Atheist Parents + Religious Mother-In-Law = Clash March 22, 2009

Atheist Parents + Religious Mother-In-Law = Clash

Well, reader Paul certainly has a dilemma…:

My wife is agnostic and I am an atheist and we are trying to raise our two children to think for themselves. My mother-in-law, every time she has the kids, takes them to church and tells them all kinds of stuff about Jesus. When they get back, they start in with “Mimi said this and that” and they believe her because she is Mimi.

I don’t know what to do without causing a huge family rift.

I hate to say it, but I think a family rift may be the only solution. It’s your baby, and your word should take precedence over your mother-in-law’s.

It starts by telling her you don’t want her to take your children to church. If she argues otherwise, maybe the children need to see less of her… that’s not an ideal option, but I don’t see her stopping taking the kids to church.

Is there a better way to handle this situation?

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  • Tracy

    I don’t see another way. I have the same issue with my mother-in-law. Luckily, we moved FAR away and didn’t have to deal with her. Not to mention my kids are adults now 🙂 good luck!

  • I don’t make an issue of it in our family. Relatives take our children to church: they enjoy the activities, choir, etc. I have no objection to that side of things. When the kids do bring up religious matters around me, I just tell them the truth, usually explaining that the stuff they hear at church is fairy tales, like Handel and Gretal and such. I occasionally get a complaint from a relative, but I just brush it off – they know better. 🙂

  • Me

    I was in a similar situation growing up. My parents were agnostic / atheist (mom atheist, dad agnostic) and they wanted me to grow up without a religion forced on me so I could choose for myself.

    My dad’s parents, however, strongly wanted me baptised. They claimed to be catholic / church of england (grandad and grandmother respectively), although they never went to church. I think it was more of a family tradition, basically.

    Basically my parents ended up just having to make it 100% clear that I was their child, and no one else has the right to decide what’s best for me, which led to some resentment.

    There really isn’t any other way to do it. The unfortunate thing is that many religious people truly and honestly believe that they are doing the best thing. I don’t know if Paul’s mother-in-law is the same, but some people are honestly horrified by the idea of their children/grandchildren growing up not following their religion.

    Think about it; if you were convinced that unless your grandchild did x and y, they’ll be condemned to hell for all eternity, you’d think that no matter what anyone else says, you’re in the right for making them do x and y.

    Unfortunately the only way to get out of this is to either cut off all contact with them, or have some kind of sit down discussion and make it very clear what your opinion is. It’s doubtful there’ll be a way of resolving it without some conflict or upset on one side or the other.

  • RNB

    If you leave the kids with the m-in-law, then I say fair enough then you trust the m-in-law to look after and care for them as she sees fit – it’s your choice, you don’t have to give her the kids for the w-end … but if you do, you can’t really tell the older lady where she should be for every minute, if you respect her enough to let her baby-sit your kids, respect her enough to not tell her what to do


    you also have a right, perhaps a duty, to tell your kids that your m-in-law believes a ridiculous story that was made up centuries ago, that the belief spreads like a virus, that some people pick and choose words of wisdom that they believe is inerrant wisdom but actually appears to be a bunch of old stories

  • My sister is very religious. We have regularly sent my son to visit her and his three cousins for a week or so during the summer. We did with full knowledge that he would be subjected to attempts at religious indoctrination. We never spoke to him about it before sending him, and only engaged in discussion with him after he came home at his own prompting. As a free thinker (I prefer that term to any other, I think), it is my desire to raise another free thinker. The nature of freedom means that I have to allow him the freedom to believe silly things if he wants to. I don’t believe in telling him, “there’s no God.” I believe in letting him decide for himself based on his own investigations of the issue.

    So let “Mimi” tell them whatever she wants. In the end, your willingness to expose them to that will speak volumes in thier eyes.

  • beckster

    Read Parenting beyond Belief and visit forum and blogs for lots of great advice on handling these situations.

  • magdalune

    By raising them to think for themselves, they have to be exposed to Mimi’s religion as well. Raising them to think for themselves is not shielding them – that’s raising them to think like you think. It’s undeniable that THAT is what you want in the end, but if you’re truly interested in keeping their minds truly open, in teaching them how to think critically, you have to expose them to different ideas and address any questions that they have to the best of your ability. You may not like what they hear, but they NEED to hear it.

