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Raising children atheist

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 

My husband is a staunch atheist. I'm Unitarian Universalist/Secular Humanist/Atheist. My ex husband is Christian. 

 

I think it would be good to not lie to my children about religion, and I should discuss my beliefs openly. However, a part of me feels like I'd be telling them Santa Claus doesn't exist. I'd be taking away that childhood magic. 

 

How do fellow UU/Secular Humanist/Atheist parents handle this? 

 

I want to leave it open for my children to discover a religious tradition that appeals to them, but I can't help but point out the absurdity of several religious ideas when discussing why I don't believe in them.

post #2 of 42

I understand your position. I'm atheist as is my child's father (altho we are not together) I never intended for my kids to believe in santa, thanks to my mom they do. I do not play into it and I will not lie to them. If they ever asked me if santa is real, I'd have to say no. I think there is a line between a child's magic and lying. I refuse to lie to them. We don't celebrate the easter bunny, tooth fairy, etc. And in my house, we don't celebrate santa either but like I said, my mom got them on a santa kick, lol!

 

As far as raising them. I'm raising them to be open minded and to love everyone despite race, sex, etc. I do keep a religion free home. No talk of god or dissing god. Their school is religion free. If they ask, I plan to tell them that some people believe and some people don't. My live in boyfriend is a christian (altho not ubber religious about it) so that adds a little diversity. My bf is more of an agnostic just scared to admit it. Give him some more time, he'll come around, haha!! I'm waiting for the questions and plan to keep my answers vague. I want them to come to their own conclusion without my opinions being forced on them. I will tell them what I believe but in a open minded way.

 

Good luck to you!

post #3 of 42

i really get confused about this "santa as lie" issue, when it's really "santa is a story" and that children have a time of "magical realism" and then take it into more and more complex understandings over time.

 

i mean, a lot of people will read "aesop's fables" to a child or curious george, but no one considers them "lies" even though a small child sees the situation as very real. They take it at face value. And, they have active imaginations, too, wherein they use these stories to create their own inner worlds. 

 

so, i don't think it's a problem to talk about the santa story-- or any story--and to tell it as you would tell any story. If santa is important to you--culturally or spiritually--then sharing that is not a problem. if santa is not that important to you, then it is fine to forgo it.

 

personally, i like traditional stories of santa-- st nicholas, bishop from turkey, who saved girls from slavery by climbing onto roofs, tossing coins down chimneys and into the girl's stockings that were drying by the fire. This money could then be used for a dowry, and the parents could marry off their daughters rather than selling them. it's actually a nice story. there's a number of stories (pre-christian) of santa-like figures who would bring medicinals to families to help prevent disease (oranges--which were GOLD in scandinavia in winter; peppermint; ginger, clove, and cinnamon.) as well as gifts to the children who were good, and a trickster side kick would give gifts to "naughty" children. but everyone received medicinals.

 

these old stories/legends/myths are magical, and they hold nice lessons, and children can utilize them as they will. but ultimately, i believe, they understand them as stories.

 

i like myths and legends, personally, so i tell them. and we do enact parts of them, and so on. we are not really doing santa, per se, but we have other stories that we use. :)

post #4 of 42

Well, we do Santa, but it has nothing to do with Christianity or any other religion (for us).  It's just fun, and we enjoy the magic of it.  I also want my children to feel free to choose their own religion and/or belief system, but don't happen to think "playing santa" while they are young will impact that in the least. 

post #5 of 42

We're not raising our kids as atheists, but I see what you mean. My DH and I identity as agnostic. And we feel very strongly about not choosing our children's belief systems for them. Like how Dawkins says, there's no such thing as Catholic children or Muslim children or atheist children. 

 

I do say that the bible is a story, that some people believe it really happened, that some people believe x, y, and z. I have never said "there is no god," but I have said I don't believe there is a god. And if my 8 year old challenges that, I put the burden on him to prove it. He says he believes in god. I say why, he says because such and such says there is. And then I ask, how does such and such know? Is there proof? And he consents there is not. 

