Bringing up baby

Sep 25, 2012

Discussion by: amy.l.watson.5
Hello all,

This is my first post and it concerns bringing up my child. I have tried looking up all this stuff on the internet and discussing these issues with friends, but I also wanted to ask the community for your input.

I am an atheist, but when I was brought up I really enjoyed Jesus’ parables in the same way that I enjoyed Aesop’s fables. I also enjoyed the Harvest festival at school and Christmas and Easter time and, although religion was taught before science in my primary school, I never felt pressured into believing in God, nor did any of my fellow students (that I have kept in contact with).

I am due to have my first child in a month’s time and I really don’t know how to introduce the concept of religion in their life. I would love to educate my child equally on all creation stories from all cultures and really give my child a multi-cultural scope of what religion is, but how do I go about explaining that some people actually believe this stuff and that I won’t stop or judge them if they chose to believe in it too? I just get so stressed out thinking about how to balance their education fairly without any sense of bias.

I also wanted to teach them about science and logic first – valuing evidence before blind faith. Does anybody have any recommendations for suitable science book for younger children or simple experiments so that I could do at home to demonstrate how to observe things in order to come to conclusions? I do intend on taking my child to our local science museums- MAGNA, Eureka and Life (if I can get that far for a day trip) – as well as animal sanctuaries, historic museums and Sealife centres. Does anybody have any further recommendations for giving my child a broad understanding of the world we live in?

I can not afford to tailor my child’s education as much as I would like and I am concerned that people will try to educate my child inappropriately about religion (i.e. not allow them to question God or the teachings in the Bible). Does anybody have any experience in addressing this? 

Thank you

P.S. I know that a lot of this will sound controlling and, as I’ve already stated above, I didn’t come to much harm from having a liberal religious upbringing, but I really want my child to be more comfortable and eloquent then I was at expressing their beliefs. 

18 comments on “Bringing up baby

  • Well fortunately you’ll have a few years to go before this becomes really pressing, so there’s time to think!

    With my own daughter reaching the age where this becomes relevant soon, I’ve thought about how to go about it as well. My current plan will be to let her take the initiative. Children are really inquisitive, and I intend to answer as many questions as honestly as possible. That will probably include questions about religion, which I will also answer as far as my knowledge goes.

    I’ll probably suggest her to read some books. I can suggest this one:

    It helped me a lot when I was an inquisitive kid. I already have a copy in my bookshelf. As for religious stories; I’ll probably share when neccesary. However, there are also plenty of children’s stories with good morals that aren’t religious in nature.

    Plus, I think that if you merge religious stories in with fairytales, your child won’t even know the difference.

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  • 2
    ZenDruid says:

    Only when the little one starts asking questions about death,  it becomes important to present the extant mythology and philosophical arguments. Seems to me that fear is the main issue to be dealt with.

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  • 3
    The Fog Horn says:

    There is nothing wrong in telling a child that a person who has died has ceased to exist. This can lead on to very beneficial conversations about the need to live a good life, the need to be good to those you love, the need to stay healthy, etc. This is what I have done and it didn’t cause undue upset but settled the situation.

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  • 4
    AtheistButt says:

    If this is your first child, then I think you’ll have other things to stress about, so don’t get too hung up on this one. I see nothing wrong with enjoying harvest festivals, easter, christmas etc – all kids can do that – just make sure that at home you educate ‘her’ about the magic of reality. And Richard’s Magic of Reality might be a good book to start with; more for older teens but read it yourself so that you are familiar with the arguments. Frankly, I think you have it easier now than it was when my kids were young (30 years ago), but even then they were able to cope with minor amounts of religion at school (I kept them away from religious schools) and still manage to be well-adjusted. And your ideas about taking kids to science museums is spot-on.

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  • 5
    amy.l.watson.5 says:

    I know I’ve probably got a while yet 🙂 Just a first time parent getting my panic on…

    Thanks for your ideas. I was thinking about talking to the school about it. Resoundingly it is sounding like honesty is the best policy… phew! I’ve also found an interesting site that has ‘creation’ stories from around the world and a treasury of ‘flood’ stories from different cultures that might be nice- I just hope they’ll be able to see how similar religions are from that. 

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  • 6
    CdnMacAtheist says:

    As mentioned above, The Magic Of Reality is a great way for both parent & child to understand & discuss all kinds of mysteries & myths, starting out just as a nice picture book.
    By school age, as discussed in Steven Pinker’s ‘How The Mind Works’ (which I just read), children are more influenced outside the home than inside, so what they are taught and who they interact with becomes important.
    Good luck.

