are you a secular parent with a story?

Nica Lalli, author of Nothing: Something to Believe in is working on a new book about secular parenting, and she wants to hear your story. Here’s a blurb from her website:

My latest project is a book about parenting and religion, more specifically about secular parenting. The working title is What We Believe: Parenting in a Multi-Faith World. I am looking for parents to share their stories about raising kids outside of religion (or along side it, or with more than one religion…) so if you have a story to share contact me.


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. I was thinking of suggesting this as a topic for the afternoon inquisition, but maybe I’ll just pose the question here, as it seems appropriate:

    As a skeptical/freethinking parent, how would you feel about your child(ren) learning about and celebrating the religious holidays of other students in their class?

    This came up because we just started our son at a new daycare facility. One of the sections of the entrance paperwork asked about family traditions with regard to holidays and if we had any problems with our child participating in classroom celebrations.

    Personally, I have no problem with this, so long as all of the different belief systems represented in the class are treated with equal respect. Indeed, it seems like an excellent opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about the fact that other people have different beliefs.

  2. I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with it, JSug, and I’m an atheist. I think it’s a good idea to learn other cultures, and that includes traditions and holidays of other faiths/cultures. Plus, it sounds like fun!

  3. The more traditions, the merrier – I think it would demonstrate to a kid that cultures share lots of basic ideas, and foster a reverse xenophobia (xenophilia?)…although I would be leery of the “traditions” if they originate in the mind of Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf Schools).

  4. I have raised, my then 6 yr old, with no emphasis on religion. Regardless, she wanted to be in Kids of the Kingdom. A religious studies course taught in elementary school. I figured, “why not?” at the very least should would ask questions.

    Not long after the story of the talking donkey (isn’t he in shrek), my daughter asked me if I believed in Jesus. I explained that I do not and that a lot of people believe in a lot of different things.

    She asked about how a man in the sky watches everything we do. I dunno, I say.

    At which, she was confident that the whole thing was unbelievable.

    As a followup as asked, but don’t you believe in Santa CLaus.

    “Oh, but Daddy. He IS REAL.”

    Personally, I think she is pulling one over on me.

  5. @JSug:

    Assuming it’s a private facility, I think celebrating various religious traditions and holidays is a good thing. As long as it doesn’t involve telling the kids that the mythology behind the tradition is true. Early exposure to a variety of religious beliefs can be a good inoculation. Too many people grow up never even considering the possibility that their particular set of mythologies may not be true. Seeing first hand that other people believe very different things opens the mind to the possibility that your beliefs are worth examining critically. I don’t think kids need to be sheltered from this.

    If we are talking about a public school class, then I think the question becomes a bit stickier. Can we really expect the typical school teacher to give the same generous treatment to Diwali that she may give to Easter?

    I am a Hedge

  6. I would not have a problem with that. I don’t mind my kids learning about religions as long as they aren’t made to live it as doctrine. I want my kids to learn about all religions. They need to learn the historical and cultural aspects or they will be severely crippled. There are so many references in books, art, and movies. They would not be able to enjoy these things or relate to others very well without understanding other’s beliefs, especially Christianity. I intend to teach Christianity and other religions along side things like Greek, Roman, and other mythologies. And religions offer stories that teach morality. Mostly I just want them to be informed, thinking people that won’t end up like sheep.

  7. @Im a Hedge: I don’t know if a teacher in a private school would necessarily be “better” at teaching other cultures/traditions than someone in a public school. Why do you feel they would?

    @killyosaur42: “No”? No as in you wouldn’t want them to participate in, or no you wouldn’t mind if they wanted to participate?

  8. @marilove:

    Sorry, I wasn’t clear about my reasons for the public/private distinction. I don’t have much reason (or even any reason) to think a private school teacher would be any better at this. My misgivings about doing it in public (i.e. government-run) schools is the problem of the State becoming involved in religious indoctrination. I think it can be done right, public or private, but is much more likely to be done wrong. In the case of a private school (or daycare, etc.) it’s a completely voluntary relationship, so I find that more acceptable.

    I actually had a public school teacher do a good section on creation stories in English class. We covered a handful of stories and I remember it being covered fairly, despite it being well known that our teacher had a particular attachment to one of the stories (that one being from Genesis).

    I am a Hedge

  9. @JSug: I think that would be terrific. Really. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an especially diverse area; most of the families in my daughter’s school are Christian, with a couple of Hindu families and at least one Muslim family that I know of. If I thought they’d all be treated fairly, that would be a great learning experience for the kids. Not so sure how that would work out at our school.

  10. I am the mom of a four year old. I identify with the atheist label.

    I live with, and have dated for many years, his father. His father is Catholic, and his family is extremely conservative. For the first year or so, I attended church with them, and started to realize I couldn’t do it anymore (I was afraid it would show, and I was alienating myself).

