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Worried about five year old's experiences of Christianity when parents are atheists

(46 Posts)
KatyBeau Sat 09-Jan-16 08:13:56

I was brought up going to a Church of England village church. As soon as I was old enough to think for myself in my pre-teens, I realised I didn't believe, but have always kept a a respect for others' beliefs and do stil value the moral lessons and global/historical perspective that I learned from the church. I'm now totally atheist, as is my husband.

My parents are still very much involved with the church, and in fact my mum is church warden and pretty much runs the place! They have never really tried to push the religion on me as an adult, apart from the suggestion of a blessing for our first child which never happened.

Now that my daughter is five and really thinking about the world around her, I'm really not sure how to navigate the conversations around religion.

She's been to a few kids church things, and we often go into the church for the more secular community activities, eg coffee mornings, baby groups.

I'm trying to have conversations about how some people believe and some don't and that there are many beliefs.

However, the religious people that she comes into contact with are so positive about religion that she seems very keen on the ideas.

Any suggestions as to how to deal with this without it becoming a negative issue?

AlanPacino Sat 09-Jan-16 13:21:54

Hi op. If I was in that situation I would just ensure she was open to the idea that none of the positive features of religion were specific to religion. It's difficult to give an example of what I mean without knowing what your dd has said but for example, if my dc said 'God wants us to love people' I'd point out that it's good to love people and that most people do even if they don't go to church. Like you I wouldn't want her to think she needed to go to church to be good. can you think of some specific comments she has made?

Pashazade Sat 09-Jan-16 13:47:51

I was similar CofE primary school, and funnily enough my stepmom is now church warden. I am happy for my ds to have this aspect of religion in his life as I personally find the traditions of it all quite comforting. The other half is atheist and not entirely happy that the school ds goes to is Chrsitian, but I don't see it can do any real harm, they are instilling sound moral values it just happens to come packaged in Christian wrapping. As and when we have the inevitable conversation about it I will personally stress that respecting others beliefs is key even if you don't agree with them, with the usual unless it causes harm to others. Also stressing good people can be found everywhere and don't have to be religious to be so. I wouldn't worry too much. Just be reassuring if she is worried by any clashes she may encounter. To try and reason it out right now might be quite confusing and her world due to her age is still quite narrow. Their worlds are very black and white at this age and she probably finds the concept of one God who looks after everybody quite comforting. Sorry not sure I'm making much sense, I think I wouldn't worry but have honest responses for her inevitable questions rather than try and anticipate them.

jessplussomeonenew Sat 09-Jan-16 14:20:38

I really enjoy Dale McGowan's writings on this - various books but you can get a flavour of his thinking on

KatyBeau Fri 15-Jan-16 06:34:51

Thanks everyone. This has been helpful.

She doesn't seem to have cottoned on to the role of religion in being a good person, so I'm all ready for that conversation if it comes up.

My concern is about comments she has made along the lines of "God is everywhere" and "we pray to talk to God". I tried not to freak out and tried to turn the conversation to the fact that not everyone believes. I didn't want to say, well at school you were taken to church and your grandparents go to church but I don't believe. Partly because I've never outright said to my parents I don't believe, even though it's obvious and I don't think they would really have a problem, but I would find it hard having that conversation. If I tell my daughter outright she will go and repeat it to them and it may come across badly coming second hand from a five year old. I suppose that's my own issues not hers!

I was trying to say that not all grown ups believe in God, but she said "yes they do". It's so hard to get the balance right. She obviously likes the idea of a God. It feels like saying there's no Santa.

I suppose I could look for a positive take in atheism, eg there is so much amazing stuff in human beings and nature. That's what I take heart from, rather than a god.

KatyBeau Fri 15-Jan-16 06:37:08

Meant to add that it's a shame there aren't as many gripping stories. How can you compete with the bible stories? I've tried to make evolution into an amazing story but I'm not that skilled!

VashtaNerada Fri 15-Jan-16 06:48:32

I find "some people believe that, some don't" on repeat is the best way! And if explicitly asked I say I don't. No point saying more than that, DH came right out and told DD that God doesn't exist (meanie) but she's so contrary that just made her even more insistent he did! grin

MothershipG Fri 15-Jan-16 06:50:46

You need to be honest with your DD and your parents. As you say it's unlikely to come as a shock to them.

I was in a similar position to you, brought up RC, became atheist, with parents still active in the church. I know what you mean about it being hard to actually say to your parents that you don't believe in something they hold dear, it feels a tiny bit like you are rejecting them but If you keep fudging the issue its only going to confuse your DD.

But if you really can't face it it's not going to do your daughter any harm to spend her childhood believing, after all we both turned out OK! grin

SeoulSista Fri 15-Jan-16 06:53:26

I would chill a bit about it. We are in the same situation except Irish Catholic GP's.
Oldest is now just eight and we have had a conversation that went.
"Mummy, can I be an atheist?"
"Yes darling, but you won't be able to wear the white dress and make your First Holy Communion"
"OK, can I make my FHC and then be an atheist?"
"Yes of course darling, that's what most people do"


Soooosie Fri 15-Jan-16 06:53:28

It's developmental. They go through it when first at a c of e school but then by year 2 or 3 they come to their senses and start asking tricky questions

Helmetbymidnight Fri 15-Jan-16 06:56:01

Yes, all three of my children went through a fierce god loving stage at about five years old. They heard about it at school and liked it.