  • Kat

    I had this situation with my own parents and my sons.
    It came down to me telling my parents that if they insisted on taking my kids to church and reading them bible stories, telling them about jesus/god/etc, that they would no longer see the kids. I wanted my sons to be older, at an age of understanding, before they were introduced to those things so they could make up their own minds. When kids are taught those things practically right from birth, they tend to live most of their lives that way, it’s all they know.
    But if given the opportunity to wait, to make an informed choice, most kids will choose rational thought.

    It hurt me to do it to my parents, it hurt them, but they finally agreed and never did it again.
    Now that the teens are older, they still try, but it doesn’t work, the kids just aren’t interested in god or any religions.

    If Paul and his wife feel very strongly about this, then they must do what they feel is best for their kids, after all, they are their kids.

  • I hate to say it, but I think a family rift may be the only solution.

    I agree. Let Mimi choose. Does she want to see the kids or not? If she does, then she has to agree to stop the religious indoctrination. Don’t feel bad if she chooses not to see the kids. It’s not your fault and you should not feel guilty as parents.

  • I second beckster – Parenting Beyond Belief is a truly fantastic book.

    I have Christian religious parents, my inlaws are Unitarian Universalist. Both have church as a central part of their lives, while I reject ‘church’ as an institution.

    My 3 year old is currently satisfied with the ‘different people believe different things’ answer. We teach her to be respectful of other beliefs and practices, but also speak for herself when something doesn’t make sense. It has put us in some sticky situations, but that’s par for the course in honest open parenting.

  • Oh, and don’t leave your kids with grandma on Sunday if you don’t want them going to church. She should not have to change her personal routine followed in her own home and life.

  • another Mike

    Some churchianity is so extreme, with talk of eternal burning an so forth, that exposing young kids to it is a form of child abuse. I think parents should definitely put the old kibosh on that type of exposure. And what about these outfits that suggests that non-believers should be killed?

  • mark

    You wrote:

    …we are trying to raise our two children to think for themselves…

    So let them have a chance to think for themselves! Stop trying to hide the world (and mother in laws) from them! Chill dude!

  • Polly

    My wife (who is Xian) and I agree that young children shouldn’t be told they or anyone else is going to Hell. IMO, anything else is fine in moderation. I’ll happily debunk Whatever Sunday School nonsense they learn.
    If we ever have kids, I plan on raising thinkers so that I don’t have to worry about what the world throws at them. You can’t shelter them from this shit forever.

  • I understand the argument of those who take the position not to shield the kids from religion, but I think it is misguided. The mother-in-law is not doing this so the kids can learn about religion, she’s doing it to indoctrinate them. I think it was Ignatius Loyola who summed this up: “Give me the child, and I will give you the man,” meaning “If we get ’em early, we’ll have our hooks in them for life.” That’s the opposite of what the parents want to accomplish here. They need to keep the kids from being indoctrinated and filled with religious complexes before they’re able to think logically about what they’re being taught.

    I think the parents will have to make it clear to Grandma that this will not be allowed. If Grandma will stop it, then that’s fine if that’s all it takes. If not, they’ll have to end the unsupervised visits.

    Polly: I’m guessing your wife must attend a fairly liberal church to begin with, so it’s likely that your kids will not be coming home with hellfire-and-brimstone Baptist stuff for you to debunk. 😉

  • Kat

    I would say it depends how how often the children is with her & is there a way you can change the days that it doesn’t fall on the days she goes to church.
    I raised my children to have open minds & my son use to go over with his grandfather to the Canadian church & he formed his own opinion on what he believed. which as he told me he couldn’t believe what they were saying at church.
    I grew up in a very strict Pentecostal religion where they scared the hell out of you & I’m talking about growing up everyday thinking the world would end that very day, that I would never have a chance to grow up, that I would never get the chance to marry, have my own children & yet I have done all of this.
    Even as a child I had a lot of questions for my parents, which I never really got an answer & would give up.
    Heck, I’m 45 years old & my daddy will say I’m rebellious…lol!!!
    I did finally figure out why he always said I was rebellious, because I questioned everything.
    I wouldn’t go to the extreme of keeping my children from their grandparents, but would try to work out different days for them to have time together.
    I agree with what magdalune said, not to shelter them from it, after all your wanting to raise them to be free-thinkers.
    By keeping them from her, you may cause them to hold a grudge against you & things may go in a direction you don’t want it to go in.
    I wish you a lot of luck & hope things work out for all of you. Much Peace & Love!

