What Should Atheists Do When the In-Laws Begin to Proselytize? December 19, 2008

What Should Atheists Do When the In-Laws Begin to Proselytize?

A reader has a problem with religion in her family and she could use your help.

My mother-in-law is starting to indoctrinate my child!

I suppose I may have played some role in triggering what seems to be a recent surge in proselytizing. In recent months, for the first time, I have discussed my own beliefs openly to my in-laws during meal times, I suppose setting off the warning sirens: Save the granddaughter! Save the granddaughter!

On the other hand, she is very involved in her faith so it’s not exactly a huge surprise she is now teaching my daughter to pray to Jesus and that “Jesus is coming back.”


I realize the potential for having an ugly showdown with my M-I-L, either in person or through my sweet vulnerable daughter, is all too present. I don’t want to hurt my daughter by engaging in categorical prohibitions or by disparaging rejection of this belief system she is now “trying on for size.” I’ve been trying to embrace the opportunity for discussing a lot of interesting ideas about the world with my daughter, staying real, taking her seriously. Last night I went so far as to agree to hold hands around the table and “talk to Jesus” when she suggested it because it was obvious she really wanted to and I didn’t want to just disengage. But I had my own things to say to “Jesus” — not purely angry or rejecting things, but trying to plant a healthy independence of thought from the inside out.

I’m really new at this and could use some good feedback.

Does anyone else have some specific methods or experiences with a healthy, child-centered approach to combating proselytizing, given that I think it’s unlikely my mother-in-law is going to change her ways and I am unwilling to cut off her relationship with my child?

What do you say to your children when you hear them repeating religious dogma you disagree with?

Any advice for her?

(via the Friendly Atheist Forums)

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  • PrimeNumbers

    “Prove it”. “What is the evidence”. That is what I say to the child. “Does it make sense though?”

    As for the mother-in-law, I have no idea.

    You must however teach your daughter the tools of the rational thinker, and she’ll then come to her own conclusions, and they’ll probably be the right ones.

  • Aj

    Depends how old the child is. If the child is young then this is clearly unacceptable behaviour that has to stop. Young children believe whatever authority figures tell them, and can be controlled, coerced, and manipulated into any religion unless you stand up for them. Indoctrinating into religion is not the same as education of religion. I child should have their rational defences built up, learn about religions, learn about reason and science, before they can be subjected to indoctrination.

    If the child is older then you can begin to reason and debate against religions, there are many books on the subject, and I’m sure people here can help.

  • Just explain to her that many people have different beliefs. Discuss her grandmother’s beliefs. Discuss the beliefs of numerous other religions around the world. Discuss your own beliefs with her. Do not be disparaging about anyone else’s faith. Tell her she is 100% free to make up her own mind. (Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?) Then trust in her. It’ll all be just fine – even if she does decide to believe.

  • I haven’t any children, but I believe that as a father I would be having a serious discussion with my mother-in-law.

  • Tracy

    My M-I-L is also very religious. when my kids were little, luckily, we lived FAR away. We only actually lived in the same town for 1 1/2 years. I thought I would CHOKE her if we didn’t move. Thank goodness, I found a job in Florida and moved away. That was 11 years ago and I couldn’t be happier with out long distance relationship. My kids are still critical thinkers. Good luck to you!

  • I had the same issue with my M-I-L. My wife finally explained to her mom that we don’t want her telling the kids about her religion as ‘truth’. Telling our kids that we will go to hell (or not go to heaven) is unacceptable and is upsetting them. We also made it clear to grandma that if she continued to ignore our requests we would reduce the opportunities to have them without our presence.

    Trouble is, young kids are very willing to believe in magical beings so I’m uncomfortable with adults playing along – I feel the same way with Santa. I don’t object to them learning about religious myths but I do object to them being presented as ‘true’.

    As a side note, I find it amusing that my daughter, who is very independent and mentally stubborn, thinks that I’m probably wrong about god. My son, on the other hand, is easily tricked and susceptible to suggestions but adamantly declares he is an atheist! As a parent I just keep driving home the message – what is the evidence for someone’s belief? Does the claims make sense?

