Hi, everyone! Glad to find a place where I don't feel like the only non-religious person who thinks family and parenting is important. I'm agnostic, and my husband is atheist. He comes from a family of atheists (including his maternal grandparents). I just asked him, and he thinks his paternal grandparents went to church, but I have visited with them a lot and never even knew that, so they're not very religious, or got less religious as they aged. My mother was raised Catholic, and is now what we lovingly call a "cuckoo angel lady" who is quite spiritual, somewhat Christian, and a little religious, but extremely tolerant of other beliefs (or non-beliefs). My dad was raised just a little religious, I think, and is now Christian, but not too religious or spiritual. When I was 21 (and not very aware of others' feelings yet) I made the mistake of telling him that his recently required "acceptance of Christ" had to do with his increasing fear of death as he aged. In retrospect, that was a very cruel thing to say. Anyway, I'm fortunate that I have such a network of real-life people who accept me.
I say "good health" when someone sneezes (and sometimes for coughs and blowing noses). Makes sense to me, and I feel silly saying something that means that same thing in German, since I don't speak any other German.
Family meals and prayer time - growing up, we always said "Thank you for the food we eat, thank you for the flowers sweet, thank you for the birds that sing, thank you god for everything." Honestly, other than the god part, I'm in full agreement with that. We would all hold hands when we said it. I asked my husband the first time he was at my parents' place if he minded taking part in this, and he said it was fine and just skipped saying the word "God". On my most recent visit last Thanksgiving, at the start of mealtime, my parents would just hold hands with each other and say it. I think they wanted to make sure no-one felt they had to take part. They go to a multi-denominational church, in NW Arkansas, where the pastor agrees with evolution (making him a minority in their area) and considers himself more of a "morality questioner" using the bible than anything. I'm glad my parents could find a church that they love and that I'm not offended by. I've gone a few times, because I know they want their church friends to meet me, and I'm seldom there.
Holidays - we're still figuring this out. We've never celebrated at all, as we're both pretty anti-consumerist and non-religious. We still get together with family and have a feast at those times, because that's when people get time off of work. I like having special decorations and a tradition for midwinter, because I have seasonal affective disorder, and the midwinter days here are REALLY short, and pretty cold too. This year my MIL and I went out and got a little spruce tree. We decorated it with leftover fleece strips from a housecoat I just made (bright red), and other warm-colored bits, my MIL made a felted sun for the top, I made a needle-felted butterfly and a rainbow felted garland. It has caribou and birds and snowmen as well. We made all the decorations ourselves. It was fun, and festive, and cheered me up. My husband was pretty insistent on no Xmas lights - a waste of power in his opinion. I do like the extra light, but I can see his point. Thanksgiving never had any religious connotation for me, so it doesn't have to change. I was surprised to find out at about the age of 12 that Easter was supposed to be religious - I think I already knew it was named after a goddess of fertility, and besides bunnies laying eggs have nothing to do with god or christ. I went quite a few times to a hippie music festival on the weekend closest to summer solstice, and my husband and I first got together on solstice in 2000. I guess what I'm saying is, I love seasonal celebrations! I like marking time, and I like knowing that our (nearly interminable) winters will eventually end. I like feasting, I like seeing family, and I feel like I can maintain all of these things without it having anything at all to do with religion. And very little to do with consumerism, either (the new religion . . . anybody ever read American Gods? That was a fun book).
Most people here do go to church, but I don't sense that there's a lot of pressure to do so - I realized I had said "hell" in front of my neighbor's 10-year-old daughter and apologized later, after I saw the christian magazines in their bathroom, but she hadn't even noticed and seemed completely unconcerned with my religious stance. I did meet a friendly old man in the grocery store the other day who kept saying "Lord love you!" . . . literally, he said it more than once in some sentences. Eventually he got to the point ("what church do you belong to") and when I told him I wasn't religious at all, he said "God forgive you" and then looked a little ashamed that he had seen fit to decide whether God needed to forgive me or not.
Anyway, I lived in East Texas for a few years, and by comparison to that, this area is very accepting.
Finally (I apparently really had a lot to say about this), I wanted to discuss the religious past. When I was 15 I went on a "mission trip" to the Ukraine. A (very religious) friend of mine had gone the year before, and she had loved it. She knew I wasn't religious, and I think she wanted some company more than anything. She put it to me in a way I couldn't refuse - since it was a mission trip, I could go around to businesses and ask them to pledge money to support the trip - that is to say, I got to travel for free. I did end up kicking in some of the money myself, by selling my trampoline, but most of it came from outside. I want to make it very clear that in fact, the experience was wonderful, and it changed me for the better in many ways. I learned many things about our level of privilege here, and relating to people from other cultures, and compassion, and tolerance (or lack of it), and myself, and even morality. I also learned a lot about brainwashing. Seriously. I'm an intelligent person, I was not religious when I left, and when I came back my parents were actually worried about me (they told me years later) because I was a different person, and not in a good way. I had learned intolerance and self-righteousness along with those other things. Before the mission trip, there was a "boot camp" (yes, it was called that) where the kids learned a bunch of cool skills (like bricklaying) and other than that went through a carefully designed brainwashing campaign. We got a limited amount of sleep, we had no free time, meals were regimented, physical exercise was fairly difficult, mandatory, and judgmental. What we could wear and sing was strictly proscribed. Every evening there was a meeting in the "big top" tent that consisted of singing (some really fun songs) and a bit of "ministry", and then a call to accept Jesus as your personal savior etc . . . Needless to say, it worked. Peer pressure is a powerful thing. I also saw "Jesus Camp", and I think I would have had a hard time believing it if I hadn't been through it. I watched that with a bunch of my biologist friends, one of whom couldn't believe that it worked. He was certainly surprised to hear that I had been through it and it did work . . . he was shaken, because he has a lot of respect for my intelligence (about the only thing he respects about me, but that's another story). It's amazing how well some of these organizations have worked out how to "convert" people. I don't mean to imply that any of them have other than the best of intentions - I understand that they think they are doing a lot of good by converting people, that it's a good deed to be commended. And they've gotten very good at it indeed, through trial and error and probably a lot of psychology. And I'll tell you what, I find it downright frightening. I consider most religion as practiced by most people to be pretty harmless, but if it was that easy to brainwash me (and it WAS that easy), how could I not be afraid? What if that had been the Hitler Youth League (or whatever it was called) instead? So now I'm pretty much allergic to propaganda of any type. If someone seems to have an agenda, ANY agenda, and is trying to convince me of something, I shy away.
And that's where I'm coming from. Nowhere near as severe as some of the post-Mormon stories, I'm sure. I've known a few people who got out of that life, and they all seem to struggle hard with keeping themselves from being very bitter. Anyway, that's certainly enough about me.
Kristin - I think you have every right to set those boundaries. I don't suggest using this wording to your mom, but if others question your right to ask that she not pray aloud, ask if they think you have the right to talk about something they find painful and offensive before every meal. Sometimes, if our thoughts are painful to other people, we should have the kindness to keep them as thoughts and not put them into words. She doesn't HAVE to respect your wishes on this, but you don't have to respect her wishes on being around you at mealtimes, either. Personally, I don't understand why this would be offensive, but if it is, you have the right to request that her behavior changes. I would find it offensive if my MIL mentioned her dog's attack on our sheep when we were sitting down to eat a leg of lamb. Other people might not be offended, but I would be unable to eat then, so I would ask that she not talk about this, even if she thought it in her head (incidentally, she would never do this). I don't think most religions require that you pray ALOUD before every meal. If hers does, then it is something you two will have to somehow find compromise on . . . which you can't do until each party makes their needs and wants known.