Sunday, May 19, 2013

First-Generation Atheist Parenting

atheist parent
In this world, discussing religion with your children can be a bit of a land mine when you are not religious. Our culture is saturated with religious dogma, words, memes, tradition, ideology, expectations, and whatnot and, sometimes, you can feel as though you are two-stepping around the world.  

When the kids were smaller I remember feeling very protective of their minds, of wanting to keep them from absorbing the Christian ethos in the air. It was everywhere and I didn't want them to internalize any of it. When they are very small and highly aware of world messages, it can be a nightmare!

Elizabeth was particularly prone to seeking out the magical and mystical memes in the world and embracing them. It was quite sweet and adorable when she was playing fairies, Peter Pan, and Easter Bunny. Not so cute when she invoked the name of the various lords.  

We have friends from many different religions and she would invoke Ganesh, Krishna, and The Goddess as often as she would invoke Jesus. And I was far more accepting of the first few than of the latter. For awhile there I am certain that I burdened her with my own anxieties about Christianity finding its way into her mind as a "truth".  

What can I say? I was a newbie Skeptical Parent... I have learned that there is no reason to kill their fun because of how prickly I am about religions and how deliberate I am about words. She doesn't carry the same history that I do and, therefore, does not share my knowledge and bias. Yet.

Being a first generation atheist parent can be a challenge because we don't have long-standing traditions to fall back on. We don't have the trite words and phrases on the tips of our tongues. We don't have the visibility and support. Often we are figuring it out as we go along. And we are often parenting secularly without the support of our beloved family (and with family who are often trying to sabotage our very deliberate work.) 

And that's OK! It is the hallmark of a freethinking, educated person to be able to make decisions based on facts, goals, intent, research, ethics, and choice rather than on habit and stigma.  

In fact, I hesitate to hand over a LIST OF WAYS TO PARENT because any inclusion on such a list is merely my own best guess and experience and not a hard-and-fast rule. Yet, here you go. I am still writing such a list.  Because it's always nice to talk with like-minded people to find out what worked for them.  

My kids are older now, almost 16 and 12. They are quite mature in their thinking and quite skeptical and critical thinkers. Conversations about ethics/morality (not a word I normally use because of its religious connotations) and the world at large are ongoing and interesting. I enjoy hearing their take on things. It gives me hope for the generations to come. Their refreshing ways of thinking and looking at the world make me feel quite certain of a few parenting points:
  • First and, perhaps, most obvious and oft-repeated suggestion (at least on this blog!) is to read many, many different mythological stories, including the  Christian stories, from very early on. The library is full of wonderful tales and folklore to explore. Mix Noah in with Doudicca, the Lambdon Worm with the Minotaur, Dream Time and Nirvana and Muspell, Changing Woman and Spider Woman and Coatlique, Taaroa and Kunitokotachi, the Iroquois Dream Woman in the Sky with Adam and Eve, Ton├íntzin with Xango, Hwangun and Mangala and Juok and Jupiter with Jesus, Zeus and Ra and Yahweh, and Zulu and Pan Gu. You will find that none of the stories stand out as more true or wise than any others. Consider your child firmly inoculated against believing that any of these stories as more than fiction!!!
  • Instead of "believing", LEARN. Being a researcher, a questioner, a traveler, an experimenter, and a journeyer models important tools and predispositions for your child. Having the ability, the willingness, and the habit of looking it up creates prophylaxis to nonsense.
  • Question Everything, but don't look for a fight! Why are things the way they are in our culture? What do the words around us mean? What meaning and tradition lurk around us in symbol? Religions have been a central part of civilization as long as we have had civilization. When we model the questioning and the understanding of these age-old traditions, we allow ourselves to live freely among them without internalizing their original meaning. For example, I refuse to utter any sort of pledge that I myself have not written and thought through. The Pledge of Allegiance does not pass my lips. But must I pass my own deliberate decision across to my children? No, but I have discussed my problems with the pledge to them. Let's let them make their own decisions.
  • Be nice. There is no need to openly debase and demean any other person on the planet. Be the change you wish to see in the world. 
You will err and you will succeed. Learn, discuss your learning experiences with your children as they grow, and do your best. Time is on your side. You do not have to get every last message into their heads while they are still toddlers. They will live and learn. With my own kids, as they have grow and have learned to think and discuss, I have learned to trust their ability to make sense of the world around them. I have at last learned to RELAX.  

All will be well and all will be well.

All of this clip art is mine.
Feel free to use it and link back to my blog.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:  
All-Knowing, All-Powerful, and Ever-Loving God   
25 Ways to Pass "Love" and "Tolerance" on to your Child 
How to Explain Religion to my Child 
Mind the Gap


  1. Thank you for this. It is wonderful to see my son exploring and forming his own opinions, but at the same time, it's very hard when you hear your four year old son regurgitate some ridiculous patriarchal nonsense he heard randomly from some unknown source. Urgh!

    I love and embrace the suggestion about reading and and exposing them to all sorts of myths and treating them as stories, rather than placing some false dogmatic importance on any of them. I've been doing that for myself since being a teenager and didn't even realize it!

    I think the most important thing is to teach kids to think... think things through, ask questions, research, and come to your own conclusions (which has to carefully be approached for younger kids like mine, lest they think, research, and decide that they do not, in fact, have to clean their rooms or brush their teeth! LOL

    1. Oh yes it IS difficult to hear religious dogma fall from their lips. My daughter heard and repeated some things back when she was 4-6 or so. It was so unpleasant to hear!

  2. Thank you thank you thank you for your insights & wisdom! There's so much in here that I've thought about but could never put into words. You're right; we are 'first generation' atheist parents but I've never really explored what that means. My children are young (2 & 4), so not too many questions have come up. But I feel I need to prepare myself. I'm so glad to have stumbled on your blog!

    1. Erin, THANK YOU for your comments. It means alot to me to hear that my thoughts, words, and posts resonate with you. I hope to see you back again and again!

  3. Dear Karen,

    I am a freethinking, educated person, able to make decisions based on facts, research, intent and choice. I am a Christian. I am sorry for whatever caused you to reject Jesus Christ. You are entitled to that choice, as all human beings are, and I respect you as person. I appreciate your emphasis on kindness. Regardless of religious or non-religious choices, if kindness could take hold of our world, it would be a beautiful place.

    1. Hannah, Knowledge and research caused me to reject your religion in total. Your religion and ALL religions. So please don't be sorry! I'm delighted with it.


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