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  • 7
    OHooligan says:

    Sounds like you’ll do just fine.  But since you’re seeking advice, here’s mine, for what it’s worth:

    don’t worry

    don’t lie

    don’t ever ever use “baby talk”.  Baby will learn English a lot easier than you’ll learn Baby, so don’t even try.

    don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”.  Even better, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out”

    Children are natural scientists before anything else.  They observe, theorize,  and experiment.   They’re quite happy with the notion that all creatures are a bit like themselves, be they frogs or birds or lizards, if they have two eyes, four limbs, five fingers or toes, it’s clear to a child that they’re our kin.   

    My 6 year old was delighted to find that her 185,000,000th grandpappy was a fish.

    oh, and one more:  don’t pay too much attention to advice.

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  • I wouldn’t worry so much about your messages to your child. You will naturally field questions as they come.  It’s the messages of others that tend to confuse little kids: spouse, spouse’s parents, your parents, daycare, etc. Religious people can be insidiously persistent. Or, do I mean persistently insidiouse?  

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  • 9
    lakeland says:

    I had the same worries with my kids. 
    I had been brought up to believe in heaven, fairies, magic, well basically superstition. I beleive that somehow i had been altered negatively by that and took me a long time to find the happiness of atheism (and science) because of that. 
    I decided that if my child wanted to believe in superstition that it would be something they did when they were old enough to make an informed decision. 
    To that end I’ve  always talked to them about superstition when they bump into it with things like ‘ some people believe in god but i don’t’, ‘some people believe in heaven but i think when you die that is the end, but you are left with the memories of that person’. 
    I think without superstition they find life much simpler. Sometimes i worry that she may upset some of her friends who are superstitious… but its only sometimes!

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  •  As a father of 2 well balanced adult sons who hold decent jobs and don’t give a hoot about religion, may I add my sixpence worth.

    I found that kids understand pretence as well, maybe better, than adults. When our sons were little, 4,5 or 6 years old, “He-Man”, “Skeletor” “Masters of the Universe” was in vogue with accompanying TV episodes. I noticed that while they were engrossed in the whole “Masters of the Universe” thing and had collected all the plastic figures of He-Man and his entourage, there was no doubt at all that the boys understood that it was all fiction and pretence and enjoyed the stories in the same way as an adult that watches “Star Wars” or the like.

    Likewise when it came to Christmas we stuffed the stocking at night with presents so the kids woke up to them on Christmas morning. (The only initial dissenter was my wife, who was of Danish background and apparently Farther Christmas goes to Denmark first to deliver presents on Christmas eve, so we did both, gave a few knick-knacks on Xmas eve as well)

    At no time did we tell the Children that Father Christmas or Santa Clause was a real person. We always made it a game of fiction. When we took the kids to the shopping centre we would say something like, “Look at that man dressed as Father Christmas” on the basis that I felt it would be traumatic when children find out that the parents have been lying to them about Santa. If Kids are told that Santa is real, then suddenly they find out the parents have been misleading them, how do they reconcile that with being told that they should avoid drugs? When will you come and say that it is all a hoax and drugs are acceptable?

    I have heard some parents say that they enjoy watching their kids play out belief that Santa Clause is real. I Cannot see how a parent can enjoy bluffing their kids in this way. I think it is horrible and approaching abuse.

    Remember “Christmas” was celebrated long before Christianity existed. “Saturnalia” or the “Birth of the eternal Sun” was the Roman holiday that was actually changed to Christmas when Caesar became the Pope and started killing pagans and Arians.

    In Northern Europe “Yule” was celebrated in the colder parts. A tree was used as a decoration, a pig was slaughtered and they did the only sensible thing that can be done in mid winter: get drunk! The holiday was to celebrate the passing of mid winter. Days were increasing in length and summer was on the way. The Solstice fell on about the 25th in those days according to the Julian calendar.

    As far as The Adam and Eve story, Noah’s ark etc I told the children what worked for me when I was a child. My mum told me that a long time ago people wanted to know how the world started so they were told the bible stories. Which is probably as true as one can get.

    I think children should know the stories from the bible but told as legends, as other fairy stories.

    We also went through the same procedure at Easter, having easter egg hunts etc for the children.

    One may ask why do this when there is no belief in god? I feel that people, children and adults need a fun time to party and celebrate. Friends are all enjoying the holiday season and it would be rather cruel to deny children the festive season.

    Christmas is well placed a week before New Year making a convenient celebration season.

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  • 11
    logicophilosophicus says:

    “I have heard some parents say that they enjoy watching their kids play out belief that Santa Clause is real. I Cannot see how a parent can enjoy bluffing their kids in this way. I think it is horrible and approaching abuse.”

    I don’t know about that. I’m an atheist, and all my kids are, but when they were little we had fun with all the Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy stuff, pretty serious make-believe. (I loved drinking the whisky and eating the mince pie, but taking a bite out of Rudolph’s carrot was just a chore.) I always took the view that realising there is no Santa gives children a model for understanding that religious people are just childlike in that way – God is something they can’t quite grow out of.