 

I basically just say that when he's older he'll know more and can make a choice for himself. 

post #6 of 42

You're not actually talking about Santa, right?  You're saying that telling your kids there is no God feels kind of like telling them there is no Santa - that it might take away a sense of magic that could enhance their childhood?

 

I guess I don't really get the "childhood magic" idea, whether we're talking about Santa, or the tooth fairy, or God.  Yeah, it would be cool if there really were fairies or miracles or visits from Santa, and maybe believing in them would make the world seem cooler, but I have trouble with the idea that the best childhood comes from being encouraged to believe things that aren't true.  And even if believing in God does make for a better childhood, I have a lot of trouble with encouraging kids to think in ways that are the exact opposite of the way I want them to think when they're adults. I don't want them to engage in magical thinking, or to latch onto ideas that make them happy but that are not supported by any evidence at all.  I want them to be critical thinkers who question everything.

 

I don't see how traditional ideas about God do much to enhance life, anyway.  The universe is wonderful and awe-inspiring and mysterious enough without bringing God into it.  Picturing an old man in the sky who listens to our prayers and judges us is pretty dull compared to contemplating the question of why the universe exists and realizing that we simply have no idea.  (I realize, of course, that people who are serious about religion usually don't believe God is an old man in the sky - but that's the image kids are likely to end up with, try as we might to steer them toward more abstract ideas.)

 

So, sure, I discuss my atheist beliefs with my kids openly, and I don't hesitate to point out why certain ideas make no sense to me.  I also point out why certain religious ideas aren't necessarily as silly as they might seem at first - that there are other ways of understanding what people mean when they talk about God that aren't so different from things I believe myself.  (We don't pretend Santa is real, either.)

post #7 of 42

I don't know, as someone that was raised in a family that wasn't religious but has been seeking religious understanding and trying to find a religious home my whole life I'm jealous of my husband who was raised religious. As adults we realized that neither of his parents were true believers, but they still gave him something that is important to him and that I never had and it's a loss I can never replace. Ironically, my mother told me as an adult that she wishes she had taken us to church as kids, and now I've perpetuated the situation in the next generation because I had no beliefs to give my own child and now she is an adult. Even if he isn't practicing the religion he was raised in, my husband has a basis of faith and I've seen him turn to it in times of crisis and how it has helped him.

post #8 of 42

As a kid being exposed to some Christian religion (Congregationalism and Catholicism and Episcopalianism) through my parents and my friends' families, I wouldn't consider a belief in God to necessarily be a magical or happy childhood belief.  Mostly the idea of God scared the crap out of me, because it seemed like if you did one little thing wrong (not praying right, not believing in all of the correct rituals, or even just making a wrong choice about which religious path to follow), you were totally screwed and damned to Hell.  I was terrified to follow any path, to make any sort of choice.  It was a rather stressful idea to me, not at all magical.

 

I'm raising my kids atheist, and we've had some discussions about God and religion.  I'm clear with the kids that I don't personally believe in God, but there are lots of people who do and if they decide in the future that they do believe in God, that would be okay, too.  I've told them that since nobody can prove God one way or the other, there is no right or wrong belief.  I don't feel like I'm robbing them of anything heartwarming by not pushing God on them; I would have been relieved as a child if someone had revealed to me that there wasn't someone invisible watching me and judging me every second of my life.

post #9 of 42

You mean like Santa LOL

 

You better watch out!
Better not cry!
Better not pout!
I'm telling you why,
Santa Claus is comin' to town.

He's making a list
and checking it twice.
He's going to find out who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town.

He sees when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows if you've been bad or good.
So be good for goodness sake!

post #10 of 42

you know, i'm an atheist and my dh is agnostic (he's much more open to the idea of a god than i am) and our kids are being raised that way.

 

as a child growing up in a catholic home, i had absolutely no comfort in the thought that there was a god. it was always scary and judging and watching, not that i ever really believed, it was just the concept that was presented. what's so magical about that?

