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

Views: 128

Replies to This Discussion

I was going to reply, but yours, John D, seems to say everything I wanted to.

Welcome to Atheist Nexus Franny!
I share the same sentiment with all of you. My daughter is only 7 months old but having been a major part in the development of my younger sister's upbringing, I feel that I can truly say I am in tune with Chuck's comment.

I can only hope to expose my children to the world of knowledge and allow them to make the decision of what to do with it. I have many religious texts in my house: several bibles, including my first bible, the book of mormon, the koran, books translating the dead sea scrolls, even some books discussing the torah, the basic writings of nietzsche, rousseau, albert camus, michel foucault, as well as many books written by prominent atheists. I would never tell my kids what they can think, only encourage them to think! And, of course, to question everything.

We may all want our kids to throw away superstitious beliefs as they get older, but deep down we really just want them to be happy. So, if believing in Allah, or God, or Intergalactic Warlord Xenu makes them happy, it will probably be alright with all of us.

Oh, and I second the Unitarian Universalist church recommendation. I attended a UU church for several years while on active duty in the Air Force and eventually became the youth group leader. The community is great, and they are very accepting of all beliefs, even non-beliefs. The only BIG downside is the Christian-biased hymnals. If they upgraded the music, the UU church would have been perfect, IMHO.
Hi Guys - I think I summed up what you guys are saying when recently challenged by someone in a social setting , "Well what are you going to teach your kids ? "

my rather terse response !

"To think "
Yeah I am brand new to this group and Nexus in general. I too have little ones and wish to give then the ability to choose to become religious or not. I have inlaws that arte fundamental Christians and will not back off. Any ideas appreciated.

Jim
I agree with this entire thread, there are great answers here. Your kids will naturally respond better to your reasonable discussions than to your in-laws' illogical preaching.

My parents are very open minded, they didn't fuss about religion at all. They answered questions when I asked, and I even occasionally went to church with friends. And yes we do the standard holidays, prayer-free. Most usefully, we had lots of books around I could read (like @Brandy Rose described), everything from the Book of Mormon to my grandfather's copy of Bertrand Russell's, Why I am Not a Christian. I was pretty much left to come to my own conclusion.

I'm just chiming in to vouch that being raised as a free-thinker was terrific. My son is almost 2 so I'm also in the early days, but I intend to use the same approach with him. So... go for it! it worked on me.


Oh and @OdinsRaven... Awesome comeback. :)
Hey Franny,

I've been there too. I'm fairly strongly atheist, my wife is a somewhat weak one with residual Catholic guilt. We're both from religious families, but the issue of belief/ non belief is certainly easier when living out of state and before kids. We've moved back to the same town as our parents and have children aged 3 & 6 now.

The points others have already made about modeling respect for the religious family members, etc. while also giving your own perspectives on holidays too have been really good. I also agree with the importance of teaching kids to think for themselves. In a lot of regards, I've found how to deal with the kids to be mostly easy.

Dealing with families is the more delicate side of the issue in my experience. Sounds like it is for you too. The real challenge in my experience is that for many sincerely religious grandparents, even the sweet, non-fundi ones, no matter how respectful you may be of their beliefs, they usually cannot be honestly respectful of your non-belief, especially with bringing up children without god. My approach to managing the whole "religion issue" and family involves much ambiguity and don't ask-don't tell. Similar to my sex life. From having 2 kids, people can figure out that I have sex. If I were into kinky sex (which I'm not, anyway) I wouldn't see any need to bring it up, any I assume family would really prefer not to know. My parents somewhat know that I don't believe. It's never been explicitly discussed that we don't bring the kids to church, and by not explicitly discussing it, they don't feel the need to feel disappointed, or to try to save my kids. The grandparents on each side watch my kids one day per week, and I know that there is some amount of god-talk that happens. It bothers me some, but I know that it would not stop without inflicting massive amounts of harm to the relationship with family. If it were openly discussed that we're raising our kids as atheists, I am confident that the grandparents would be much more aggressive. It's sad because they really are mainstream, moderate non-fundamentalist religious types generally.

I'd rather maintain a workable relationship, even if is in based on a certain amount of pleasant mutual fiction.
Sorry for the double posting, but I've been mulling something over since last night and want to put it out there. I'm still working through my own feeling on this, and would love to hear perspectives other than my own.

