Monday, August 20, 2007

I’m nostalgic about the kids I don’t even have yet.

To raise kids with instruction/teaching/exposure to the idea of God, or not? That is the question on my mind today.

In my Christian heydays, it was always vexing to me and to most Christians I knew to think about “mixed marriage” couples – you know where one person was a Christian and the other was, well, you name it: the wrong kind of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or (worst of all) atheist.

Apart from the “it’s sinful to be unequally yoked” protest, the second objection to mixed marriages that I heard most often was concern for the existing or future kids: it would be terribly confusing to hear conflicting messages about who God is or to be raised with mixed religious traditions or worse, no tradition at all. In my Christian world, kids needed to be raised with consistent and firm teachings of who God is.

Now on the other side of the coin, some people are very vociferously against teaching kids anything about religion. Was it Dawkins who said that raising kids with religion is worse than physically abusing them? (Whoa. Strong words and for the record, I vehemently disagree.)

Right. Back on point: I am slowly developing a bit of paranoia around how I will raise any kids I may have in the future. Right now I couldn’t in good conscience teach them exactly what I learned as a kid. But what would I teach them instead? Right now, I have no idea.

And I have this nostalgia for the bedtime prayers I used to offer up at night. I got such a sense of comfort and trust through that nightly ritual that it’s something that still appeals to me even though my rational side thinks God completely sucks at answering prayers (i.e. doesn’t answer prayers). Yeah, so there’s a bit of a contradiction still working itself out.

Maybe I teach my kids to offer up gratitude to…to…the universe? To a possible God who might be out there? That I teach them that prayer is a way for them to figure out solutions to some of their own problems? (As in “Protect me from the bully at school, God” becomes a way for a kid to brainstorm how to deal with it, not a reason to sit back and wait for God to do something?)

And what's the story I tell my kids about why something is right or wrong? "Well kids, through billions of years of evolution, we learned that we do better in survival terms if we cooperate instead of compete. Now be nice and share your toy with Billy." Eh. That leaves me a little cold.

Here’s the other piece that worries me: my mom will undoubtedly view any godless or “watered-down god” childrearing I may do as seriously harming my kids’ ability to know and love and serve Jesus. And I imagine she will find ways to expose my kids to her evangelical brand of the faith, with or without my knowledge. The last thing I want to do is get into a row with my mom over this stuff, but I can definitely envision a bad scene in which I get mad that she tries to usurp my decisions not to expose them to certain kinds of teachings.

I realize this is really cart-before-the-horse kind of stuff to be worrying about, seeing as how I have no plans to procreate in the near future. I could imagine becoming a parent in the next 3-8 years, but that's a ways away. I guess it's just that I’m a planner, and like to strategize well ahead of time.

So: is there anyone out there with kids who has struggled through similar issues of (a) what to teach kids and (b) how to handle family members who want to teach them something else?


marie said...

another great post

I have those questions as well! I agree about the bedtime prayers thing too. I still like the idea of praying to a God for help--it just doesn't seem to work in practice.

I am a long way off from having kids, so I dont have any advice, but I know there are good people who raise good kids without church and God, so there has to be a way. I feel like if we raise our kids with awareness of the world and respect for other people, then they will take joy in others and have a worldly respect. i think just having an awareness of the realities of suffering and such around us can help us figure out what is good and bad and how to be a legitimately good human.

That is hard too with your mom. My mom is the same exact way so I know what you are talking about

MAN< I wish we lived near each other so we could talk about this stuff over a beer or coffee or something!

Jonathan Blake said...

There's a great book out that is aimed at the nonbelieving parent: Parenting Beyond Belief. I found it very helpful in seeing how parenthood could be without religion. It's actually quite inspiring to focus on teaching my children how to think for themselves and watch how they learn.

I think Richard Dawkins really was saying that indoctrinating a child with religious beliefs before they are able to think critically for themselves is abusive. I would be surprised if he opposed all exposure to religious ideas. As long as they aren't presented as The Truth, then learning about religion is healthy and important. If this is Dawkins' view, then I agree. :)

Regarding prayer, I struggled a bit with that too. I shifted my perspective a bit and prayers to a non-existent deity have become meditations on the things that I'm grateful for and the things that I hope for. I don't address this verbal meditation to anyone. I don't get the same warm fuzzy that someone powerful is looking out for me, but it helps me focus on good things.

jennypo said...


I don't think it's fair for parents to teach their kids anything that they don't believe themselves. Probably a lot of people can relate to your "bedtime prayer" nostalgia, and it's nice that you want to pass on the comfort that gave you to your kids, but none of us has the right to offer kids what we don't believe ourselves. It would be a nice lie, but a lie nonetheless - and kids see through lies better than anyone else.

My parents weren't right about everything, but they taught me to think and question for myself. I can forgive them for being wrong, but I couldn't forgive them if they tried to teach me what they didn't believe, even if it sounded nice.

How about teaching your kids what you believe, letting your mom be authentic and teach them what she believes, and encouraging them to think for themselves as they get older and need to?

Just my 2 cents, for what it's worth.

Heather said...


**How about teaching your kids what you believe, letting your mom be authentic and teach them what she believes, and encouraging them to think for themselves as they get older and need to?**

I would have reservations about this for the following reasons: I think a large part of why Dawkins ascribes teaching religion as "child abuse" is because of how hell is used. For me, fundamentalistm is portrayed as the only thing that keeps the wrath of God away from you and thus an eternity of torment is the blood of Jesus.

