At what age do you think a child is old enough to know if God exists or not in their heart? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 11 Old 05-02-2014, 02:52 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Was thinking about putting this in the religion section or the parenting secition but I think it's more of a developmental question.

 

My 10 year old, who is very mature and empathic, decided last year that she didn't believe in God. I am an open person and think that's a question that's up to each person. But being curious about her conclusions I asked her what made her decide that and she gave me some very well thought out answers that were both based on logic and on what her heart felt, and she was also respectful to people who did believe in God. She has maintained this stance ever since. It's not a huge part of her life, but when the subject comes up, she still maintains her belief. 

My husband is Hindu and although he does not practice daily worship in our home, it guides many of his actions and his beliefs on the world and what is right and wrong in his eyes. He has brought our children to Hindu temples and in-home worship about 6 times a year for most of their lives. The kids find it boring and they don't understand a lot of it, or rather maybe they don't care to understand. 

My 10 year old approached me and wanted to know how she could tell her daddy, without hurting his feelings, about her non-belief in God and how she doesn't really want to attend the worship services anymore. I told her to just talk about it with him and be open. He is now very upset and hurt. He says she is too young to know what she believes. He said when he was younger his parents made him go to temple and it was boring for him but now he's glad they did that because he now believes it set the stage for his own spiritual path. He wants to make her keep going and she does not want to.

I told him that when I was a child, I was raised in a very involved religion and it permeated every aspect of our lives, every day. Most of my cousins and church friends grew up to believe the religion but I remember at the age of 8 or 9, realizing one day i did not believe the messages of the church. I struggled with trying to believe it, thinking I was evil for not believing it, and finally followed my heart and stepped out of the church when I had the chance. Giving that example I told him it's very possible that at her age she knows her heart.

I also brought up the subject of being gay. We are very open about that in our home and believe that being gay or not gay, it's all okay either way. So I told him that at some point, usually very early in life, a child realizes they are not straight like those around them. It's in their heart and their being, and it's not a matter of how they were raised, They just are the way they were meant to be and they now realize it. 

The discussion is going nowhere. My husband is very hurt and upset and feels he failed as a parent. My child is torn between feeling bad for hurting her daddy's feelings and following her heart. 

 

I am in the middle. 


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#2 of 11 Old 05-02-2014, 05:05 PM
 
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I am an atheist who grew up in an atheist/agnostic family, and my kids have grown up without a "religious upbringing" in an atheist/agnostic family. I believe that mature 10-year-olds can have a pretty clear personal belief system. And yet I do see your dh's point of view. His religion underlies his value system, and he would like a shot at imparting both those things to his children. I also think that while your 10-year-old may know for sure that she doesn't believe in God right now, that religious beliefs are quite different from inborn traits like sexual orientation: they can be changed by new information, new understanding, new experiences and new perspectives on life. Some people do change their spiritual beliefs quite radically ... during adolescence, in early adulthood, upon becoming parents, upon losing loved ones, upon facing their own mortality and so on. The world is full of people who have had sudden conversions, spiritual awakenings, or losses of faith. 

 

I would try to find a way to have your dd and your dh meet in the middle. She shouldn't be forced to practice a religion she doesn't believe in. She shouldn't have to sit through frequent or prolonged worship services that she doesn't understand. But she should be willing to listen in a gracious and respectful way to what her dad wants to help her understand about his beliefs and the values they inform. Clearly just exposing her to his religious practice hasn't "worked," in that she is bored and unengaged by stuff she doesn't understand. Perhaps instead he could share with her stories and values, not simply practices. Maybe she'd be more engaged by learning about Hinduism from the perspective of history, language and culture, or through stories and art, or through the lens of comparative religion study.

