Hi, I am new to this groups so I am sorry if this is already discussed somewhere and I didn't find it! My partner and I are both devout atheists (haha) and of course want to raise our daughter (now 2) without any religious dogma. For background, both of our families are religious (mine: catholic, with eye rolls at my atheism; his:fundamentalist xtian, with threats to come exorcise the demons from him due to his atheism). The question I have is that the holidays have got me thinking about how to approach our family beliefs as my daughter gets older. Right now we live thousands of miles away, so its not too big of an issue, but in future years we may want to visit for the holidays, or move back to the area. Does anyone have any experiences they can share with how they raised their children in similar families? Of course I can never leave her alone with my in-laws, who would fervently spend every day teaching her about the 'saviour' and secretly baptizing her. But we are surrounded by other religious traditions in daily life - my religious upbringing at least gives me a framework for understanding religious traditions but how do I give that to her without the belief part? Thought maybe some people on here might have some interesting stories about approaches that worked (or didn't) when raising atheist children and teaching about religion. thank you!

Tags: children, family, kids, parenting, religious, traditions

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I am with you too. I intend to raise my child to be an Atheist too. I do want her to be a free thinker too, but I don't want her to fall for any silly religion. I hope to expose her to enough information about religion and science to help her come to the correct conclusion. While I haven't told her there is no god, I did tell her that I don't believe in god.
Thanks so much to everyone for giving input on this discussion! It's nice to know there are other people trying to figure out the same things.

Of course we do want to raise her to be a freethinker but I hadn't thought about that being something different than being raised as an atheist. We certainly don't intend to raise her with any uncertainty about the potential existence of a supernatural omnipotent deity, at least! We do plan on doing the Santa Claus thing while she's little, though - is that hypocritical? It might be a good lesson in questioning that will help craft her into the free-thinker we hope she'll be (or..OK...maybe we just want to enjoy those santa claus xmases.) Some people say its just lying to your kids, but I believed in santa when i was little and when i got old enough to suspect and ask questions, my mom came clean. I didn't feel betrayed or upset - actually I recall feeling a bit smug that I had figured it out. Most kids seem to transition out of it pretty easily. (Hey- I think the roots of my atheism date back to the same period!)
I like the idea of just telling the tradition of the xmas holiday as a sort of historical story. We don't have a UU church here (its a pretty rural area) bu the nice thing is that this island was settled by Asians, so there hongwangi all around and Bon dances all summer. And of course, the Hawaiian traditions abound. So I think there will be ample opportunity to expose her to different perspectives and "stories".

btw @Eric, I have to say you are lucky for the "dont ask dont tell" family, my family is mostly that way but my in-laws (especially mom) are awful. she doesn't just ask, she GRiLLS. she has fits and cries. its major drama. I think it would be Ok to let my daughter go to Mass w/ my mom, but I would definitely not let her go to church with the in-laws, I think it might be terrifying!
Oh, you live in HI! Which island do you live on? My husband was born in Korea, his family moved to the big island when he was about 3. His family is still there but he's lived off island since college.

Totally OT but did you hear that the reason Sarah Palin quit college in HI was because she couldn't deal with all the Asians there.
I have two squeakers, two girls ages 2 and almost 4. I am currently reading a book called, 'Raising Freethinkers, A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief" by Dale Mc Gowan. It's been helpful for me, coming out of Mormonism, to read about how 'normal' people raise their children outside religion. It has over 100 activities as well.

Every chance I get to teach my girls something, I take it. We learned about Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and Christmas this year. We learned about the axial tilt of Earth and about the shortest day of the year. They even opened a gift on Winter Solstice. They loved it.

I know my kids are young, and they believe in Santa and Mickey Mouse, there is no changing that and I wouldn't want to. I don't think I will ever teach them about Jesus any more than I would Mithra or Horus, and not until way later.

I am not telling them Santa is real, but I think they are much to young for me to purposefully sit down with them and talk about reality and fiction. They still have such a great sense of duality, that I would much rather them be thanking Santa for the snow we got last week, and me explaining how snow works in toddler terms, than trying to teach them that Santa isn't real.

I am all for not labeling anyone, especially children. But my children, being raised as freethinkers, will be atheist. The cognitive dissonance is too great for children to be raised in knowledge, then to turn to imaginary sky friends. We were all raised (at least most of us) to believe that Santa isn't real. To then, as adults, start to believe in Santa is just silly. I think that's how most children of Atheist parents will turn out. I couldn't believe in Santa or Gods even if I wanted to.