  • Aj

    Parents protect their children from harmful influences the best they can. Young children tend to accept whatever authority figures say, and religions wouldn’t be around if they weren’t good at tempting, trapping, and coercing people, sometimes in benign, sometimes in ugly ways. It has to be balanced, the older they are the more liberty they require, and they’ll need to interact with a community. If you’re not willing to sell your position on the subject why would you let someone else sell their position?

  • TC

    I have more questions than answers.

    How old are the kids? What do the kids want? Do they like church? Do they enjoy the fellowship, songs, play, etc?

    Now, do they have secular alternatives to any of that? What is your reaction when they say that “Mimi said…”? Do you tell them what you believe? Do you tell them why you believe that?

    What kind of church is it? Is it hellfire and brimstone, or more moderate?

    All of that stuff would come into play for me. It’s all about context. As others have said, you can’t protect them forever -so at some point it makes sense to let them explore religion.

  • Tell the children, “Yes, Mimi believes ABC, as do many people.” Then use that as a way of leading into a lesson on the many religious beliefs, mythologies and superstitions around the world. After a while the children will not only have a well-rounded education but quite possibly see Mimi’s attempts to indoctrinate them as nothing different from people telling them about the boogeyman or Bigfoot.

    Sheltering the children from Mimi to avoid her religion is really no better than the fundies and the way they raise their kids in a vacuum to keep them from “outside influences” that might make them “stray from the path”.

  • faraway

    Sympathies to Paul, because I know that this will be an issue when we have kids, though less in a babysitting-includes-church way than in an gifts-will-be-Jesus-themed way, due to geographic distance.

    I think it really depends on what kind of Christian the parents are dealing with. The dilemma is that, in my experience, liberal Christians tend to respect that parents don’t want their children to go to church, whereas conservative/fundamentalist Christians see it as righting a grievous wrong. If the grandmother in question is of the brimstone crowd, I would want to be careful in subjecting my children to that. My religiously brought up nieces and nephews talk constantly about their fears of Hell and the Rapture, and I do not consider it a good thing to inflict those (very real to a child’s imagination) thoughts and fears on them, whether in the name of indoctrination or free thinking.

    (This is all based on personal experience, not on liberal/conservative Christians in general).

  • WayBeyondSoccerMom

    We are raising our kids as vegetarians and Democrats and atheists.

    Sorry, but if I had a relative try to get my child to try a steak when I wasn’t around, I would be furious.

    If I have a relative tell my kids that their parents were crazy for voting for Barack Obama, that’s a problem.

    So, if I have a relative trying to teach my kids about something religious, again, big problem.

    It is not my relatives’ role to undermine the parenting of my children.

    If I trust someone to be with my children, that person needs to respect that I am the parent.

  • gmcfly

    If you want to raise them to think for themselves, then let them think for themselves about things they’ve been exposed to.

    I’m sure all these atheists here would be happy to supply you with some critical-thinking questions to ask about Christianity. For example: “People used to burn witches because of how they interpreted the Bible. How do we know we’re not interpreting it wrong today?”

    Or, “What would happen to Jesus if he came to earth today? Would church leaders really know he’s not just some lunatic?”

  • Kayla

    Sadly, I feel like me and my future husband are going to have a lot of problems with this later down the road. A few of my family members and his aren’t religious, but the rest.. well, the concept if “atheist” is pretty alien to them. Only certain grandparents are going to get over-night sleep-over privileges for the first few years of life. (Mostly my atheist father, and my maternal grandparents, who, despite being christian, religion doesn’t come up day to day at all.)

  • Christi

    We’ve told our daughter (who gets taken to church by my mother) that god is “like Santa Claus” and that “Nonna took you to fairy tale class”. When she realizes that Santa is not real, hopefully it will all come together for her. But she’s just 3 and we are moving away this summer, so I’m not too worried about lasting harm.

  • Tom

    It’s important that these parents take a firm stand with the grandmother to ensure that she understands that she will not be taking the children to church or to any other place the parents disapprove of. If the parents have already told her this and she took the kids to church anyway, well, the only thing left is that the kids don’t spend any private time with their grandmother without their parents, because Mimi would have shown that she can no longer be trusted to be alone with her grandchildren. There is no need to tell her this, just don’t leave her alone with them.