    One of my favourite arguments against god are the stories about how god killed millions in the bible and should we honour a being who is a mass-murderer?

  • I agree with what Paul has posted.

    Just like you and your MIL have the freedom to choose your own religious beliefs, so does your child.

    You don’t want your inlaws “brainwashing” your child, but you shouldn’t force your beliefs on her either.

    Instead, educate her about diverse beliefs. Tell her that her grandmother believes one thing, but lots of other people include other things, including you.

    A lot of kids have more religious childhoods and then grow up to be agnostic. With an atheist parent, I doubt she’ll become a hardcore fundie. But, if she does show a desire to have a spirituality, you should respect her choice to explore that.

    Stay grounded in your own beliefs. And provie her with books and information about what Atheism is all about. And that will compete and compliment what your MIL is doing.

  • Chas

    Assuming your child is young, under 12 years old: This is not any different than any other disagreement you might have with your MIL when it comes to raising your child – give your MIL a clear choice: no preaching or no granddaughter. My MIL gave my wife whiskey in her milk when a baby; I made it clear to her that that wouldn’t be tolerated for our kids.

    Where is your spouse in this? He/she should be running interference for you.

  • Throw them out of the house, or leave the house if it is theirs and cut all ties with them.

    There will be NO “reaching across the isle” for this Atheist….and I am VERY friendly…just dont tell me how to think…that makes me not very friendly!

  • If it’s true that the truth will set you free, then how can a reasonable person say anything other than that theism of all types is gibberish wholly unsupported by any evidence? It must be put into age appropriate language to be sure, but the message cannot be watered down.

  • phlebas

    I think I’d talk to my spouse first. Talk through the concerns and prepare a united front. If the spouse isn’t supportive, then the issue is bigger than a preachy MIL.

    Assuming the two of you are on the same page, calmly talk to the MIL without the child around, and simply ask her to stop. She would expect you to respect the rules in her house, too, right? She’d probably object if you showed up and insisted on reading from Hitchens’ book. Seems only fair.

    Of course, it’s not just violating house rules — I don’t know how much unsupervised time she’s getting with the kid, but ask her to keep a sock in it then too.

    Failing that, and assuming you still don’t want to cut her out of your child’s life, then be prepared to rebut her claims and show why the evidence doesn’t point to the Jesus story.

    Good luck 🙂

  • In my opinion (and research) supernatural beliefs (including religious) have a natural origin. I think culture mainly operates by providing a framework… that and the need to become part of a group. So I would relax…if your daughter has more than one perspective then she is likely to come to her own decisions. Anyway, it is very often the peer group and not the elders who have the greatest influence.


  • You could show the movie documentary, The God who wasn’t there, to your kids as an antidote to you in-laws proselytization. Keep in mind that this movie has footage from the most beloved Christian movie of all time, Passion of the Christ, (Jesus being flogged) so it would not be suitable for younger children unless they like seeing lots of blood.

  • Christians are inherently worried about exposing their children to ideas that conflict with their magical and delusional world view. You should not be. At the end of the day reality is on your side. Even if your child dabbles in an occasional theistic thought because of exposure to her grandmother, you still have the ability and time to explain that you do not agree with those thoughts and give the child a good explanation of why you think they are wrong. Let your mother-in-law be who she is. Let your child be who she is. To do less is to be as reactionary and oppressive as the theists.

  • Axxyanus

    Well here at the library we have childrens books with stories originating from various mythologies/religions. I used to tell from these at bed time. Hearing one evening a story about Jezes, the next one about Thor and the one after that a story about Ramayana, quickly brings it all into perspective. At least that is my experience.

  • beckster

    When daughter asks to hold hand and pray to Jesus tell her that is fine, but that you are going to pray to the invisible pink unicorn or the flying spaghetti monster! It will get your daughter’s wheels turning. Make sure to be very sincere in your appeals to his holy noodliness!

