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Atheist Parents - Questions about the afterlife?

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 

My 6 year old asked me today if we go to "the Heavens" when we die. I told him that I don't believe in Heaven. He wanted to know if we would be together after we died. I assured him that death is a long ways off, that everything dies, and that I will always love him.

 

He said, "even after we is dead?"

I said, "yup." Then to stay in line with my beliefs, I added, "Love is bigger than time." He asked how I knew and I told him because I could feel it.

 

How might you have handled this? It's important to me to be honest about what I believe, to allow for other options, and to not scare the poor kid, who is obviously grappling with ideas about the finality of death. I remember feeling the same at his age. In the end though, I'm not interested in affirming something I don't agree with. It's important to me to raise them with my beliefs, even if they don't adopt them exactly. I want them to be skeptical. I don't mind them toying with spirituality or playing with the supernatural or the invisible or the imaginary in order to maintain some mystery and fun and maybe even safety in childhood. I want their ideas to come from a line of questioning though, of discovery.

 

To that end, I'm trying to find the line of protecting their feelings while maintaining my own ideals and being honest about my beliefs.


Edited by annakiss - 8/28/11 at 12:05pm
post #2 of 34

We plan to just frame this conversation with "I believe [...]. This is why: [...]. Daddy believes [...]. This is why [...]. What do you think?"

 

I'm agnostic and DH is Christian, and [I] would like DD to find her own way, whatever that is (DH, of course, would like her to be Christian). It is important, to me at least, that DD has room to decide for herself, and not feel pressure from us to believe a certain way. I'm not sure how that will work out in practice, but that is the general idea. 

post #3 of 34
Thread Starter 

Right. That's what I planned to do too. Now I'm in the throws of it and am trying to make sure I'm not totally screwing it up.

post #4 of 34

I think, at six years old, your answer was appropriate. You can expand on your "love is bigger than time. I know because I feel it" reply if he asks for more clarification or expresses difficulty with that concept.

post #5 of 34

I think your answer was good. Another way to put it might be "When someone is gone, we can still remember them and feel the love we shared with that person."

post #6 of 34

This came up with my 6yo DS. His friend said to him good people go to heaven, bad people to hell. I said I did not believe in either, but he had to decide for himself. When he asked about what happens after life, I said nothing. You were dead, that was all. He asked if it would hurt. I said no, you don't feel anything, you are dead, that is all. The people left are sad for you, but you don't feel happy, sad, nothing. He was fine with this. I'm sure the conversation will be revisited, again and again. I think being totally honest, and also saying it is your view, and different people have different views, is the best approach. That way you are being open and also allowing the other person to make their own decisions and follow their own beliefs. 

post #7 of 34
I tell them when we die we are gone and our body gets buried in the ground. They have been to family members graves so they ask about that. When ds was 4-6 we talked about different people's beliefs but he was too young to understand and it all became extremely confusing for him. He was really acting out. With DD I won't go into religion and after life ideas until she is much older.
post #8 of 34

you can always assure them that one way we all live on is in the memories of those that love us and that never ends

post #9 of 34

annakiss you cant screw things up. you just cant. not after that answer you gave. you spoke from your heart and you spoke your truth. how can you screw him up. AND you are open to them finding their own way. screwing up is just not possible.

 

dd believed in reincarnation. i had no beliefs around that. at 2 she was confident about that and i had to accept it. 

 

whenever she has asked i have given her the answer of - this is what i believe, this is what others believe, including atheists. 

 

we are spiritualists. and for my deep thinking dd, the concept of 'god' is extremely reassuring to her. helps her a lot with her anxiety. however her definition of god is her own. her spiritual beliefs are her own. she believes in reincarnation but does not believe in the concept of heaven or hell. 

 

every time seh has asked questions - i have shared mine as well as others. always. i am like you too. i want her to have a questioning mind - which she does. 

