I remember the day it hit me. My son was preparing for his First Communion, and listening to some bible story about locusts and water turning to blood. He sat there listening intently, rapt and innocent. I had stopped believing in that stuff long ago, yet here I was forcing him to listen and believe. I’d taught him to be obedient and respectful and it broke my heart that he was accepting this as fact. I sat in a church and silently promised myself this would be the last time. He was trusting me to lead him in the right direction and I felt very strongly that I was letting him down.
I raised my children in a church environment because that is how my husband and I were raised. Quite frankly, for the first 10 years we were parents, that is how everyone around us had been raised and they were passing those beliefs along to their children. But after many late night talks and careful contemplation, my husband and I decided we were good without god and our children would be too.
We teach our children morality. Be kind, treat others fairly, be honest. Not because you fear eternal damnation, but because you would want to be treated that way. We made it clear that we no longer believed in god, and gave them reasons why. We continue to encourage them to explore, question, and draw their own conclusions. I’ve been careful never to criticize their friends’ beliefs, unless they were hurtful or hateful toward others. For a while one of my daughters chose to attend church with her friend. I even drove her to and from services, but after awhile she decided it wasn’t for her. She told me that she was mainly going for the boys and the snacks. It crossed my mind that it would be rather ironic if she was secretly a believer, and just told me that to appease me. After all, when I was her age I went to church for the boys and the snacks and told my parents I was doing it for the lord.
My children are free to choose whether or not to participate in holiday activities at school, the pledge of allegiance, or holiday gatherings at friends’ homes. As long as they can present me with an honest reason one way or the other, I will support their decision. Which brings me to the title of this blog: When planning to get our sons together, a very well meaning mother of one of his friends invited us to a Christmas gathering at one of our favorite local charities. She stopped mid sentence and asked, “Are you Christian, or do you hate Christmas?” I was a little caught off guard as I hadn’t realized those were my only options. I explained that although my family was not religious, we enjoyed holiday festivities and were big supporters of the hosting charity, Opportunity Village. Our sons have remained good friends.
I think the best thing you can do as a humanist parent is to raise honest, kind children. Let them lead by example, and show others what true compassion is. It can be difficult. There have been families that have not allowed my children to socialize with theirs, and my daughters have both been called “bad influences” due to their beliefs about equality, and the lack of religion in our home. My children are free to share as little or as much of our family’s beliefs with their peers, as long as they feel comfortable and are being honest and respectful. I hope that my children can find comfort in the fact that I will NEVER choose obedience to an abstract deity over the tangible, unconditional love of my family.