    I think the best way to combat m-i-l indoctrination is to sit down and have a grown up conversation with her about what she can and cannot share about her religion. Maybe ask her to always preface what she says about religion with “grandma believes . . . ” and obviously no hell talk. If you don’t want to cut her off from your daughter, just explain that if it doesn’t stop you will have to be there to supervise whenever she visits your daughter.

  • TheDeadEye

    Make your case early and often. If you leave it slide, then you’ll have a heck of a time trying to justify not letting your MIL drag your children to church every Sunday. I told my family that I was not going allow my newborn to be baptized and that he could choose whatever religion he wanted to when he was 18. I got a lot of stunned looks and gasps, but it set the tone and I haven’t had to fend off any proselyting since.

  • Steven

    Terrific comment from Axxyanus about sharing stories from various mythologies (including Christianity)with your kids as a way to help them develop critical thinking. Ironically, since she remains a believer,it was my Mom’s old schoolbook of classical myths that helped clarify my doubts at 10 years old.
    I’ve already had to ask Mom to “go easy” on the religious stuff with her granddaughters. My wife “outed” me as an atheist when my mother-in-law suggested Sunday school for the girls and I declined.
    I feel strongly that it is up to me and my wife to mitigate the powerful influence that religion could have on our children. When my daughter asked me what happens when we die I gave her an honest “Honey, nobody knows”. She’s heard enough about heaven from her grandmothers so I don’t feel bad about providing another viewpoint.
    Maybe once she stops believing in Santa, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny we can talk about God.

  • penn

    Teach her about other non-Christian beliefs. Get her to realize that people believe many different things and no one has all the answers. I think kids would love to hear about Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. Don’t combat her grandmother’s beliefs directly, just make them compete in an open and honest forum.

  • Marissa

    Even though I think that it’s important to set boundaries with family (and in each family, the boundaries will be different), I think it’s important to remember that no matter what grandma says, parents are still the most important influence in a child’s life. My parents were pretty anti-religion when I was little, but they never threw a fit when I went to Bible school or my friends invited me to church. They always made it clear how they felt, but they never pushed me one way or the other. And you know what? I turned out to be a good little critical thinker. 🙂

  • Get the book “Parenting Beyond Belief”

    A very very good book to help parents raise their children to think for themselves, to question dogma.

    It’s all about NOT imposing beliefs, not even atheistic beliefs, but teaching kids to question everything..


  • ungullible

    I believe in teaching my children how to think, not what to think. So I allow them to explore different beliefs for themselves, even if that means believing something that I don’t believe. Whether it’s a proselytizing MIL or their friends at school, you can’t (and shouldn’t try to) prevent your child from being exposed to these ideas. Instead of telling them what is or isn’t true, help them think about these ideas critically by encouraging them to ask questions about what does or doesn’t make sense. Have confidence that the critical thinking skills you give them will eventually overcome any dogma they might temporarily explore due to influences from friends or your MIL.

  • I took a hardline stand. These people have no business filling my kid’s head with their bullshit, especially if it’s against my wishes. My in-laws have already taken my 18-month-old to church with them. I told them that if I found out about it again, he wasn’t staying overnight anymore. (they live far away, but not prohibitively so)

  • Christophe Thill

    I think you should find some animated version of Jesus’ life and give it to your daughter. But it will find its place between her favorite Disney and others. So, on the one hand, learning the story will add something to her culture. On the other hand, she will learn that it’s just a story. You can love Mickey Mouse, but nobody believes he’s really real! And it will surely be interesting to discuss with her the similarities and differences with Disney’s “Hercules”, for instance.

  • ddr

    Maybe we were just lucky. It’s hard to tell with only one example to go from. But I don’t think allowing kids to believe in a magical world view when they are young hurts them at all. You just live a rational life yourself and they pick up on it when they are ready.

    I came into my step-daughter’s life when she was 6. My wife was divorced from her first husband right around the time the child was born. During the divorce, she leaned heavily on support from the child’s god mom, who is a pastor of a church. The child’s father is also a fairly religious guy.