Several people indicated that they intend to not specifically raise their children to be atheists. Why not? I've given a lot of informed consideration to my atheism, and am confident that it is the most factually accurate, least harmful framework for approaching life, the universe and everything. I want to guide my kids towards the best understanding of reality as it actually is. I think that religious approaches are less accurate pictures of reality, less productive frames of reference, and in some cases actually harmful. So of course I'm going to actively try to guide/nudge them towards atheism.

I believe in evolution as fact and believe that there is no legitimate controversy within the scientific community (of which I am a working memeber), so I won't be actively pointing my kids to Michael Behe's books and telling them to make up their own mind. I believe in global warming as fact, and will present it to my kids as a factual problem. Vanilla is clearly superior to any chocolate based icecream. I have a strong anti-authoritarian streak and know that I don't hold a monopoly on truth. But I believe what I believe because I have investigated the issues. My beliefs are my beliefs because I think they are the best working framework. If I've rejected the alternatives views as flawed, then why would they be good enough for my kids either?

Sorry if this comes off as being a totally arrogant jerk. I'm not actually this hard-core, but putting the argument out there, and I think it's coming out more strongly than I actually intend or feel.
Eric, great post. You don't come off as arrogant at all (at least to me).

I would say to anyone that asked that I am not raising my kids to be atheists, but what I really mean is that I'm not raising them to be capital A Atheist. To me that sounds like the flip side of raising them to be Christian.

I agree with everything you've said though. My kids will undoubtedly learn from my view of the world and be largely influenced by it (hopefully in a positive way). I would say that I'm trying to raise my kids to be rational, to think and to question rather than teaching them a specific worldview.

Hopefully that makes sense. I think we have very similar goals it's just an issue of whether we label it as atheist or not.
this is something i have been mulling over myself. i have a 2 year old and agree that teaching children how to think is more important than teaching them what to think.

i have been mulling over wether to do the santa thing when he gets old enough. on one hand its the kind of fairy tale belief i want him to avoid and i dont want to lie to him, but on the other hand its a good way to learn about these things.

any thoughts?
We do Santa here, I have very fond memories of christmas mornings running downstairs to see what Santa brought that it never occurred to me not to do him with my kids. They are 6 and 3, they both still believe. My 6 year old doesn't question Santa yet but he has questioned the existence of the tooth fairy many times. Probably because he has "evidence" of Santa while the Tooth fairy has not yet visited.

I've always suspected that the people who are upset at being lied to about Santa may have had parents that were overly invested in the myth themselves. I engage in the fantasy but when they question I usually toss it back to them "what do you think?". I don't want to over think it but I view these myths as having a lot to teach children as they go from complete belief to disbelief.

Mostly though it's just fun :)
We told my daughter (whose now 4) the truth about Santa. We still play up Xmas and have fun. She still likes to sit on Santa's lap at the mall. It doesn't seem to have any bad effects so far. She knows it is just a story but she still has fun with it. Being honest with her was only one of the reasons I decided not to lie to her about Santa. Another reason I decided to tell her the truth was so she didn't feel like a bad girl if she didn't get as many presents as her friends. I didn't decide to tell her the truth because I was mad at my family for lying to me. It just seemed to fit with the way I wanted to raise her. I think it's just a personal choice. I think I would have done this whether I was was an Atheist or religious. One of my friends, who is Christian also chose not to teach her kids the Santa myth. I don't think her choice was for religious reasons.
I recently had this dilemma, but there's an added dimension: My (nominally catholic) sister sent my 2 year old daughter a book about "the true meaning of christmas" and I was briefly in turmoil about it. But then I realised that the baby Jesus thing is simply a part of the pageantry of the season.

I'm happy telling my kids that there is a jolly fat man who travels the world in a night distributing toys according to a matrix which takes into account the relative goodness of the child along with the relative wealth of the parents. But I'm equally happy for her to hear about three kings, a bunch of shepards and some sort of star. After all, they ARE just stories.

I will probably bring myself into disagreement with a lot of people when I say this but I don't think that religion is a problem in itself. People taking religion seriously is.

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