    If it’s not at that breaking point yet, I would consider offering the grandmother a deal: she agrees not to take the kids to church, and in return, mom and dad will teach their children about what the bible says. There’s nothing wrong with teaching children about what the bible says; it’s an important part of understanding our culture, and knowing what it says doesn’t mean they have to believe what it says.

    I was raised without religion, but I always had both a children’s bible and a regular bible. The difference is that I was taught that what they said was just stories. My grandmother was a sunday school teacher, and at one point she got upset that I wasn’t being taken to church regularly, and rather sneakily duped my mother into taking me to her bible class one afternoon. When she learned from that class experience that I knew a lot more about the bible than any of her students, she laid off my parents. She didn’t have to know that I didn’t believe a word of it.

  • Like others, I think it depends on a few factors: how often this is happening, how old the kids are, and what kind of church (i.e., is it homophobic, misogynistic, heavily oriented towards hellfire and damnation).

    If it’s not that often, and it’s not that offensive a church, and the kids are old enough to not be confused by the “what Grandma believes and what your Mom and Dad believe are different, and here are some critical thinking skills to help you decide for yourself” message, then I wouldn’t fret about it that much. I think it’s actually appropriate for kids to learn about religions. Maybe you could even take them on visits to synagogues, Buddhist temples, other churches, etc. — which might put the “visits to Grandma’s church” in a different perspective.

    If the kids are pretty young still, and the visits are happening a lot, and the church is a nasty one… if it were me, I’d put my foot down. They’re your kids; it’s not right for her to be indoctrinating them against your wishes. And it’s confusing to the kids to be put in the middle like that, especially if they’re younger. (Although, as somebody else pointed out, it wouldn’t be fair to ask Grandma to take the kids on Sunday if you don’t want her to take them to church…)

  • laterose

    The “tell ’em it’s a fairy-tale” method worked pretty well for my parents. I mean, really adults tell small children a lot of wacky stories just for the fun of it. Pretty much everyone figures out that it’s just adults messing with them for being so gullible at some point, except with religion. If you get your kids to associate the religions stories with other mythologies and fairy-tales they’ll be more likely to lump those together with Grandpa finding a bit of red cloth in the chimney or their teacher seeing a dinosaur flying across Pasadena.

    However, at least in my case, it did cause me quite a shock in high school when I figured out that when people testify or do other religious things it’s not the same thing as clapping for Tinkerbell.

  • you can’t stop relatives or friends or the whole of society from feeding their nonsense to your children. you can teach your children critical thinking skills so that they can see through the crap themselves.

    shielding children from the opinions of others — that’s what fundamentalists do.

  • Max

    I agree with the idea that the nature of freedom mean your child should be exposed to ideas, crazy and not. They will eventually make a choice and hopefully it is a choice based on a wealth of knowledge not a lack of knowledge.

    If a rift in the family grows, you risk loosing your child to religion on emotional grounds alone (your children could think your trying to hide something from them). Also, it may sound strange but sometimes adolescent children can equate social acceptance with a kind of truth that they may never question.

    I say the goal should not be to convince your children there is no god. That may only cause your child to replace one unreasonable idea with another. The more important thing may be to teach the method of rational thought. This way, no matter what belief system they run into, they will always be armed with a way of spotting the bull.

    Also, you may want to approach religion from a purely anthropological standpoint. Teaching religious facts is never a bad thing. The more one learns about the great world religions, the more they will see them as mostly contradictory myths to help ancient persons cope with a lack of understanding about nearly every aspect of their lives and surroundings.

  • Stephen P

    Greta Christina’s comment covers almost exactly what I was planning to say: it’s a good summary.

    My own son used to get taken to church regularly and went to a religious school as well. And he was an avowed atheist by the time he was ten – with virtually no prompting from me. I just answered his questions as honestly as I could. But if it had been a hellfire church I would have handled it differently.

  • amgentry

    Don’t let Mimi have the kids on Sundays.

    Have open and frank discussions with the children about what they think. Be understanding if they think something different than you.

    Make it clear that Mimi is not to take the children to church or church-related functions and is not to preach at them or pray with them at bedtime. Be frank.