    So for the first 6 years of my step-daughter’s life, she got religion from all sides. My wife slowly moved away from leading a church centered life and now describes herself as an atheist. The god mom has drifted out of our life the past few years and we only see her a few times a year. But my step-daughter still spends every other weekend with her dad. She is 13 now.

    Although we have a great relationship with the father, he often tells the step-daughter that he thinks we are going to hell for not believing in god.

    Our grand strategy was to do nothing. We didn’t feel we could ask her to choose sides. Kids should not have to worry about if they are being dis-loyal to one parent or the other because of what they believe about a myth. So we just went on with our lives and didn’t try to sway her views in any way. She asked how come we said a prayer over the meal when god mom was here and we didn’t when she was not. We just said that it was something that was important to god mom, so in order to be polite, we went along. But we felt that is was something that was unnecessary. Sometimes you do things just to be polite, and this was one of them.

    At one time in her life, she had a hard time with nightmares. She slept with not just a night light, but a regular lamp on and about once a month would have to come into our room to sleep because of a bad dream. At one point we would join hands over her after she got into bed and to a little prayer for her safety. We knew she was not any safer after the prayer. But the point was to make her feel safer. After a few weeks, she told us that it was not really helping and she thought it was silly, so we stopped.

    In time, she learned the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny and stopped having a magical world view. About the same time her nightmares stopped and she could sleep in a dark room at night. She was briefly into slasher films, maybe just as a way of testing herself.

    One day I was taking her to school and listening to ELO “Fire on High” which has some backwards talking at the start. She asked why that was there. I told her that when the song was made, some people though that popular music contained hidden messages recorded backwards that told people to worship the devil. ELO recorded the song to show people what backwards messages really sounded like and to show that you could not understand them. She said “That was silly of them to think that and I don’t think the devil is real anyway.” I tried not to make a big deal out of how proud I was of her right then and just said “yeah, I think you may be right.”

    A month or so later, she came home from school and asked what rebuke meant. She explained that a class mate had been going on about God and the step-daughter just said “I don’t believe in God.” The class mate thought this was horrible and said “I rebuke you.” She just wanted to know if she had been insulted or not.

    Last month, the teacher made the class read a book on Secular Humanism. I’m not sure if it was part of the program or something she threw in for our daughter.

    So, at least in this case, the good guys won. We let the world try and push her one way and we just stood there and in some cases, went along. But at least with this child, it was the right move. Trying to push her in the direction we wanted her to go would have only caused her stress and she would have picked something like a Pagan religion so that she didn’t have to be dis-loyal to anyone. She just smiles and nods when her dad talks about religion. She is just being polite.

  • Those whose answer to this is ask your kids to “Prove It” live in some kind of fantasyland. This is a teaching moment and say things like “Show me the evidence” will only shut down the conversation and have the exact opposite effect you are looking. When your 8-year-old professes belief in Air what do you say “Prove It!”. Please stop commenting.

    And “throw them out of the house”? seriously you really think that is good advice. FAIL.

    Showing kids The God Who Wasnt’ There is marginally a good idea but *only* if they are in their teens and if they are earnestly “searching” for answers.

    I have to echo what Paul/HumanistDad/penn/Andreas say since they are suggestions that are based in Reality. Your best bet (in my personal experience with two boys) is to simply explain that there are multiple belief systems and actually expose them to those beliefs. Honestly my kids only were first exposed to religious belief through school (and it was the concept of Hell). We took the opportunity to explain different belief systems (they are about 8yr-old) and tied it into geographic locations of that belief.

    This is a perfect opportunity to present these things in a “one-of-many” approach. Personally you really can’t shut this down even if you wanted to say take this opportunity.

    Another thing we did was get a book on Creation myths from around the world and included the Biblical account as well, it’s amazing how similar they are.

    My favorite was an Asian? myth that talks about how the First Man got lonely so “god” chained 7 women to 7 trees that he could “sample” from. Each woman had their own temperament and 3 different moods but he liked them all so god combined them together, “…and that is why women to this day have 7 temperaments and 21 moods”. Oh man did I get a lot of mileage out that.