    I think parenting a child without religion is easy. It is guiding them through social interactions where they are surrounded by religion that get murky.. In my case, my moderately observate Catholic boyfriend (who is emotionally very devout, if the makes sense), is what causes contention in my plans for my son.

    Over the years we have had highs and lows of negativity surrounding religion. So far, we seem to function with a “don’t broach that subject” approach.

    I am allowing my son to be taken to church (although, they do not go often), he has been christened. I am only slightly bothered with the bed time stories about Jesus, but I don’t do anything about it.

    I am confident that the exposure to theism is not a “threat” to my son. Do I hope he will grow up thinking critically (aka, godless)? Yes. And I allow his father’s input because it is the best way for him to grow up with a close eye on comparing theism and atheism.

    My relationship with a theist (particularly a Catholic in a conservative family) is another story all together.

    I met some of Masala_Skeptic’s and carr2d2’s neato friends who are raising their children without religion. I hope they contribute, or post here if they have not. I was inspired hearing more experienced parents succeed in this.

  11. @marilove: No as in I’m being an idiot and felt like answering a question that I have nothing to add to. I blame World of Warcraft and the the damned yellow Exclamation Points. There’s always more to do and I always feel compelled to try and do it. So I answered out of raw compulsion.

  12. This is has become an interesting subject in our household as our seven-year-old daughter has just started a mysterious subject called “christianity” in school. It’s mysterious because her teachers more-or-less skipped over the whole thing at the last parents’ evening, preferring to concentrate on core subjects and leaving christianity in the same class of interesting extras as music, art and gym.

    I’m fairly sure they’re not being taught “to believe” – the two muslim families in the class wouldn’t like that either – but we were still a bit taken aback to have our daughter coming home chatting merrily about God existing and their being a bit of God in everyone. It seems she’s getting this stuff from some of her classmates rather than her teachers, and obviously their opinion weighs more than that of her poor atheist parents.

    So we just counter her arguments as best we can without getting her upset – “yes dear, but mummy and daddy don’t believe in any God…” – and hoping that she’ll sort things out in her own mind in time.

  13. @Tina:

    I don’t want want to tell you how you should parent, I just want to give a some reasons for you to consider not being quite so laid back about the religion topic.

    Depending on where you live, your kid is probably exposed daily to people discussing god and jesus and heaven and hell, etc. as though they are real. The child doesn’t know that these things are any less real than anything else people talk about that he hasn’t seen. Maybe he’s never seen a cruise ship, but grandma talks about being on one last year, so he believe it is real. Same with god. People talk about it as though it were real. While it’s good to include caveats when talking abut religious beliefs (“I think this, daddy thinks that, but nobody really knows for sure…”), at some point you have to provide a bit more strong resistance. In your case, it sounds like you are up against a lot of people in the child’s family who disagree with you. Rest assured, they are not all careful to include caveats when telling your son about god and jesus. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to tell him “god is not real” as a direct fact, just like you would tell him the moon goes around the earth. The whole society, including most of his family, will be surrounding him in god-talk. You have the right to counter that by stating the facts, as you see them. “God is pretend”. “Jesus was not a god”.

    When beliefs are accepted very early by children they become ingrained so deeply that it is near impossible to remove them. I know god is pretend, and if Jesus existed he was a man and not a god. I know that all of the arguments in favor of gods are flawed. I still have a residual fear of hell. I know why it is there. I know it is not rational. But it is there. You have the right to try to prevent your child from suffering from such unfounded fears. The earlier you counteract the religious claims, the better it will be. It doesn’t have to become a big deal. I think it’s very healthy for a child to know that some people believe something and other people do not. This lets them know that they do not have to believe everything they are told.

    I am a Hedge

  14. @Im a Hedge:

    I’m not laid back about religion at all. But, I am choosing my battles, because teaching someone to think critically, as a habit, takes time. Hopefully (and I believe) we will reach that point (I do this with both my SO, and our child).

  15. @Im a Hedge:

    Additionally, I totally “feel ya” on the irrational fears… I mean.. I have a really hard time walking into a dark room when the lights are off.. but no matter how often my parents told me “there are no monsters,” the unease lingers.

    No one was even trying to make me believe in monsters (gods), and I’m still this way! I think it is really easy, as humans, to believe such things, and hard to shake them. I know my son will be the same way – but he had different parents (one athiest) than myself or his father.

    Just wanted to throw that example out there, because I think it is a more black -and-white comparison.

  16. So why add extra fears to your kids’ life? There are enough irrational fears that we all face without having extra ones thrown onto us by religion. Just sayin’.

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