Traditions are wonderful. I don't think you will indoctrinate them if you teach them about Jesus, Thor, Mithra and Santa all on the same level. :o) But that's just a mommy of young children's opinion.
My daughter just turned four. I am still trying to figure out the best way to teach her about religious traditions. I want her to understand both what our other family members believe and to be able to understand cultural references. We did a poor job of this with my stepson who at age 11 read a reference to Adam and Eve and asked me who they were. So, I am glad you posted this question. I want to know too.

One thing I would like to do is teach her about mythology of religions other than Christianity-especially those that have influenced Christianity (for example to let her know other religions had a flood like Noah's and there was another religion with a virgin who gave birth, etc.). I think those are really important things for everyone to know. I didn't find out until I was an older adult and I still don't know much about them. I would love to find some children's stories about various myths taught as myths (I've seen Green/Roman ones but that is it).
Mimmom, thanks for linking to that website, it looks very interesting. Also, I love the idea you had of suggesting they make up their own gods. My 6 year old has been making up his own superheros lately so this would be an extension of that. Cool.
I'm happy with my solution, and at the same time I'm not recommending it.

My family is Heathen, and to me that means unconquered, and that's what I've taught my child. We celebrate Yule, and Ostara, which are basically where Christians got the inspiration for what they do on Christmas and Easter, rather than from their religion. Some people do heathenism as a neo-pagan religion, we are friends with some of them, to me it's our cultural touchstone, Baltic Heathenism is our family's way.

I am honest about all this stuff being make believe - it can be really moving, meaningful, satisfying and wonderful, without being real in the same way science is real. Odin and Santa and the tooth fairy are real in the same way Love is real, or Ford Prefect from the Hitchhikers' Guide is real - they are more real to me than some people I know, their stories are valuable and meaningful to me, I can even love them, but I'm not going to expect them to fix my problems, or blame my problems on them, and I'm certainly not afraid of them.

It turns out my daughter has no problem at all with understanding paradox, or differentiating between make believe and real. I'm glad I didn't have to teach that, because I don't think I could have done it very well, but it looks like the basic operating system humans come with includes an intuitive grasp of that.

It's also worked well with teaching about other cultures, she sees images of people from any traditional or tribal culture and understands that they are such-and-such heathens too, meaning people who are like us biologically and psychologically, but who have developed different tribal ways in response to being part of a different landscape. We had a rough week when, at 5 she realized that although we heathens are the default form, we are at present somewhat outnumbered by monotheists. That was not a happy realization. Since then there has been a bit of, I'm not sure how to put it, she's had moments of sort of anti-Christian bigotry, I guess, as uncomfortable as that is to admit. So we're working on being more accepting there. (And in all honesty this is not an area where I am particularly skilled.) Talking about Freethinking has helped a little, I think it opens a window of hope for her that not all Christians take their religion all that seriously, or that we may have common ground with many of them, although we're not quite to a point where we are super comfortable talking about it either. I was hoping visiting a church might help, but she's uncharacteristically adamant about NOT being at all willing to even try that.

For now, since she gets along OK with our Christian friends, and she's way ahead of the curve in learning about world religions, so I'm content to let it be. We're homeschooling, and this year we're focusing on the stone age, next year we're planning to do the bronze age, and the year after she'll be 7, we plan to study medieval times, and I figure we can address it then.
That's where the anti-Christian bigotry is coming from, I'm pretty sure of it. She asks questions, I try to answer honestly, and no matter how much I emphasize tolerance and that most Christians are not fundamentalists, and point out all the nice Christians we know, there are certain things about that faith (both in it's history and in it's texts) that without any prompting from me or anyone else my daughter has taken a *strong* dislike to. So I'm down-playing teaching about monotheism at all for the time being, it can wait until she's seven and we're looking at the medieval period, when it begins to become historically relevant. Until then we have enough to do focusing on the stone age, and later the bronze age.

I do look forward to hearing her thoughts on Douglas Adams when she's old enough to read him (and Dawkins!) for herself. Right now she likes to pretend to worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and Thor, and the other day she asked me if it was OK for her to have Satan as an imaginary friend! LOL! What a trinity!

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