    I discovered that my wife has only 3 moods
    1) Glad to see me,
    2) Not Glad to see me, and
    3) You are an ass and that joke is getting old

  • Laura

    I’ve just skimmed the above comments, but I get the sense that a lot of people take a lot more militant/proactive stance than I have. I am an atheist. My parents (especially mother) are evangelical Christians who know that we are a secular family. Anytime my kids spend time alone with them, they come home humming little Jesus songs that I recognize from my own childhood. It is irritating, to be sure, and I was very alarmed and conflicted for a long time. What we decided to do was join a Unitarian Universalist church. I know this solution may not be appealing to many atheists. It was a bit sad to lose our free Sunday mornings. But I cannot tell you how much it has helped me relax. At this church, my kids are learning to think about religion in a logical way, to appreciate the good in all religions, etc. I figure they will choose what they want to believe anyway, and this way I don’t have to directly contradict what my mom is telling them. I really don’t think it’s fair to place your kids in a position where they have to choose between their parents and their grandparents. My approach has been to try to relax, to give them a balanced view (via the church), and to trust that they’ll see through the evangelical hogwash eventually.

    By the way, when this first started happening with my mom, I tried to have leading conversations with my son (5 years old)… trying to explain why certain things weren’t logical, etc. It was extremely upsetting for him. He did not want to hear that his grandma was wrong. So I have completely stopped trying to steer him away from her ideas. He will hear those ideas, from her and others, all his life. My job, as I see it, is to make sure he’s also exposed to other ideas (including my atheist view) and then not worry too much.

    This is very hard. But I would recommend a soft hand. These relationships are very important. You will always have this family, and you will probably always have this difference in views. I think the focus should be an expansion of exposure to ideas, not on shielding your child from you MIL’s views. Just my two cents. Good luck!

  • ash

    encourage her critical thinking skills; talk openly about the god stories she’s heard and ask lots of ‘how…?’ and ‘why…?’ questions (being careful to adopt an encouraging rather than critical tone). expose your child to lots of age appropiate magical stories – from fairy tales to Harry Potter and Hobbits, as well as explaining different beliefs and comparative religions. try to let the child develop it’s own conclusions, and good luck!

  • Skepticat

    I’m not a parent and likely never will be but I think exposure and discussion are good things. If my mom started the god talk with my kid (and believe me, she would), I’d ask the child what s/he thinks about it and how could we prove it. Same with the Santa talk. I’d use it as an opportunity to teach critical thinking skills and the scientific method.

  • ssns

    If you want to keep the peace, I think a reasonable compromise would be to let your MIL tell biblical stories and parables. Don’t allow her to talk about accepting Jesus and hell and sin and stuff, but let her tell the stories they put in illustrated children’s books. She might accept that rather than an outright ban on religion, and you can supplement it, as others have said, with different mythologies. Your kid will hopefully make the connection, your MIL is somewhat ameliorated, and you don’t create a family feud.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    Jeff: “You could show the movie documentary, The God who wasn’t there”

    Errm, blood aside, that documentary has some serious factual problems.

  • In addition to the Parenting Beyond Belief book that another commenter recommended, I highly encourage checking out the forums at ParentingBeyondBelief.com. There is a great community of parents there who share advice on exactly these kinds of issues. Dale McGowan, lead author and editor of Parenting Beyond Belief, also posts a blog there that regularly addresses these issues. He has a lot of good suggestions for diffusing the conflict without compromising your principles.

    Good luck!

  • Beowulff

    Laura said:

    I really don’t think it’s fair to place your kids in a position where they have to choose between their parents and their grandparents.

    Agreed. But think about this: who placed the child in this position here, the father or the grandmother?

  • Jim

    This is actually simple. Tell the in-laws “You raised your children, allow me to raise mine.”.

