Raising an Atheist Child
By guest author: Heather
Disclaimer: I am not a parenting expert. What I am about to discuss is what is my own way of parenting my child. I never forced my child to choose between Christianity or Atheism. I am just a single mother of an almost six year old boy who decided to change the entire way of raising my son once I realized he was capable of more.
What do you say when your child decides to laugh out loud about Jesus dying during the middle of the Easter sermon? What do you say when your child says, “Mom, that was a funny story” after Sunday school? These are just two instances when I knew my son was like me. What do I mean by like me? I have been an Atheist officially for two years now. I think I have always been one before that point. I never believed that God existed. Now, as a mother, I find that idea to be a fact within my life.
Let’s start with a little history. When W’s father was in the picture, we agreed to raise W as a Christian so he could be accepted in the very conservative southeast Kansas. W’s father was Christian while, at that moment, I was a Buddhist. Every Sunday from the time he was born, he would go to church. It was a time for W’s paternal grandparents to see him. I would have a small break for an hour while W’s Nana held him and showed him off. Once W’s father left, I insisted on keeping the schedule since W was so small. I hated going to church. I found it to be pointless, but W loved the time with his family. I endured this for a couple of years. When W was just fourteen months old, his Nana died of lung cancer. By the time he was almost three, he lost is pawpaw from a different kind of cancer. This meant we didn’t have to go to church every single weekend. Whenever we went to my mother’s house, he would attend church with them. It was his time with them as well.
After the Easter outburst, I began to notice my son’s behavior had changed. While most people would think that he was just stretching his argument skills, I knew it was more. He would try to make an argument over everything. Why did he have to take a bath? Why couldn’t he have McDonald’s for dinner? Why didn’t SleepingBeauty’s parents kill Maleficent when she showed up at the birth party? While these are perfectly normal questions, W was never satisfied with my answers. He kept pushing for more explanations than what I had prepared. Once I told him that I did not believe in God but he was able to go to church with my mom and stepfather, W changed. At first, I thought the change was from my explanation on why I was an Atheist. Now I have two theories. First I think he thought my reasons about being an Atheist were better than being a Christian. Second, I thought he was just trying to please me.
After three long years of fighting with him over the strict rules for the house, I decided to do something different. On his fifth birthday, I decided to throw out the harsh rules and find a way for us to utilize his argument abilities. We established his chores that he was able to pick out. Since he picked them out, he could not argue with me about fulfilling these chores. These chores ranged from making his bed to helping with the dishes. I negotiated putting a few more chores on his board. These were simple rules like brushing his teeth and reading a book every night before bed.
These simple chores led to the first stage in changing my parenting style. Instead of fighting with W every time he disobeyed a typical rule, we would have discussions. Instead of telling him he was wrong or bad, I would ask why he did what he did. I never placed the blame on him. Obviously, something was bothering him and he was acting out. When he did do something that put me over the edge, I would have to abandon my new parenting in order to discipline him. There are times that tradition methods are the only way to capture a child’s attention.
I didn’t anticipate any issues with these rules until he went to kindergarten. As a typical mother, I can tell you that my son is smart and at the top of his class; however, in W’s case, it was true. According to his teacher, and the permanent substitute (long story), W is extremely bright for his age. The only issue they have had with him is with obeying the rules. Every time he gets into trouble, he has a justification for why he did that particular thing. They love that he tries to justify his reasoning, but that isn’t what they want in school. What do they want? They want children who follow the rules without question. I finally asked W what the rules were in order to practice these rules at home.
Now, how to teach your child about religious differences. One of the huge differences that W has dealt with was the fact he is not religious. I believe W is the only child in his school that is an Atheist. I say believe because if there are others, they haven’t spoken up. W has participated in things that we don’t agree with like the Christmas pageant. Even though we do not believe in those particular holidays, W still had to participate in the annual Christmas or “Winter” program. He did it without complaint and I could hear his voice over everyone else. This was a learning experience for both of us. Unlike others, W has learned to participate even when his beliefs do not match. While other children were complaining, W sucked it up and was a part of the group.
This seems to be the biggest difference between raising my son as an Atheist. Before, when something upset W, he would act like it is the end of the world and act out in front of whoever was watching. Now, he will sit quietly until we get home and he will talk to me about it. If I feel like it needs to be discussed with his teacher, I will tell him that we will talk to her the next day. Like any child, W was told never to resort to violence unless he is defending himself. He has been in arguments with children who talk about God or Jesus. It is just something we have dealt with when it occurs. I never tell W that these children are wrong. I told him that everyone has different beliefs. While these children believe in Jesus and God, we believe that those two ideas do not exist.
While many will read this and write me off as a “damn, dirty hippie” I encourage all parents to reconsider how they deal with their children. While W is allowed to make rules, it has been a trial by error. I think parents shouldn’t involve any religion into their child’s development. By giving the child a choice and the ability to argue, the child is allowed to use their brain. Shocking, I know.