has provided a lifelong moral compass for direction in my life. Since I had lived within this Quaker community as an adolescent and absorbed so much, I knew that it was possible to connect Quaker beliefs and values to children. I was not as clear about how to do it with young ones. It was important to me as a parent to nurture the spiritual development of our children as well as their minds and bodies.
Initially, I was looking for someone or something that would tell me “how” I could teach my young children Quaker values and beliefs. It seemed as though I had searched everywhere to answer this question: my monthly meeting, the children’s First Day School program, our yearly meeting, Quaker weekends and residential conferences, Quaker curricula and my past Quaker school experiences. The answers appeared to be confusing, abstract and too general to apply to everyday life with small children. I was confused about what to do about our active two-year-old. She was not able to sit quietly in meeting. I was hearing very mixed messages about when she should stay in meeting or leave. Our meeting had the practice of including the children in the first 20 minutes of worship. Some commented about enjoying her sounds in meeting, while others thought it was a distraction and I should have taken her out. Some said, “Quakerism is not for children.” It had become clear to me that there were no quick and easy answers to be found. It seemed, though, that there must be ways to do this, I just had not found them yet.
A significant turning point came when our family attended a Philadelphia Yearly Meeting-sponsored weekend called “We Can Do It Day.” My husband and I attended a workshop called “Raising Quaker Children in a Non-Quaker World” led by Harriet Heath. Finally, I felt as though there was someone who understood my challenge! Participating in the workshop was a group of young like-minded parents who were facing similar challenges in attempting to incorporate their Quaker beliefs and values in their families. As a result of this discussion, my husband and I left with some tangible ways in which we could approach our collective challenges.
For me, the most exciting proposal was to start a support group for parents in our meeting, along with another family who had attended the workshop. Our hope was to continue to help and support each other, and any other family in our meeting who wanted to join us. The parents’ support group grew to five young families with 13 children among us. Two families were members of the meeting and three were regular attenders. We met twice a month and brainstormed a list of several goals we hoped to accomplish.
One of our first goals was to bring Harriet Heath to our meeting to facilitate an eight-week “Creative Parenting” discussion series. The series provided us with the opportunity to learn the parents’ planning process, which is a series of questions parents can use as they figure out how they want to deal with a situation. As Quakers we were comfortable with the questions as they were so like queries. Each participant answered the questions with consideration given to their unique children and their own family. The approach was broad enough to accommodate our diversity, yet specific enough to be sensitive to our individual values, beliefs and children’s differences. It is a planning process that can be used with children of all ages and offers parents a way to plan in a thoughtful and intentional manner while integrating Quaker beliefs and testimonies. As a group, we continued to meet and build friendships, support one another and find specific ways to bring our Quaker beliefs and values to our children.
Through learning how to apply the Parenting Planning process together and individually, we found many ways to integrate our plans into the lives of our children and our Quaker meeting.
We enlisted the help of older children in our meeting to provide childcare for our children when we met for Parents Group. The Parents Planning process guided us through finding ways to support and assist the older children to ensure a safe and fun experience for everyone. As we gained skill and understanding, we became very involved in the life of the meeting community. We planned and experienced social activities, service projects, and developed our First Day School program with a clear and intentional structure. Each of us found ways to contribute to committee work within the meeting, clerking committees, teaching First Day School, and providing many opportunities for intergenerational activities. We learned to work collaboratively within our meeting community to nurture each other, our children and the life of the meeting.
Over the past 15 years, there have been many changes that have evolved since the beginning of our Parents Group. Some of the changes were planned and others delightful surprises. All of the original attenders in our Parents Group went on to join our meeting membership. Our children have grown into the roles of caring for the younger children and becoming the childcare providers. Eight of our 13 children from this core group went on to attend George School. The word has spread among our wider community that there is an active and exciting program for children and young families. One of the original parents of the group has continued to develop, nurture and enrich the program by supporting and maintaining the First Day School structure, and planning monthly social activities and consistent service project work. Our children’s program and new families attending our meeting have steadily grown to a current all-time high of 80 children from birth through high school. Our Quaker meeting is growing, vibrant and actively engaged in connecting and supporting young families through the process of helping them integrate Quaker values, practices and experiences with children of all ages, in very thoughtful and intentional ways.