 

When my kids' conservative Christian grandmother visits, we encourage them to listen respectfully to what she tries to teach them about her religious views -- and given that her teachings are laced with apocalyptic warnings and guilt trips, that's a tall order! But they manage, because we've explained that within her belief system it is very important that she do this, and that people's beliefs do sometimes change over time. For us it's an issue of empathy and respect: this is, after all, your grandmother, and she feels strongly about this. "Just be a good listener for twenty minutes: it won't kill you. You don't have to pray, you don't have to profess to believe, you are free to think what you want. But give her an ear." We've also had conversations [with mixed results, but she's almost 90, so that's not surprising] with her about tempering the fear-mongering and guilt in her message. We explain that we do not believe you open people's hearts by trying to frighten them and we ask that she use a more positive tactic. 

 

So anyway I wonder if you could talk to your dd about exercising empathy and respect to the extent that she is willing to listen to her dad about his spiritual beliefs and his values, and also talk to your dh about finding different ways of conveying what he wishes to convey. See if you can cultivate open-mindedness -- or at least empathic, respectful communication -- across the gulf between their current beliefs. 

 

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#3 of 11 Old 05-02-2014, 08:53 PM
 
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Miranda said a lot of great things. I just wanted to add that while a mature and thoughtful 10-year-old can absolutely understand what they believe and don't believe, be open to her changing her mind back. It's normal to question and explore. Some kids go back and embrace their roots and others find a better path for them. 

 

I also wanted to suggest keeping some of the ritual. A person can connect culturally with a religion. I was raised Atheist but I've always celebrated Christmas. It's a cherished holiday and family ritual for us. Easter, not so much. I agree that she shouldn't be forced into attending church or participating in deeply religious rituals but keeping some of the family culture isn't horrible and can help ease some of the family striff when one chooses to leave the fold.


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#4 of 11 Old 05-02-2014, 11:08 PM
 
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Originally Posted by whatsnextmom View Post
 

I also wanted to suggest keeping some of the ritual. A person can connect culturally with a religion.

 

Yes! This can be a very potent way of feeling connected to a religion and its values, even in the (possibly temporary) absence of belief. In fact, if you're not already doing so, I would suggest that you as the non-Hindu parent actively support bringing Hindu rituals and celebrations into your family and home life. You don't have to think of it as religious education, just a respectful interest in the beliefs of the husband/father in your family, and a way of helping connect your nuclear family to the culture of the extended family on their dad's side.

 

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#5 of 11 Old 05-04-2014, 01:31 PM
 
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My oldest child worked out his spiritual preference/belief system at 8.  He still adheres to it.

My youngest child, now also ten, figured this out for himself at 9. That seems the normal age.

It was a bit harder to convince him to be respectful of other people's choice to believe in a deity/religion so kudos to you and your daughter.

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#6 of 11 Old 05-06-2014, 12:13 AM
 
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i think some kids know right from the beginning. and the ones who know are the ones who doubt. they are born having an awareness. your dd could be right. or she could be in a phase. 

 

to me it seems like your dd can understand. she probably might find it easier to show up at a couple fo major functions maybe a couple of times a year to keep the peace and really out of reverence for her father. 

 

but the real issue is her father. and it really isnt about religion - but the fact that he is realizing his little girl is growing up with different values and thoughts that he did not have the opportunity to. i would say he is pretty freaked out at the moment (i notice this about people coming from a v. traditional culture who were pretty conservative themselves). 

 

but realize all is not lost. i think this you will have to ride out - being there for both your dd and your dh. i mean he married you instead of someone from his culture. he wants empathy from you that all is going to be ok. but you have to stand your ground so as to allow your dd some leeway to get heard too. 

 

i think instead of telling her dad she knows for sure, maybe if you tell him she has to have the space to find out, that she might be an atheist for the moment, might sit better with him. for a community that is so religion based, its hard to accept that one's child rejects it. 


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#7 of 11 Old 05-06-2014, 12:28 PM
 
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I dont think there is an age. Some people spend their entire lives exploring this question. It also depends on how you define God, or how you define 'belief'.