    If Mimi cannot respect your decisions as a parent, you should not be expected to allow her to influence your children in ways that you don’t want her to.
    For example, if my mom didn’t want me hanging out with people who swore a lot I wasn’t allowed to hang out with them. It’s a parenting choice!

  • Autumnal Harvest

    I also think it depends on a lot of things, and that Greta C. has pretty well summarized it.

    I understand where people are coming from with the “Don’t shield your kid from other opinions, like the fundies do,” but I think this doesn’t properly appreciate how damaging some opinions are. I know someone who, because of various family differences, ended up spending the weekends at a fundamentalist southern baptist church, and her weekdays at a pre-Vatican-II Catholic school. The baptists would explain how her school was part of an organization run by the Antichrist (the pope). The Catholics would rush her into confession first thing Monday morning, and explain that if she had died in a car accident on the way back, she would have gone to hell. To hear her tell it, it sounds incredibly terrifying. These are opinions that kids should be shielded from.

  • AxeGrrl

    Paul said:

    In the end, your willingness to expose them to that will speak volumes in thier eyes.


    I think people (of almost any age) can sense advice/wisdom that is based on fear and that which comes from true open-mindedness…..

    To show that you’re not threatened by other viewpoints and are truly open to your child coming to his/her own conclusions is one of the healthiest examples you can set.

    I mean, let’s think about how ‘successful’ the repression/dont-ask-questions approach is…….the Catholic church produced Madonna, the complete antithesis of what its objectives were ~ what more is there to say? 🙂

  • Most of what I’d say has already been said. Censoring ideas is deeply problematic, and should only be done for the most offensive or dangerous ideas, like eternal torture. (That’s over the line for me too, as far as my daughter is concerned.)

    But if the mother-in-law is aware of the parents’ atheism, perhaps a compromise is possible. Suggest taking the kids to a Unitarian church. It will have many of the trappings of religion – congregating on a Sunday, a sermon about how to live life well, hymns, etc – without any of the dogma.

    If she’s willing, then this might allay some of the mother-in-law’s worries without compromising the parents’ principles and beliefs. Also, Unitarians often have good religious education where kids actually learn about different religions, without indoctrination.

    If she’s not willing to compromise even this much, then I’d say the parents can impose more stringent restrictions with a clear conscience.

    Even if she does agree to the Unitarian thing, they may still need to make it clear that she’s not to try indoctrinating them herself – which is independent of church-going.

  • No, go ahead and bubble-wrap the kids I say.

    Make sure they don’t hear anything outside of your own ideas and direction for their lives.

    They will love you for it later, they’ll thank you for saving them from hurting their brains over all that complicated stuff.

    After all you are the ultimate authority in their lives and what you say goes, they will definitely understand that as they get into their teens.

  • Kelly

    I have to follow what many others have said here and tell them to immediately run out and buy Dale McGowan’s 2 books, and read them right away-and his blog!
    Seriously though, they need to sit down with MIL and have a chat. It doesn’t need to be argumentative. They need to say that they are the parents, and they get to decide how to raise their children. She needs to be told to use the words “I believe” when she talks to the kids, and she should never ever be allowed to say the words “Hell” or “we don’t question that, it’s just what the Bible says!” Other than that, they should welcome what she’s teaching them about what many people believe, and they can follow up more strongly at home with what THEY believe. I use the words “some people believe” so often in my house I should have it printed on a t-shirt. They should see this as an opportunity not to dis grandma, but to crank up the conversations in their home about their own beliefs.

  • Kelly

    Dale McGowan has excellent advice on this topic. You can talk to your religious extended family members about this issue without creating a huge rift. He talks about nonviolent communication, relaxing tensions between parties without anyone having to “win” or use slash-and-burn techniques. You want your children to know and love their grandmother, so you don’t want to jeopardize their relationship. Make it clear to the grandmother that you respect her beliefs and you understand her need to share them. Also make it clear to her that you’re raising your kids to think for themselves, and she does a valuable service in helping you expose them to the religions of the world so they can make informed decisions. And you have to talk to your kids about how what Mimi believes is just one of the many worldviews they’ll encounter in life. Find ways to expose them to other religious belief systems, too, so they can compare and contrast with what they learn from their grandmother.

