Caitlin Shroyer-Ladeira (she/her) was born and raised in Bywater, then Mid-City, and now lives in Arabi with her phenomenal six-year-old, Theo (they/them). Caitlin founded the New Orleans Queer Women’s Writing Group (currently dormant), out of which came some of her strongest writing and friendships. Caitlin owns and operates Theodore Essentials, a small business focused on vegan health and wellness, which keeps her busy, but never too busy for a movie night or a science experiment (or two!) with her kid.

The Value of Raising a Spiritual Child

I am always late. Although most people in my life are aware of my neurodiversity, it still feels uncomfortable and often embarrassing and inherently stressful. And also, it means my kid gets swept up in the daily storm. For a perfectionist parent, that is the worst.

As a person with ADHD, I experience a thing called “time blindness,” which means I truly have no concept of time. Twenty minutes or two hours pass just the same for me when I’m in the middle of something. Being habitually late means that I am almost never not hurrying past, rushing through, or tripping over piles of to-dos—swearing, sweating, and unhappy.

Luckily for me, I have a kind and empathetic child. When we have to make the block so I can retrieve my forgotten phone, my kid says, “That’s OK, Mama. We have plenty of time.” Even when we don’t actually have “plenty.”

When I am overwhelmed with overseeing my kid’s daily tasks and my own and I lose my temper, they’re usually good for a swift reality check such as, “I’m just a kid! I need help!”

And when I respond with an apology, they are quick to offer a hug and say, “I forgive you.”

Kindness, empathy, and forgiveness are concepts and qualities that we have been practicing since the early days of our family. That could seem a little pompous, but I mean it in the most literal way. It is central to our religious and spiritual beliefs to acknowledge the inherent worthiness of all.

I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist, a non-creedal and non-doctrinal religion that aims to respect the worthiness of all, and values an individual’s freedom to search for what is meaningful and true. As a young child, those ideas were the focus of beloved Sunday school art projects, but a little too vague for me to meaningfully discuss with others outside my religious community. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of my peers and their families assumed my parents were weird hippies or worse!

When asked, “What religion are you? Or, “What do you believe?” I usually responded with a cute, yet honest, “Love is my religion. We believe that everyone deserves to be treated with love, respect, and fairness.”

It’s OK if you feel your eyes starting to roll a bit. I admit that it sounds pretty hokey, but in some ways, that makes it more true for me. I have noticed that when something makes me feel kind of squirrelly or discomfited, it is usually because of the emotional nerve being tickled.

We live in a world that prizes strength, but our collective cultural definition of strength seems to me to be closer to apathy. It seems that to pronounce the importance of love, respect, fairness, kindness, empathy, and forgiveness of and to others, is to be at best, super idealistic and at worst, straight-up Pollyanna-ish. I don’t disagree. I just don’t necessarily disagree with a little idealism either.

Pet peeve alert: It’s possible and even probable that one could land in unsavory Pollyanna-ism by simply espousing these values without actually practicing them. Words without actions are just words… gear-grinding, phony words.

But they don’t have to fall flat. So what if they’re a little lofty? Endeavoring to live in alignment with these values gives me a deeper sense of purpose. I feel a stronger connection to the world outside my own little bubble, and that has gotten me through some moments of emotional darkness for sure.

Of course, I don’t always get it right, but when I reflect on my role as a parent—beyond the essentials of basic protection and care—it is to help encourage and guide my child on their own path to what is meaningful and true. I mean, brass tacks, isn’t that what most of us want for our kids? I do not want or expect my child to get perfect grades in school, or to be the most athletic, or artistic, or the most anything, really. I hope they aren’t in crippling debt in their 30s, but I also do not dream of the day they are rich and famous.

What I want for my child is the happiness and peace that comes from self-actualization. For me, the way to support that is to let our spiritual values guide us. Recent research conducted by Dr. Lisa Miller and documented in her book, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving, showed that one of the most reliable predictors for “successful” and content adolescents and teens is a well-developed spirituality. Of course, I did not seek out research studies to give my parenting style a little more clout, but it does make sense to me.

As I struggle and rush to get out the door for another day of deadlines, my kid literally stops to smell the roses and observe a lizard crawling on our fence, recognizing the wonders of nature and being fully in the present moment. When we make it through carpool, then traffic on the way home, followed by a crazed scramble to figure out what to make for dinner, finally my kid has held it together long enough and just needs to unravel.

Finding the patience and kindness in myself to return what my child so openly and readily offers me is part of my own spirituality. Honoring the importance of real emotions and feelings, and holding space for their expression—in all of their forms—is how we nurture empathy and respect. 

Love is my spiritual child’s religion. I feel pretty good about their future.

New Orleans metro area parents! Want to share your experience with ANTIGRAVITY readers? We’re always looking for a wide variety of parenting voices and circumstances to explore each month. If you’re interested, please get in touch with Erin Hall or head to our About page to fill out a contributor form.

illustrations by Victoria Allen

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