  • I don’t have kids, but I had to tell my mother that if she was going to try to witness to me that she would not be welcome in my house. She had to make the choice. She chose to remain in my family. Now she lives with me and Mr. WriterDD and we all get along fine. We sometimes talk about religion but not often, and when we do, we have a pact not to try to convince each other of anything.

    I would say that if your in-laws can’t keep the boundaries, then maybe they should not have unsupervised visits with the children until they are old enough to understand that not everything grandma and grandpa (or mom and dad) say is true.

    Tell the grandparents what your boundaries are and let them decide if they think it’s more important to spend time with their grandchildren or if it’s more important to preach.

    However, you do have to remember that a lot of these people are really, really afraid and they are doing this out of love and concern. So don’t be too harsh. I doubt they are doing this to be mean or spiteful.

  • anonymouse

    I DREAD this scenario with my own mom. We do not have kids but they are very possible in our future, and I am 100% sure I want to adopt. My partner is atheist, I am I guess atheist-leaning agnostic (?) but have the fear of Christianity in my brain. I am hoping it is something I will outgrow.
    My mom is a loving person but also very Christian and I always have a fear (of hell, I know that’s not logical!) in the back of my mind. She isn’t aware of my religious beliefs and still thinks I believe in god and jesus and all that.

    I really don’t know what’s going to happen if she tries to convert our future kids. Hopefully things will be resolved and I will be able to not be such a coward by then.

  • The answer: raise ’em smart.

    Buy ’em any book they’ll actually read, and then discuss it with them.

    Make sure they see YOU reading and thinking and discussing matters in a skeptical way. This needs to be a lifetime habit.

    Lead by example. Teach skepticism.

    DON’T let them see you argue with M-I-L. Just give them the tools to construct their own arguments. The fairy tale crowd cannot compete with that.

  • I suggest read this letter to your daughter. Dawkins wrote this for his daughter. Then let your daughter figure out on her own that her grandmother is a brainwashed idiot.


  • Eliza

    As others have said, the approach will depend on the age of the child.

    In my very limited experience, Jesus is presented to young kids as a gentle, loving, protective, warm, fuzzy buddy-guy. Kind of like Barney. It’s hard to combat that image, before the kid’s critical thinking skills have matured, without yourself becoming the Grinch. If your kid likes to read, I guess I’d suggest pointing them towards the Bible – not a sugary, watered-down kids version but an actual Bible. Reading a bit of that should take the shine off of Jesus & his dad pretty quickly. If nothing else, it’s a lot more boring, blatantly outdated, and confusing than the upbeat stories & songs. Jesus casts out demons, and gets angry at fig trees – hunh?? (About age 8 or so, a kid should be able to appreciate some of the blatant discrepancies, like the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3.)

    But really, I’m with Laura. A UU church can be a great help in raising kids to know that many religions exist but they can make their own decisions about what to believe, that there’s goodness without religion, and that all people are equal & deserve respect.

  • Maria

    Just explain to her that many people have different beliefs. Discuss her grandmother’s beliefs. Discuss the beliefs of numerous other religions around the world. Discuss your own beliefs with her. Do not be disparaging about anyone else’s faith. Tell her she is 100% free to make up her own mind. (Because that’s the truth, isn’t it?) Then trust in her. It’ll all be just fine – even if she does decide to believe.

    I agree

  • Pustulio

    My mother’s sister-in-law is hyper-religious, and growing up we had a similar issue. My parents never openly contested any of the attempted indoctrination, but they did not make it a secret to us kids that they thought her beliefs were quite silly, and that they were amused rather than threatened by her. This, coupled with being exposed to a lot of info about other religions, led me to realize my atheism at a very early age without ever really being sure about what my parents did or didn’t believe. In fact it’s only in the last few years (I’m 30) that they have become more frank about their lack of belief.

  • Here’s what I wrote in the forums:

    Kids are going to be exposed to religion, either from their extended family or from peers and teachers at schools. I would say that your job is to share your views and to explain that some people, just like Granny, believe differently. That’s OK because a child don’t have to believe what anyone else does and can make up their own mind after they’ve tried a few ideas on for size. The MIL is doing you a favour by exposing your daughter to new ideas. Do the same and expose her to other ideas as well.