 

my ds recently said that he wants to celebrate chanukah because he like the menorah. i've told him that to do that with significance, you need to be jewish, and because we are respectful of others beliefs we don't take them for our own. the same goes for christmas, we're not christians so we don't celebrate their holiday.

 

when he asked why we celebrate the solstice, i told him that we are celebrating a natural event, and i find nature to be awe-inspiring and meaningful and wondrous without needing anything else. the solstice is an actual event in our reality and it has meaning and significance because of that.

post #11 of 42

I teach religion and Santa Claus alike, as myth and part of a people's culture.  I do not ever give the impression that I believe in any of it myself.  My 4 yo dd was asking about death and I found it hard to find an answer for her that was comforting to a small child but didn't involve religion ( I was raised Christian as was dh).  In the end, I told her what really happens as we know it through science, and what other people believe and ultimately it boils down to what you want to believe in and what makes sense to you.  Religion doesn't make sense to me except in the sense of history, culture, and myth.  My 4 yo dd wishes to believe in reincarnation, that after she dies she will be born into another baby.  That is easier for her to comprehend than just dying and that's it.  We talk about the cycles of life and in nature all life continues in one way or another,  matter and energy are transformed at the end of their useful life, much like a butterfly.  She liked that idea too.  

post #12 of 42

I was raised in a very Roman Catholic home, and went to Catholic school.

 

I never found the idea of god magical or comforting.  I just deep down thought it was nonsensical.  It caused me cognitive dissonance, and there was a great deal of pressure on me to try to force myself to believe something I knew was imaginary.  My parents were very observant and it caused me no end of grief.  I certainly wish I hadn't been raised with their religion.

 

We tell our kids that some people believe different things, and have throughout history.  They know a little about different religions, but they see them as no different from any other mythology.

post #13 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by PlayaMama View Postas a child growing up in a catholic home, i had absolutely no comfort in the thought that there was a god. it was always scary and judging and watching, not that i ever really believed, it was just the concept that was presented. what's so magical about that?


yeah, I was raised southern baptist with lots of hell fire and brimstone. I used to have nightmares about the second coming and getting left behind. It wasn't magical for me!

 

What I liked the very least about my religious upbringing was having all these beliefs so shoved down my throat, and my parents love and approval being based on my acceptance of them.

 

I'm honest with my kids about what I believe, but I'm very mellow about it and tell them what others believe. I've also told that many people change their minds over the course of their life about exactly what they believe, and that they (my kids) can think of these things how ever they want to. One of my DDs went through a phase were she really like Thor!

 

We celebrate cultural holidays such as Christmas, and we give them our own meanings. This year, for example, we helped with a sock drive for the homeless as part of our Christmas.

post #14 of 42

this is very interesting to me. i am curious to understand how expecting a 4 year old to understand death, and form their own ideas (let's say they decide that grandma went to a magical land of woodchucks where she was always happy) but then they must justify it with facts and back it up with empirical data. i think children live in sort of a "magical" world when they are young. i don't think it is lying to allow them to believe for a short time in something like fairies or santa or wizards, or whatever. i have noticed that my own children after hearing a good book believe in it for sometime, act it out. they have at time truly believed in harry potter. i don't expect them to only play what is real, or what i think is real. this is how they process the world. 

i have not raised my children christian, and yet they all have at one time or another found comfort in god and in jesus. they also find comfort in the teaching of buddha and other wise men and women. and they believe in them. 

the world can be pretty scary when your little and have very little control over what is happening to you everyday, and you don't understand alot of things (even with parents who explain everything). finding comfort in magic is one way to cope. i don't think that is lying to allow them to find out what they need to feel safe. sometimes science isn't comforting it can be harsh and sterile and cold. this is what it is and that is all. and then in the same breath they are find out stuff that seems a bit magical. who knows.

 

h

post #15 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by mamaofthree View Post

i am curious to understand how expecting a 4 year old to understand death, and form their own ideas (let's say they decide that grandma went to a magical land of woodchucks where she was always happy) but then they must justify it with facts and back it up with empirical data.