    Don’t make this a war. Use the grandmother’s faith to help teach your children about religion. She’ll feel good, you’ll relax tensions, and the kids can have a good relationship with an important adult in their lives.

    Of course, I’m not saying this anywhere near as well as Dale does. If you have a chance to attend one of his seminars, I highly recommend it. We saw him in Chicago a few months ago, and it was just great.

  • Alycia

    We are dealing with this right now. Our three year old gets taken to a Lutheren church by my mother-in-law often…I wouldn’t even say on a regular basis. We really don’t have a problem with it since she’s too young to understand what’s being said, enjoys hearing the music and seeing her grandma sing in the choir.

    When we found out that she was taking her to Sunday School, however, we had a problem. Altering the approach to a belief that we adamantly disagree with in order to specifically indoctrinate little ones…that was too much.

    So the husband told her no Sunday School, and she said, “But I was with her the entire time!” No, the problem wasn’t that you’d leave her there by herself with strangers. The problem is that we don’t want her brainwashed by Jesus puppets and sugar coated mass murder by singning about an “arky-arky”.

    So, mother in law cried. We told her she could still take our kid to church since we think it’s good for her to be exposed to it, but no Sunday School. She cried some more. We didn’t budge.

    And so far, the only thing that our daughter has talked to us about was how Grandma sings about god in church. We told her that we don’t believe in any of the gods, but a lot of people believe in all sorts of them and she’s free to make up her mind on her own once she learns about all her options.

    And that’s been that.

  • TheDeadEye

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with not wanting your young children to go to church. Would you want your In-laws taking your kids into bars or strip clubs? How about letting them watch porn or watch R-rated movies?

    Why is okay to want to shield your kids from sex and violence, but not religion?

  • Wendy

    Talk to Mimi and tell her she has no right to indoctrinate other ppl’s kids.

  • Polly

    Why is okay to want to shield your kids from sex and violence, but not religion?

    I watched rated R movies from a very young age. I don’t feel it has done one lick of damage to my psyche. I knew the violence wasn’t real and the sex didn’t really interest me until much later.
    While I don’t necessarily condone showing explicit sex scenes to toddlers, I have to admit it’s mostly just the “ick” factor affecting my attitude. OTOH, I remember crying after seeing oneof those old “Left Behind” movies (not the Kirk Cameron ones!) because it was sold to me as TRUTH.

    IMO, the harm that religion exacts on people is a function of how seriously people take it. Telling kids the truth about religion, I think, renders it benign.

  • We expect that our 6-year-old son will get an Asperger’s diagnosis in the next 6 months or so. As such, he is a very logical thinker, but he has–and likely will have for some time–trouble making critical judgments about what figures of perceived authority tell him. We have done some activities with other atheist families in which we tell myths from different cultures and do various science experiments. Our plan is to continue to expose him to a whole variety of myths, slotting in some Judeo-Christian stories eventually. (Anyone know of Bible storybooks that approach the topic like a regular mythology book?)

    It is very important to me to limit the manner of his exposure to religion until his reasoning skills are a little more solid. As someone else said above, it’s an issue of education over indoctrination.

  • Siamang

    AxeGrrl said, and others have expressed similar notions as this:

    To show that you’re not threatened by other viewpoints and are truly open to your child coming to his/her own conclusions is one of the healthiest examples you can set.

    Others act as if this is some test we have to get right. Listen folks, I understand where you’re coming from… but at least in my case, I don’t give a shit if I’m setting a good example. I’m trying to not raise a fucked-up child.

    As such, I will screen what religious groups we bring her to for age-appropriateness. Also, I want an open-minded child about sex, but again… age-appropriate education. She’s 5. She doesn’t need to go to a horror-show.

    I will bring my child to many, many more and varied religious experiences in her life outside of our belief system than any religious person ever would.

    Here’s what I’d do: I’d allow grandma to take the kids to church, IF it was a church the grandma didn’t believe in. Because if it’s all about education and broadening the kids’ minds and all… there should be no problem with that… right?

    Lay that right out for Grammy: Would you take the kids to a church you don’t believe in? If yes, then tell her it’s okay… she’s trying to educate not indoctrinate.