    The Chinese New Year starts on January 26 next year. Why not expose her to Buddhist and Taoist beliefs while you make some paper lanterns, make some red packets or some dragon gifts. The Hindu festival of Holi is on March 11th. Why not wear your brightest clothes and experiment with vivid make up patterns or build an effigy of a demoness to burn or beat like a pinata. The spring equinox is on March 21st, why not paint some eggs and talk about the links between the equinox, the old pagan god, Eostre, and the Easter festivals. The winter solstice is in a few days. Prepare a feast and talk about the shortest day of the year and the religious significance of it.

    Your daughter will grow to understand that the Christian rituals and faith are just one of many. She may choose to embrace one or not but you’ll have given her options which is really all you can do as a parent.

  • J. J. Ramsey Says:

    Jeff: “You could show the movie documentary, The God who wasn’t there”

    Errm, blood aside, that documentary has some serious factual problems.

    I agree that the scholarship was a bit sloppy and you wouldn’t want to reference it in a paper that you wanted to get published… But compared to what passes in evangelical Christianity, I think it is much closer to reality and for a teen, can open up some doors that there are other perspectives and theories on Christianity than what the evangelical community offers.

    And almost any kid will watch a movie without hassle. Not every kid will agree to read a book.

  • Ex Partiot

    I guess I am not nice about this but I would tell the old bag to keep her religiion to herself or she won’t see her grandchild any more, I have done this in my life time and it did work, she kept her mouth shut

  • Tim

    Equate the Praying to writing letters to Santa, and when she says ‘jesus is coming back’ say ‘just like santa comes every year’. then the foundation will be laid to equate the two mythological characters.

  • Kevin

    It’s easy, ask the mother-in-law what she would do if a Satanist or a Muslim or some other religion she no doubt fears was proselytizing to her own children. When she says that she would not allow her children to be around the proselytizer, pack up the kids and get out of there.

  • st

    We talk about other religions, both current and historical. We teach our kids the history of religions and the hypocrisy of religions making it a point to show how, for example, christians talk about peace and love while supporting war and hate (we let them see concrete examples of this: The war in Iraq, Fred Phelps, etc.). We point out obvious contradictions in religions.

    This is an ongoing thing. We don’t want to hammer them on the issue so we just bring it up whenever the issue arises. Like when a kid at school says things about religion, we will discuss it and point out why Mommy and Daddy think those people are wrong. We also point out the good things religions do, being careful to balance that with the bad things so the children get a fair perspective on the issue. We have also used the “God is like Santa for adults” saying with them. They get this.

  • Blake

    My thought is that her grandmother will really only have more influence if you give it to her by responding emotionally and negatively toward your daughter’s religious curiosity.
    My advice is: just don’t worry about it too much, it will probably just go the way of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I don’t think you need to marginalize the grandmother, it sounds like she’ll do that herself as your daughter gets older and understands more. You’re a bigger influence on your daughter than her grandmother is, even if weekend visits to grandma’s turn up some unusual chanting now and then. Just keep her interested in diverse thought and healthy debate, and I think she’ll be gtg.

    After all, how many religious zealots had parents that worried the way you are? From what you said, it sounds like you’ve already got a handle on things.

  • thegnu

    The woman should let her husband deal with his mother. If he’s unwilling, then you stand up for your child.

    Tell her that it’s your child, and she needs to respect your boundaries. And be straight with your child. The more open you are with your child, the more your child will trust you, and the more intelligently he’ll be able to deal with this crap.

  • Katie

    Seems like you have some good suggestions here, I’ve read about half thus far and most seem to be really good, but I thought I’d share something that has been happening in my house over the last month or so.

