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Modern Parenthood

Public radio host Krista Tippett on kids and the meaning of life

Krista Tippett, the public radio voice on faith, talks about parent responsibility to engage the inevitable questions kids have about the meaning of life.

By Staff Writer / May 8, 2012

Krista Tippett, the public radio host of "On Being," talks with Modern Parenthood about parent responsibility to engage the inevitable questions kids have about the meaning of life.

Photo by Ann Marsden, courtesy of "On Being"


Whether it's in the cozy twilight of a bedtime tuck-in or the supermarket checkout line, kIds will surprise parents with the "big" questions: Why am I here? Where did Grandma go when she died? Where does evil behavior come from? The longing to find meaning in life seems innate.

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Clara Germani is a senior editor for the Monitor, based in Boston. She handles in-depth projects, or cover stories, for the weekly print magazine.

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Finding the words to explain these things to an impressionable three-year-old, a skeptical adolescent, or even your adult self can be unsettling.

Modern Parenthood had a conversation about this with Krista Tippett a mother, journalist, and founder and host of public radio's "On Being,"  a weekly exploration of the "big" questions at the center of life. Her books include "Einstein's God – Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit" and "Speaking of Faith – Why Religion Matters and How to Talk about it."

The intersection of her profession (contemplating these issues and talking to the best thinkers about them)  and her family life (she's the mother of an 18-year-old and a soon-to-be-14-year-old) made Modern Parenthood want to ask her these questions:

Do you think parents have a responsibility to cultivate some sort of meaning-making or spiritual sentiment in their children?
It’s kind of a new phenomenon in Western history right now that we have all these kids growing up with parents who have rejected their traditions of origin, in a way people weren’t free to do previously.

Children ask for this. Maybe they’re asking for structure and meaning-making. Or maybe they’re just asking the big theological questions which they do at very young ages: Where do we come from? Why do people die? Why do people treat each other that way?

So do we have an obligation to come up with something? I don’t know. But I think we have a responsibility to meet our children’s questions and longings along those lines. I think that – especially for people who have rejected the tradition in their background – that becomes an opportunity.

You grew up in Oklahoma with a grandfather who was a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, left that tradition when you went away from home, and found yourself unsettled without a spiritual anchor at midlife. How important is it for parents to be settled in their spirituality?

In the name of not giving your children what you rejected, you also give them nothing to reject, to work with, to question, and to challenge.

It’s true a lot of people these days do go through a period of agnosticism or searching or atheism. That’s what happened to me. But I circled back to questions of meaning, of morality, and – ultimately – faith as an adult.


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