It soon wore off.

Soooosie Fri 15-Jan-16 06:57:22

I think there's a lot to be taken from the parables (even though I'm
Not religious). The stories about forgiveness, love, kindness are all good. Your child will soon be questioning teachings about god being all around us or how the earth was made.

munchkinmaster Fri 15-Jan-16 06:59:16

What RE do they do at school. For example our nursery did Diwali and Christmas this year. I think the concept that lots of people believe lots of different things might avoid any kind of idea that it's good to believe x or believing is better.

eatingworms Fri 15-Jan-16 07:03:10

My 6 year old is also still in this phase. Both me and DH are atheists but it doesn't worry us. He's still so young and he hears it all at school so he fully takes it on board at the moment. I want to let him come to his own conclusions, he's only 6, loads of time before he'll know what he truly believes.
He knows that we don't believe but tells us that he does believe in God. I just say that's fine and he's allowed to believe whatever he wants.

ObsidianBlackbirdMcNight Fri 15-Jan-16 07:07:48

Small children are drawn to the idea of God because it fits their world view. All powerful parental figure, knows everything, can grant wishes (magic/Santa!) but she will grow up and if you support her critical thinking she will make her own mind up. She may make an informed choice to be religious or not. Don't stress about it! My 7yo quite often asks me about God as his dad is a believer and I always say it's what some people believe etc...then he says he believes in God and I say fine. It doesn't bother me, he will come to his own conclusions when he is older!

merrymouse Fri 15-Jan-16 07:08:02

She will probably reach a point where (like Santa) she will either ask you directly or naturally become aware that not everybody believes in God.

In the end it's up to her to decide what she believes. However, you can certainly frame your beliefs in a positive way e.g. There is no 'God' figure in charge of everything, but you can believe in love and kindness and that generally people are more inclined to do good than bad.

Also, not believing in God doesn't mean you can't agree with many of the things the church teaches (do unto others etc.).

If you want a gripping concept, go with "we are all made of stars!"

On balance, she may prefer God for a few years at least, but, again that is up to her.

KatyBeau Fri 15-Jan-16 07:09:05

I guess I'll just wait until she's older and able to think about it more.

It does bug me that she's been getting these messages, and she's not even in a church school, but then the whole issue of "collective worship" is an entirely different thread!

Thistledew Fri 15-Jan-16 07:14:36

Maybe get some age appropriate books about different religions around the world and ones that have been followed throughout history to teach her about other gods that people have (and do) believed in. Then when she says 'God is everywhere' you can gently quiz her as to which god she is referring to - an introduction to the idea that god is a human made construct?

KatyBeau Fri 15-Jan-16 07:15:40

Good idea

SeoulSista Sat 16-Jan-16 02:01:43

I already replied above but wanted to add that I think you should be okay with your child not being an atheist. Your parents presumably didn't reject or dismiss you so I do think that your child deserves the same respect if they don't agree with. Your religious choices.

Out2pasture Sat 16-Jan-16 02:52:54

i've recently read a article from 2004 saying the belief in god might be genetic. some are hardwired to believe in spirituality more than others...
maybe a little bit of grandma in her.

tangerinesarenottheonlyfruit Sat 16-Jan-16 02:53:22

I tell DS the truth, in a way he can digest.

When it comes up, I say some people believe in religion but it's not true so we don't believe in it.

But, we have to be nice about it because it's very important to some people, and it's not nice to say it's not real because could upset them.

I tell him Jesus was a real person but he wasn't the son of God, that's pretend.

I tell him there are lots of religions around the world. I tell him about ancient gods and hindu gods and how the religions are about lots of stories.

I do tell him "we are all made of stars!" grin and we talk about science and space a lot.

I tell him no one really know what happens after we die, and ask him what he thinks.

He has a friend in his class who is very religious however, and so he has this year started saying he believes in god and jesus and wants to go to church I ask him what he thinks happens in church but he doesn't know.

I imagine he'll grow out of it at some point. He has a vivid imagination!

I don't believe in this nonsense about letting them decide for themselves to the point of hiding your own beliefs.

By teaching my DC about science and the wonder of the world, I am teaching them my belief system.

tangerinesarenottheonlyfruit Sat 16-Jan-16 02:56:54

Here's a gripping story for you You Are Stardust

A children's book

LovelyFriend Sat 16-Jan-16 06:38:36

She will be getting RE at school now - covering the different religions.

I've been very upfront with my dc - that I don't believe in god, but there are some nice stories (or are there - even the nativity involves a baby murdering king. Who does that?).

Dd1 age 5 was very shocked to initially hear I didn't believe. But it started a dialogue that is ongoing.

My main concern with re is belief in god is presented as a fact, and not believing isn't taught as an option. confused. That's where our family life and conversations comes into play.

WaitingForMe Sat 16-Jan-16 07:09:22

I responded to comments like "God is everywhere" by saying "God can be all kinds of things and different people believe different things." I reference other religions a lot when my stepkids ask me why we don't go to Church ("we don't go to synagogue, temple or mosque either").

It's tough as kids can be so black and white.

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