    My son is 9 and he does Religious Education at school. I’m a firm believer in not indoctrinating children into anything, but rather giving them the tools to come to their own conclusions so when my boy came home talking about the son of god I was a little unsure how to go about addressing it. So we had a little chat, I asked him to tell me all about what he learned and periodically I asked things like “how does that work?” “why did it happen like that do you think?” etc, which forced him to consider what he was being taught. We also regularly talk about other faiths and how they celebrate religious holidays and what they think with regards to various issues. He had a muslim classmate last year and she explained to the class how her family celebrate ramadan, which was really enlightening for him too. We also talk about current world issues a lot at home, things like various wars, natural disasters, terrorism, what the Cold War was etc, so he is very aware of the reality out there for his age.

    It was a couple of weeks ago now, I think they were discussing Noah’s Ark in RE and obviously my efforts to teach him logic and critical thinking paid off, because he came home and told me that he’s happy to play along at school for the rest of the year, but he’d rather not do RE next year because none of it made sense, god probably isn’t real, or at least not the god they’re talking about and he’d rather play maths games on the computers (a much better use of his time, I agree).

    That said, I’m glad I enrolled him in the RE class so he could learn and figure it all out for himself. I found it very rewarding to figure it out for myself when I was young, rather than just following what my folks believed (which wouldn’t have been too bad anyway, at best my folks are agnostic).

    My advice to you is unless your daughter is very young (under 6-7 years) I would let her continue to see Grandma so that she can learn, and then talk about it all with her. Perhaps even have a round table discussion with Grandma. Discuss god, what faith means, where god stands in the various issues in the world today. Kids have great B.S. detectors, when the best answer to ‘why does god let so many innocent children starve in Africa’ she can come up with is ‘we can’t pretend to understand god’s plan’ I think your daughter will see the light, so to speak.

    But make sure you keep giving her the tools she needs to think, no one else will teach her! Best of luck to both of you.

  • Rex

    Immediately terminate all access to your daughter to your in-laws, all of them.

    When they try and open a dialog, tell them why. Set firm boundaries, including that “even a hint of violating the ‘no preaching’ order will cause permanent denial of access”.

    Nothing less.

  • Greg

    Teach her about Odin, teach her about Osiris, and teach her about Mithras… teach her as much mythology as possible until she can recognize it for what it is.

  • How about “don’t program my child with dogma” ?

    It’s *your* child, dude. Only *you* and the mother get to decide how to raise this child.

    It’s none of the mother-in-law’s business how you raise him.

  • Tim

    I try to remember that my 7 and 10 year old kids are smarter than their grandparents by a long-shot. Religion is out there and they need to take it all in in order to digest it and determine for themselves what’s garbage and what’s not. One thing I’ll never shelter my kids from is information and ideas.

  • jacques

    I’m all for teaching our kids to keep their minds open, and I’m aware that we have to “play ball” to get along in society. There are plenty of people who’s minds we can’t change and whom we don’t want to offend. Furthermore, I regularly preface statements to my kids with “i could be wrong…” and “most people think…” However, it’s our duty to our children, our selves, and society in general to teach our kids the truth. Exposing our children to different ideas and perspectives is is obviously the right strategy, but treating these competing viewpoints as equally valid is absurd and dangerous. You wouldn’t tell your kid “some people walk on the sidewalk, and some people walk in the road” and then wait for them to make an enlightened choice. I’m raising my kids to walk on the sidewalk. If they want to walk in the road later, that’s outta my hands. I used to think I’d take them to different churches if they were curious, but now I’m not so sure- I wouldn’t take them to a pedophile convention just to edify their curiosity. Anyway, I’m still figuring it all out. But trust your instincts- if religious people don’t worry about our feelings when they sling their nonsense, we should have no compunction about slinging truth.

  • My in laws know not to screw with me I made it quite clear a long time ago why my parents don’t have access to their grandkids. I doubt my parents even know there are two now. It was made very clear if they pull any crap, they lose their grandkids.

  • Mary

    You do nothing. Just as you were aloud to choose your own beliefs, so should your daughter. If you truly believe that nothing happens to your soul after you die, then your daughter has nothing to lose by exploring this.

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