I've been thinking a lot about this since my son was born last year and still have come to no reasonably comfortable way to bring up that my son's mother and I will not be bringing him up in the church.
My ex and I are atheists for different reasons and so we have different approaches. Her religious upbringing was much more laid-back, "natural" and passive. Whereas mine was, from my perspective, demeaning, aggressive (we once watched a movie called "Heaven's Gates, Hell's Flames" when I was around 5 and I remember my parents turning it off because of how scared all of us children in Sunday school were), fundamentalist, etc., etc. She tend to take the "soft atheist" approach where as I am on the "strong atheist" side.
After years of quarreling with my parents about all of this we have finally come to a point of "don't ask, don't tell" (which seems to apply to me more than them). I don't want to out-and-out offend either of them, as they help me a lot with him and I love them (they are my parents, after all) but I don't want to seem too soft on the issue or lax or permissive since I do have strong opinions on the religious topic in general and especially in regards to the indoctrination of young children.
Has anyone else had to have this conversation with religious grandparents?
I agree with you on the pointless discussion, and we seem to avoid that when we can. However, I don't know how much I trust their ability/willingness to avoid religious instruction surreptitiously...I have already found a children's prayer book - that had elves as illustrations...I didn't think they believed in elves - and a book about the "wonders of god's creation".
Currently it's not such an issue, as he is only turning 1 this month but there will come a time when he's much more susceptible to those falsities.
I believe it’s about your relationship with your children. If you have love and respect for your child, they will trust your guidance and opinions. When they get to about 4 or 5 years old they will start to ask about death. You can talk about death from the atheist perspective. If this conflicts with what they’ve been told by others, you can explain the difference in views.
When they get to about 6 or 7 they will start to think about God etc and other things. Again, if you have a strong, loving and respectful relationship with them, you can have a very matter of fact talk with them. Answer their questions and explain the different perspectives and why’s about differing beliefs in the family.
To be honest, I really belief that children see sense in the truth about reality – so you have a lot of weight on your side for this reason.
Address their fears. Explain about hell, heaven, good bad – all being cultural constructs. Don’t be afraid to go into the details explore the feelings about god, death, birth, life, the origins of the universe and the rise of religion – the purpose religion serves. Try to be objective and scientific in your explanations. Let the child know that you don’t have all the answers and can’t know everything – but you’d like them to hear what you do know about and why. Children respond well to this sort of respect and honesty.
I suppose what I'm saying is - don't worry about what the grandparents do or say as much as you spend time with your child and make sure that you bring up things that happen and discuss your views on it. So if they take your child to church - spend some time explaining what that means to you - ask the child if they were comfortable at the church and understood what was being done. Discuss the origins of the church and the cultural practices. Talk about your own experience of church.
If grandparents are going against your child’s wishes for comfort with religious stuff then you might decide to only have short supervised visits until the child is older or they change their ways.
The key is winning the child’s heart. If they feel safe with you and trust you then they will be able to hear the truth you speak.
When you are with the grandparents and they say religious things, you can always add, that you don’t have the same beliefs and that’s what they believe, but you and your ex don’t believe that.