And that's a horrific picture to present a child, especially because a child isn't mature enough to analyze that statement. What I can see this being reduced to is Slapdash's mother telling her children that they have to accept Jesus, or they'll burn in hell (my apologies if I'm making this simplistic, Slapdash. I'm pulling on similiar situations I've read). What would that belief do to the child, other than terrify the child? Is that even fair to someone who is three or five years old?

Carrie said...

I do not have children but I have a beautiful nine year old niece that belongs to my sister and my brother in law. They actually had the goal to expose her to all different kinds of religion and let her make her own decisions. Even from a very early age, they are letting her learn to run her own life and mind. (they are teaching her discipline and manners and things, but all very age appropriate and not longer than they need to). I think they are doing a wonderful job.
So, they have one Grandma who takes her to Catholic mass every two weeks, one Grandma who talks about Jesus, an Aunt in California who is a Wiccan, then there's me who also takes her to all sorts of beautiful concerts, plays, Christian services, movies and exposes her to lots of books with intellectual ideas for her to think about.
My sister really wanted to get her exposed to Jewish and Muslim faiths as well, but it is harder than she realized. They do have her growing up in an inner city school so she can be comfortable and surrounded my people who are different from her. Again, she is thriving under this environment. I have been pleased with the school and she has all sorts of different kinds of friends. My sister also teaches her a lot of the Greek mythology and anything magical/mystical. My niece loves unicorns and fairies and has eyes filled with wonder and love for the world.
I think it is good to allow a child to learn to respect the beliefs of those around her, while at the same time being free to ask questions, explore, and sort things out for herself. My sister has been very tolerent of my Mom or Grandma or even myself occasionally talking about Jesus and I think it is a good thing to not try to control every little thing a child sees or hears about religion while they are growing up.

lowendaction said...


So... "vociferously" ...seriously? What are you sponsored by mensa? I didn't know that I had to bring a dictionary to participate...;)

First, i would simply echo what has already been said here in regards to first standing on a firm belief foundation. This doesn't just apply to you BTW. I think that there is (has been) an alarmingly high number of parents who are not really solid on what they do/do not believe, and thus either pass on a mixed, fear-filled jumble of conflicting non-sense, or they simply avoid the subject all together, ultimately leaving that task to the childs peers and the media.

I had a rather enlightening conversation recently with my dad (pastor) regarding raising "Christian" kids. And BTW, no I don't have any, but we're planning. He was saying, that the often used sriptures regarding raising children, are often misinterpreted. Many Christian parents will take these to mean that their kids must become spiritual clones of theirs, and thus infuse them with their belief version. But instead, it really talks about discovering WHO that child is, and then setting a strong and consistant example for them to follow.

Of course, if you are a firm believer in Christ, than it is this example that you will set. But I would say that there is a decided difference between setting an example, and programming ones children.

So, whatever direction you ultimately dicide is the best for you and your life, is the one you will/should pass along to your children. But do so not to convince or coerce them, but let them discover these truths from the evidences in your own life. I think there are far to few parents out there today who are willing/able to truely set the example that a child would then freely and eagerly choose to follow...regardless of their parents belief system.

good luck with that...

bjk said...

Having raised 3.....I wish I had been honest...always honest.

Nicole Rae Studio said...

Same questions here. I've been reading your blog for a couple of weeks now and really resonate with what you say. It's a long story but I have been "de-converting" for many months now. I don't know where I'm going to land. I have an 11yod and a 16yos. I am not worried about my son. He thinks for himself and questions things constantly. He will draw his own conclusions. My daughter, however, is another story. I struggle with wanting her to have the faith that I had as a child. Then I look at that faith and think, "Why do I want that for her?" I was terrified most of the time that if I wasn't going to hell than people around me were. Do I continue to pray with her at night? Do I pretend and put on an act? I haven't and so far they haven't asked about it.

My biggest problem is church. I can't go. I can't make myself walk in there anymore. For awhile I was giving it a chance. I would think that this time would be different. It never was. I would end up sitting in the back crying or walking out. What do I do with my kids on Sunday mornings tho? My son is involved in the youth group and I love that. I don't want him to stop going because of me. I would like my daughter to keep going as well. But why? I'm not sure if it's because it's habit or if I don't want her to question God (who she thinks he is). I know I don't like what they teach her. And how strange is it for me to just drop them off and pick them up when it's over?

As you can see I have no answers. I did want you to know that you aren't alone in this and that I really do appreciate your blog.

Maria said...

I don't have kids either, but I do have a 14 month old niece. Her father, my brother-in-law is a youth pastor and has is so rigid in his beliefs - including a horrible man is the head of the household belief that leaves my sister with almost no voice. This in and of itself makes me sad.

But what saddens me more is the messages their already giving her. I long to tell her more, to tell her that people out there think so many different things. That I believe something different than her Dad and that it's okay for her to believe what she wants to believe. (Of course when she's a little more than 1 year old.)

I echo what everyone has said here - that being honest and creating your own family traditions that fit you and your children that isn't necisarily built on faith is okay.

I'm personally thankful that I'm going through this de-conversion before I have children.

Slapdash said...

Hi all -

As usual, some terrific comments here that I want to respond to in more depth.

In general it seems there's a consensus that as parents, honesty is the key, key, key thing. To pass on things that we truly believe and not to try to inculcate kids with ideas, beliefs, "truths" that we ourselves aren't fully convinced of. That, and teaching kids to think for themselves.