 

truly though i will say i am more a humanist. not really spiritual even though i have a 'church' i go to. the existence or non existence of god is not important to me. what is important to me is the human spirit in all its diversity. or should i say the living spirit. when i first looked through an electron microscope at a piece of moss i cried at the beauty of it. just observing. and that's what i want dd to experience. her beliefs and mine are not the same. 

 

however i am around a lot of different people - and dd enjoys the 

post #10 of 34

I told my girls you go back to Mother Earth.  They like that.  However if they ever want to explore other religions that is fine.  I don't have one.  I was told by DD1 that she didn't like our neighbors religion because it didn't sound fair.  I'm not sure what they believe but she made that choice on her own. 

post #11 of 34

i like ALL your answers, mamas.  (maybe that's why i'm so kooky and agnostical?  it all sounds right.) 

i intend to try really hard not to impose beliefs and i really want to tell dd that different people believe all the different things.  dh tends to speak in absolutes and describes himself as an antitheist).  i am so much more loosey goosey than that, i really don't think there is a right answer to any of it, and i LIKE to think that what you believe happens when you die is what you get.  so i want the kids to come up with their own belief system. 

i like the love is bigger than time response, personally, and that you said YOU didn't believe in heaven, not that there wasn't one.  that's a very important distinction to me. 

however, i think *I* have screwed up because i have told dd that several different things were "danger and could make you die" and tried to impress upon her that that meant she wouldn't see mama, daddy, or pawpaw ever again.  she didn't seem particularly worried, though. 

post #12 of 34

We talked about this a lot recently with DS because his great grandpa, whom he was close with and spent a lot of time around, and another distant family member, whom he was not at all close with, died within a month of each other.  DS was 6 when that happened (he just turned 7).  We don't practice a religion or hold particular religious beliefs, but he was really looking for some explanation.  

 

We have always talked about religion, have taken DS to different religious places, celebrations at people's homes we have been invited to, etc.  When we do those things, we have always talked to DS about it from a cultural perspective - that this is what some people believe and how they express those beliefs, that DH and I don't have those same beliefs, but that neither of us are right or wrong.  We have tried to emphasize two main things 1) that everyone has to decide for themselves what they believe and that 2) the details of what people believe doesn't matter to us at all, but that it is important to us how people treat others.  

 

So, when we were talking about death and what happens next, we took the same approach - we talked about what different cultures and religions believe about death.  We explained what DH and I believe (slightly different beliefs).  We said that everyone, including DS, has to decide for themselves what they believe, and that we respect what others do since it brings them comfort and helps them understand when a loved one dies even if we don't agree with it.  When they talked about heaven at great grandpa's memorial, we explained to DS that, although we don't believe in heaven, it helps some members of this family understand great grandpa's death and feel more OK about it.  

 

I found a book I really like called The Next Place and we read through it a number of times (it's a kid's picture book).  It is pretty vague, and I would basically say it talks about a soul floating around out there somewhere.  At some point, it says it doesn't know where the next place will be - so no talk of heaven or hell, although the pictures are mostly sky, rainbow, star scenes so one could say it implies heaven.  It really resonated with DS, though - and was the most vague, benign kid's book I could find on the topic. 

post #13 of 34

oh annakiss i forgot to add.

 

dd and i love fairy stories from around the world.

 

one other thing that we really enjoy is creation stories from around the world - esp. with the art. dd's favourite is the australian aborigine story.

post #14 of 34
Thread Starter 

Oh man, all of you are far too spiritual for me. LOL

 

