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Atheist Community of Austin
Help raising young child Atheist in presence of my Christian family

Hi, all! I was hoping someone may be able to give me some insight or tips on keepIng neutral grounds between myself (atheist) and my 3 year old daughter, and the rest of my family (all Christian). More particularly, her father's (who is now deceased) family is very devout and insistent on brainwashing my child and rubbing their faith in our faces. You may be asking yourself - "the child is 3 years old, what's the deal, anyway?" Well, the deal is, my daughter is extremely perceptive and beyond her age in coherence, articulation of ideas and her imagination, and in communicating. She has a solid memory and recalls memories from when she was 18 months old without fail. Her father has also been gone since she was 2 and, without my insistence, repeatedly still recalls memories. Because she is so young and perceptive, she soaks up everything she hears. She comes home from visiting her paternal grandmother saying things like "Jesus loves me." One time it was raining and she said, "god makes it rain." I had to tell her, "Actually, there is moisture and pressure, etc etc" and give a more logical and physical account on this subject and she got really upset because I was refuting what her grandmother said. You see, the child cannot be told two different stories. She becomes confused and put in the middle. I am the parent and I expect my beliefs and values and ways of raising my child to be superior to all others, however, her dad's family simply won't respect that. As Christians they want to "save" her. Before I "came out" as an atheist and communicated my wishes for a termination of religious discussion in my child's presence, her grandma (and her aunt and her husband all live together) rarely prayed before meals. After our discussion, they began praying before every meal, even snacks. At first I was tolerant. But now its ridiculous. Really, you're going to say a prayer before we indulge in carrots and ranch? True story, I wish I were lying. They also insist that we all join hands, and after the prayer is said my child's grandmother has her do this little jig that my kiddo enjoys and thinks is fun - (because her grandma made it that way) and she shoots her arms in the air and exclaims, "and all gods children say, AMEN!" my kiddo thinks its fun but to me it's just one more event of exposure that I'd rather her not have. I am so frustrated and offended and disrespected that I almost want to revoke *un*supervised visits with her dads family. No overnight visits or days out without me around. Is this too harsh? My child LOVES her grandma and I'd never revoke visits entirely, but I feel I shouldn't have to be chaperoning her grandma waiting for her slip the F word or something. Any tips on a way to convey my thoughts to these people in a more stern, but non-offensive way? I am also 20, mind you, so I get the feeling her grandma may deem my parenting inept in this department, anyhow. I want to be taken seriously, but I don't want to step on any toes because tolerance must be equl across the board, right?

Hi, Jeanne,

This is a very interesting post. Children, in many respects, are smarter than adults, aren't they?

Ask yourself a few questions. Do you read your daughter fairy tales? If so, do you immediately explain to her that the stuff in the fairy tales is all made up and unreal? Do you feel the need to protect your daughter from fairy tales? People read fairy tales to children, because it develops imagination, language, and other useful skills. And, yes, many teach a moral value or two. As children grow up, they will figure out what's true and what's not by themselves and sooner than you think. People also dance silly dances with their kids, because it develops relationship and motor skills.

Are there other reasons for you to "protect" your daughter from your in-laws? Other than telling her "fairy tales" and doing silly dances with her, do you think, they harm your daughter in any way physically or emotionally? If so, articulate, what the harm is and base your decision on that, not on religious or anti-religious beliefs.

You and your daughter love each other. This is most important. Your daughter and her grandma seem to love each other too. This is the second most important issue. Do not put religion or atheism above these two. Does her grandma say anything negative about you to your daughter? Do you say negative things to her about her grandma? If so, that's a problem, not religion. Is it right to teach your daughter not to love her grandma, only because she is a Christian?

For whom this situation presents a problem? The issue seems to be between you and your in-laws, not between you and her and not between her and her grandma. It may be the intolerance towards each other's worldview. But that's not your daughter's problem (yet).