  • Julie Marie

    I think the kind of church they are going to is the meat of the issue. I pulled my son out of the church I attended after they taught him the crucifixion story when he was 4. (he’s gotten over it by now but I haven’t yet! I suppose I could work on letting things go) But I let him go to an episcopal church with my friend — she knew why I left my church, and understood there would be no “bloody Jesus on a cross” for my little man. I let this go on until last Christmas, when my son told me he didn’t want to go anymore. I said OK. No problem.

    If kids live in a religious culture (and mine does, in the deep south) I think they need a working knowledge of the prevalent belief systems. By the same token, next Kwanzza I want to walk through the process with my son, because his school has a high proportion of african americans. I also want to teach him something about hispanic cultural practices, because we have a growing hispanic population here. I want him to know the prevalent spiritual practices that he will encounter, so he will understand his friends better.

    I am sure the hell thing will come up at some point. I’m toying with the idea of explaining to him that some people need the concept of hell to remind them to be good to others. Sort of like some of his friends need the fear of punishment to make them behave. He’ll be able to understand that. And then I’ll explain that I want him to be good to others, not because he’s afraid of getting in trouble, but because he cares about others feelings.

    I had some good feedback the other week. He was watching “The Biggest Loser” with me and one team had won a day of luxury. The team that didn’t win was sad, but the winners were gloating, big time. Cody looked at me and said “gosh Mommy, that isn’t very nice. They should be saying “good job, we’ll see you tomorrow” and waited until they were alone to get all excited. I was really proud of him, because he showed he had internalized the value of considering others feelings,and the value of self control if free expression would make others feel bad.

    And that’s the main goal — to get them to internalize caring for others. And one way to care is to learn about what they believe…how it works, and why they do what they do. So, the church, in and of itself, isn’t bad…in my opinion.

  • Chakolate

    You might try teaching the children about *all* the world’s religions. After a while they will think that they’re all pretty nutty. Tell them that Mimi’s god is called Yahweh, and that he’s only one of a few thousand gods people have had since we came down from the trees.

  • AxeGrrl

    Siamang said:

    I will bring my child to many, many more and varied religious experiences in her life outside of our belief system than any religious person ever would.

    Here’s what I’d do: I’d allow grandma to take the kids to church, IF it was a church the grandma didn’t believe in. Because if it’s all about education and broadening the kids’ minds and all… there should be no problem with that… right?

    Bingo 🙂 (i realize the above suggestion with grandma is largely facetious (because grandma would probably blow a gasket at the suggestion) but I think the idea is bang on:)

    Exposing kids to a diversity of ‘worldviews’ (when it’s age-appropriate) is an essential part of educating-vs-indoctrinating……which, needless to say, includes sharing with your child what your opinion(s)/belief(s) are and how you arrived at them (which is probably more important than anything else). Plus, when you have a ‘people have different beliefs’ discussion with your child (when they’re old enough) no one can trot out the accusation of you being ‘anti’ anything (which so many seem to love to do).

    Also, I just wanted to note (in case it needs clarification) that my comment about ‘setting a good example’ was in reference to being consistent, honest, open and yes, discriminating. I think being a good example in that way definitely contributes to not raising a fucked-up kid.

  • Brenda

    I have two children and come from a fundamentalist Christian family. My ex husband is also nominally a Christian, and our families have similar beliefs. I have let the children go to church and other religious activities with all family members. When they were small they loved going, and I answered any questions they asked honestly. I also warned them to not believe anyone who said their way was the only way to think. Now they are 11 and 14. They have a firm understanding of religion, but see the contradictions in it for themselves. My 14 year old is openly an atheist now, and I expect my 11 year old is not far behind.

    My advice, let them experience religion for themselves, teach them to think, and they will be fine.

  • Faye

    I’d let them go and experience things for themselves. I mean, you obviously had religious parents, and look how you turned out. I’m very strongly supportive of any parents who lay out the facts for children (that different people do different things, etc), then let the children experience life for themselves. Letting them see what’s out there and being supportive of it while they’re still young is a great way to avoid instilling prejudice in children.

  • I think it depends on the age of the kids. I have young children (a 5yo and a 2yo). My husband and I are both atheist, but his family are borderline fundie Christians. After my (at the time 4 year old) daughter had a complete breakdown asking if she “still got to go to Heaven” because she was put in time-out for backtalking, we had to have a rift with my mother in law. I’m all for teaching children about all religions equally, but really young children aren’t quite capable of grasping the complexity of it.

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