 


I'm not sure if you were referring to my post. What you are saying is really far from what I've done. When we were talking about death and the kids were very young, I told them that no body really knows for sure what happens when we die, but that different people believe different things. I believe in reincarnation, so I explained that to  them. My mother (who my kids adore) is a Christian, so I respectfully explained my mother's believes. I told them that some people believe we are just bodies with no souls, so they think death is the end of the line.

 

I told my kids that how ever it felt "right" to them was fine. Far from saying they must back up anything, I told them that all people's believes just come down to what feels true to them because none of this stuff can actually be proven.

 

I tried to pave a path for them a listening to their gut while respecting that others get something different from their guts.

post #16 of 42
Quote:
Originally Posted by Linda on the move View Post


I'm honest with my kids about what I believe, but I'm very mellow about it and tell them what others believe. I've also told that many people change their minds over the course of their life about exactly what they believe, and that they (my kids) can think of these things how ever they want to.

 

Same here, but I'm not so mellow. I have a low tolerance for beliefs that are full of contradictions or just plain nonsense, and I will question them.

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by mamaofthree View Post
 

i am curious to understand how expecting a 4 year old to understand death, and form their own ideas (let's say they decide that grandma went to a magical land of woodchucks where she was always happy) but then they must justify it with facts and back it up with empirical data.

 

 

Quite frankly, I don't think anyone understands death beyond a physical sense. And imagining Grandma in a land of woodchucks is no different, to me, than imagining Grandma sitting on a cloud with a harp.

 

I never expected my 4yo to justify things with facts and data. I did expect them to grow up and be able to separate fantasy from reality. The reality is that nobody knows what happens after we die, and anything we believe is exactly that....a belief.

 

post #17 of 42

Well, I actually plan to raise my children with atheism being what is taught. My mom raised me in the Lutheran church, and while I respect that it's her belief, it's caused some strife as an adult. I feel as certain as any person can be that there is no god or goddess, that we die and that's it. The people I've met who were raised atheist have this fantastic calm about themselves, and they don't fear death because they've never been taught that there's something else and then stopped believing it.

 

I think that the G-rated kiddy bible stories are cute, but without the excessive kid-proofing, religion is a very scary and discomforting thing for a child, certainly nothing innocent and magical. I believe very strongly in playing Santa and introducing kids to fairy tales, because it encourages imagination. There's a big difference between Tinkerbell and god though, because Tinkerbell is innocuous and has no history tied to her beyond a cheerful child's story. Also, as an atheist I have to do Santa...otherwise, how would we celebrate Christmas? ROTFLMAO.gif

post #18 of 42

I'm not exactly an atheist, although I'm close (I usually identify as agnostic, but I don't feel that's exactly right, either). DH is also agnostic/atheist. He was raised in a Christian family and I was raised in an agnostic family. I did go to church a few times, with my aunts (didn't like it at all). DD1 knows that I don't believe in God, and she does believe in God, at least for now. I don't tell her she's wrong. I just tell her that I don't believe the same thing. I don't think it's killing the magic or anything.

post #19 of 42

Quote:

Originally Posted by Daffodil View Post

And even if believing in God does make for a better childhood, I have a lot of trouble with encouraging kids to think in ways that are the exact opposite of the way I want them to think when they're adults. I don't want them to engage in magical thinking, or to latch onto ideas that make them happy but that are not supported by any evidence at all.  I want them to be critical thinkers who question everything.


This is great.  I think you just confirmed for me that I won't encourage ds to believe in Santa when he's old enough.

 

OP, have you checked out the author Dale McGowan?  He writes extensively about this exact topic both in print and on his blog, http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/.  I know this thread is not about Santa, but he does have an interesting take on it here: http://parentingbeyondbelief.com/blog/?p=4982.

post #20 of 42

why do people discourage a believe in Santa because of the message of being watched all the time ,yet do encourage the kids to be good because God is watching.

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