I just know what my son was feeling - his fear, his concerns, his questions and I have to find ways to be careful around those while still being very clear about what I think. I'm not necessarily going to close possibilities, but I don't really want to entertain a lot of hooey I don't believe in just to give him some illusion of my universal acceptance of other ideas. I accept other ideas, but I don't wholly embrace them and while he's young, I don't think it's fair to give him a sense of something I really don't believe in when he's really emotional and scared. Because I can't navigate that later on if it evolves. He was very vulnerable in this moment, and I could see that. So I wanted to be warm, but not really delve into spirituality that I can't personally connect with or be dishonest about my real feelings. I needed to find a way to honor both my commitment to skepticism and his need for an afterlife. I danced around it, to be sure. And it was okay. He seemed okay with that. He's too young and touchy-feely for me to cut to the chase. I do use a lot of "I don't know." But I really refuse to introduce new concepts of the afterlife to him. I don't think that's fair. I might as well raise him with religion.

post #15 of 34

I plan to say, "I don't know what happens, nobody can know for sure, what do YOU think happens when we die?".

post #16 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by hildare View Post

i like ALL your answers, mamas.  (maybe that's why i'm so kooky and agnostical?  it all sounds right.) 

i intend to try really hard not to impose beliefs and i really want to tell dd that different people believe all the different things.  dh tends to speak in absolutes and describes himself as an antitheist).  i am so much more loosey goosey than that, i really don't think there is a right answer to any of it, and i LIKE to think that what you believe happens when you die is what you get.  so i want the kids to come up with their own belief system. 

i like the love is bigger than time response, personally, and that you said YOU didn't believe in heaven, not that there wasn't one.  that's a very important distinction to me. 

however, i think *I* have screwed up because i have told dd that several different things were "danger and could make you die" and tried to impress upon her that that meant she wouldn't see mama, daddy, or pawpaw ever again.  she didn't seem particularly worried, though. 


My sister and I got into the medicine cabinet when we were well past the age where mom thought she had to worry about that sort of thing (maybe 5 and 6?) She called poison control and they had her get us to drink a ton of juice and stick her finger down our throats repeatedly. When she felt confident that she'd gotten it all out of us she said "Okay, now we wait and see if you're going to DIE, if you're alive at bedtime you'll be okay." Ahhh, memories... anyway, I don't think you screwed up your DD, all that experience did was maybe make me read the directions on pill bottles a little more carefully than I might have otherwise.

post #17 of 34

DH and I do not have any affirmative thoughts or beliefs about the afterlife (I guess you could say that we are agnostic).  Maybe I made the mistake of describing the afterlife as "the other side" to DD but she seems fine with that vague description.  It only manifested itself as a problem recently when one of her friend's grandfather died and she told her friend that he is happy now on the other side.  The friend said:  there isn't another side, there is only heaven and hell and my granddad is in heaven.  DD was very disturbed by this prospect and we had to gently talk to her about others' belief systems.  It is so tough.  DD said that once DH and I are on the other side, she will visit on occassion.  That is fine.

post #18 of 34

I think that in explaining death, I used the example of compost -- these (plant) things die, they transform somewhat but basically are still around (as dirt/nutrients), and life continues because of and with them.  Living things become old until they die - it's nature's way of making room and nourishing what is new, young, and growing.  Conceptually, I think I emphasized how the dead things are still around (as new dirt, for example) as a way to show that someone who died is still around too in other, transformed forms (by having been part of a family and passing on their genes, memories, influencing others through the way they lived their life or things they said/did etc.). 

post #19 of 34

I like the "everything is born from earth and everything returns to the earth and becomes one again" approach. But I also think it's important to tell kids that people believe different things, and that if they want to read or know more about these beliefs that you can help them. Although I respect atheist families, as well as families with all other belief systems, I DO believe that children need the comfort of faith. That is why non-religious people sometimes celebrate Christmas and talk about Santa Claus, for example. It is important to a child's emotional development to have a rich world outside of what they can see in front of them. I think that whether you are religious or an atheist, it would be kind to allow your child to explore all ways of thinking and all belief systems. After all, many of us have grown up with religions we don't now practice. Everyone has their own path, and I think its ok to tell your child you don't have all the answers and let them find their way.

post #20 of 34
Thread Starter 

Are there any atheists here? Did everyone leave MDC?

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