    [btw “Caesar became Pope… and started killing pagans and Arians…” No emperors became Pope. Some emperors “persecuted” pagans, and that included outlawing some practices (on pain of death – a common punishment, not specifically religious persecution). I doubt whether Theodosius was overly concerned about animal welfare, but the two pagan rituals he made illegal were sacrifice and haruspicy – both involved animal victims, and they do seem barbaric to me. From the Emperor’s point of view, once Christianity was the state religion, pagan practices were treason – the only capital offence for Roman citizens.]

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  •  Reply to logicophilosophicus

    I was making the point that children enjoy Father Xmas just as much when knowing he is fiction, kids understand make-believe in the same way as adults watching a science fiction movie. Kids do not have to be misled by telling them he is real.

    Why Tell kids lies? So a parent can get some mindless fuzzy rush out of seeing their children confused?

    Why do you think it acceptable to confuse kids? Missinformation, no matter how benign, at best serves no use, at worst risks unforseen cosequences later.

    Anyone who gets a kick out of misleading little children is just horrible and I would suggest some treatment.

    My parents told me the truth about Father Xmas from zero. We still had Christmas stockings, a tree etc. I remember from an early age my mother taking me aside on the occasions when we had visiting parents who had lied to their children telling the kids Father Xmas was real. Mum reminded me NOT to tell the visiting children that their parents had misled them. I was so pleased, it gave me confidence and felt far advanced on these ignorant children, I knew something that they did not.

     If it gives you as a parent  the mindless fuzzies to keep your children ignorant during the most impressionable years, go ahead and tell your kids just any crap that pleases you.
    (The thing I mentioned about Ceasar
    becoming the Pope was said with tounge in cheek. I am fully aware of the
    history but the discussion is too lengthy and I just cannot be
    You sure don’t understand a little fictitious puffery. )

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  • 13
    Thunderballs says:

    For young children 

    1.   If lots of people thought your name was XXXXX would they be right ?    What if people built special buildings and sung songs about your name being XXXX would your name be XXXX then ?

    2.  What is true is much more important than what people think or believe…….

    3.  Lots of adults have imaginary friends too…

    Young children develop a sense of self and fairness very early on. They are indignant about people getting their name wrong.

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  • 15
    applexpanther says:

    Yes, I don’t think Santa is trying to indoctrinate us with moral “lessons” or command people to publicly affirm sins, apologize and beg forgiveness.  Nor is the Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.  Kids naturally disbelieve in fairy tales as they grow older, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the religious.  

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  • 16
    Mark Ribbands says:

    … don’t ever ever use “baby talk”. Baby will learn English a lot easier than you’ll learn Baby, so don’t even try.
    don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Even better, “I don’t know, but I’ll try to find out”

    It’s an old thread now, but I couldn’t resist saying what superb advice Hooligan gives above. 

    My philosophy is identical. 

    And Amy, from the questions you ask, it’s quite clear you will be fine.  Your baby has chosen intelligent parents, so has already correctly determined one of the most important decisions in life. Now all you need do is to guide him or her with some of the others.  

    Welcome to parenthood by the way.  If ever asked to define the meaning of life, that’s the easy one-word answer: ‘Parenthood’.  Is it true of all organic life.


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  • 17
    EnthusiasticAtheist says:

    I am mother to a 10 year old boy.  I have always spoken to my son as a human being first and a child second (except of course when he was a toddler and couldn’t understand adult speak).   We celebrated Christmas with him because it’s fun to give gifts!  We put up a tree because I like pretty, twinkling lights and decorations and I celebrate the fact that my work shuts down for a week every Christmas and I still get paid!  I let him believe in Santa Clause, the tooth fairy and the easter bunny,  because it was fun for us to do so, although in retrospect we feel a little bad about it. 

    We have always been open with our atheist, or more and more anti-theist, beliefs with him, so when he realized this year that none of those “fairies” mentioned above were true, he was perfectly fine with it and happy that we were so generous with him.   He understands that people have religious beliefs, and that he should not disrespect them, but he is free to challenge their dialogue should it be pointed in his direction.

    Many religious people think I’m wrong and unfair in not allowing him to decide for himself whether to believe in fairy tales.  I prefer to say that I am teaching him to be a rational, free-thinking human being with a solid understanding of our world through science and education.  I allowed him to have the child-hood rights of passage (e.g. tooth fairy) because I think every child needs fantasy and fun in their little lives…but I do sometimes worry about the dichotomy in that.

    I will still put up a tree, decorate for the “holidays” and celebrate friendship, good will, and family values…and I don’t think that compromises my atheist beliefs in any way.

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