Disclaimer. I'm a Christian. I'm not against atheists. I'm against hatred between people, I'm against selfishness, arrogance, intolerance, and pride. I have 3 kids. They are massively bombarded with materialistic messages, lustful and violent images daily. Am I worried? No. Because what matters is not information and ideas they get exposed to, but what decisions they make based on that information. And that very much depends on my own values, my relationship with my children, and their relationship with themselves and the people and the world around them. My dad is an atheist, but he knows better than discussing these issues even with me. Be wiser. Don't raise this issue with your daughter at all, even though her grandma does. Let her have fun with the grandma. She will pick up your world view anyway when she gets older. Or, may be, she will use her own intellect and make decisions of her own. That's OK too. It's her life. Let her live it. But do make sure that your daughter is emotionally closer to you than her grandma, regardless of her grandma's views.

I hope, my comment helped.

First of all I'm not Jeanne.

When I was a child I was very easy to impress. I read many fantasy stories and they always made me happy and excited. My parents have always been careful to choose fairy tales for me that didn't contain any kind of violence. Although when I got older this "taboo" was lifted a bit. All in all I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this time of my life. I remember that in my dreams I always imagined fairies and unicorns watching over my sleep. I imagined parallel worlds/universes with dragons and brave knights protecting the weak and so on. It was awesome.

Finally after I went to school I got confronted with a religion: christianity. We had classses in school where they teached us how to be a christian. They asked our parents to buy a bible to be used during class. Since I wanted to be a good pupil and get to know this "god" better, I decided to read the bible as much as I could. My parents didn't guide me during this. I read it entirely on my own and made my conclusions based on what our teachers told us. Well, after I started reading it, I felt "god" was a very authoritative person. Basically he (- at that time I imagined the main christian deity to be a man -) wanted absolute devotion and obedience to himself and punished those, who dared not to be believe in him. He even went as far as killing everybody on earth, and then recreating everything at one point. Although he promised to Noah not to do that again but still... he killed almost *all* life on earth. It made a *huge* impression on me as a child. I remember that I feared him!

At that point I realized that I should *stop* reading fairy tales and other fantasy stories and so on, because the deity in the bible warned other people not to have any other deities/idols next to it. I felt it was wrong to dream about other worlds or have fantasies about other beings (supernatural or not), because the bible said that there was only one deity controlling everything and our teachers told us the same. I remember that I felt really sad at that time, because I had lost something that brought joy to my life. Well, to be honest our teachers didn't demand from us that we read the whole bible. They selected certain passages from the bible that we should read but all I wanted was to be a good pupil and make a good impression on them and my parents. This is, why I read the whole book.

Well, I'm not going to tell, what happened afterwards, because you cannot summarize the life of a human in a view sentences but there is a difference between fairy tales and religion. Religions have huge support from many people around the world. And all these people claim that their religion is the truth. The same can't be said about fairy tales. Noone is going to persuade you that pink unicorns with wings exist and so on. But even with fairy tales one has to be careful. You shouldn't read fairy tales to a little child that contain a lot of violence like the bible for example. The bible and similar books should only be read when people have reached a certain age like 16 for example. And the same can be said about teaching religions like christianity because christianity is based on the bible. Children should not be exposed to religion at such a young age. Instead of having his or her own dreams and stories a child is going to dream about "jesus and god or allah or whatever deity is out there" when exposed to religion. I don't understand how this is going to help to "develop his/her imagination". I remember from my childhood that it diminished my imagination and reduced it to only one being: "god". Now I feel like I lost a certain part of my childhood, because of that. Basically I learned, how to sacrifice my imagination and only think about "god" so that "he" could "love" me.

So Jeanne if you're (still) reading this: If your child starts to "talk about jesus" all the time and even tries to teach you, on "how to behave". You should really sit down with her and have a long talk with her. Simply tell her, how you felt as a child and how you feel about religion now, why and so on. Just have an open honest conversation with her on how you became an atheist even though she is probably still to young to understand you. But try it. Your daughter will probably start to ask you questions and you both will end up having a nice constructive dialogue.

But at least ensure, that your daughter never loses her ability to dream!

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