 

As for me, i dont think i ever really believed there was a  Gd in the traditional sense, but i learned to pray as a child, and have used prayers alot in my life. I am glad i learned the prayers, because they tap into a part of your unconscious. So intellectually i knew there was no God, like i knew there was no Santa or Eater  bunny, but in my soul,  i had a  different kind of knowing.

 

Later, i had spiritual experiences that opened me up to a more religious life.

 

Now my children are in a religious school, and i asked the educators how they described Gd... They use the term 'presence'. I think that is a good term and can mean  something profound even to an athiest.

 

I think religions have a lot to offer in terms of religious literacy, insofar as these questions have been around since the beginning of time, so why not learn something from the past?

 

If a child wants to think for themselves, then they are at the age where...they can think for themselves, and this should be encouraged....but let her learn  some religious literacy...she might want to use it later in life.

 

(sorry i did not read your entire post,  i will in a minute, i just thought  you raised  such an interesting question)

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#8 of 11 Old 05-06-2014, 07:59 PM
 
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I think that kids can know at this age, my.dd is certain religion doesn't make sense but she also attends mass with me several times a year and attended religious education classes last year and will again next year. She knows how she feels and that I support that but she is also willing to go to learn more about our religion while meeting new people. I think it is reasonable for her dad to talk to her about his journey through faith and encourage, or even require, her to push through her boredom and focus on what she can learn. Religion is about more than just a belief in a deity, which is why even atheists have weekly gatherings.
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#9 of 11 Old 05-07-2014, 05:19 AM
 
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I was brought up in a Catholic family.  Our whole family went to church every Sunday/religious day, I was in Youth Group, my parents were on Parrish Council.  Very involved.  Well, I enjoyed the social aspect of it, but really grew to hate the actual mass.  I felt NOTHING.  And, even worse, I saw the "behind the scenes" of meetings, etc, where these "religious" people were actually quite mean.  By the time I hit high school, I was having anxiety attacks during mass.  My parents, although wonderful people, insisted that I go to mass every week.  To this day, going into a church can set one off--the smell of incense, especially.  It sounds stupid, but it was really that awful for me.  I wish they had listened to me and not made me go.  :(

 

I am now 44, consider myself agnostic--I have a bumper sticker on my van that says "Militant agnostic--I don't know, and you don't either!"  LOL very tongue-in-cheek, but that's pretty much it.  My kids have grown up without organized religion, but are respectful of other peoples' beliefs.  

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#10 of 11 Old 05-07-2014, 12:21 PM
 
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I like your sticker :-) My mother didnt force anything on us, but attended Mass herself every Sunday.

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#11 of 11 Old 05-09-2014, 01:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I just wanted to get back to you and reply with a big thank you for sharing your perspectives and advice. I've been very busy with work (night shift nurse) and my IL's are visiting from India right now. This topic came to a head because of the IL's being here and they are more traditional in many ways and dh has switched to high gear with religion right now. It will settle down after they leave. ;-)

 

Miranda, the advice about keeping the cultural things while maybe not focusing so much on religious things is great advice! In Hindu culture much of it goes hand in hand. For example traditional dance reenacts religious stories and always begins and ends with a prayer and lighting of the lamp. Traditional food is vegetarian, also religious (although we are veg so that's not a problem). But there are aspects that can certainly be explored. I think I'm going to focus this year on researching the Hindu holidays, which we are not great about observing, and do some informal things to celebrate or observe them and tell the stories behind them. My dh can be on board or not-- usually he forgets about the home traditions and just goes to the temple or joins another family in their home to celebrate. The kids are lost about it.

I have read a simplified version of the Old Testament to the kids and they loved every bit of it. Not for religions reasons but so they would be culturally literate and understand the Christian and Jewish religions that are prominent in our society. Besides the stories can be a lot of fun! I have also read parts of the New Testament, the highlights of it for the same reason.

 

I can do the same thing with Hinduism. They love the Greek mythology stories. The Hindu stories are very similar.

I love reading about all your feelings and replies. Thanks again!


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