Ask Richard: Single Mother’s Parents are Proselytizing Her Kid

Note: This letter is similar to one I published in December of 2010. Both letter writers have some financial challenges, but the first writer was intimidated by bullying parents, while today’s writer has parents who are supportive in important ways, but they are being deceitful. Many atheist parents are faced with the thorny problem of grandparents indoctrinating grandchildren. The details of each situation can make big differences in what might be the best solutions, but there are no perfect or painless solutions.

Letter writers’ names are changed to protect their privacy.

I’m a single mother of a two year old girl. My parents, both (now former) ministers, have been amazingly supportive since I told them I was pregnant and a few months later moved back in with them. I have spent the past two years working and going to school and am set to graduate college next May, possibly sooner. I feel like I’m really kicking ass at this whole motherhood thing (most days) but I don’t know if I could say that if I wasn’t fortunate enough to have such a great support system (and free babysitting).

We have spoken countless times at length about my choice to not raise her in church or as a Christian. They are aware that I don’t believe in God, and I have told them that there is no possibility that I will change my mind. They also know that I think church/religion is NOT harmless, and I want to raise my daughter to be a critical thinker, righteous for the sake of being a good person (as opposed to an ultimate reward), and to know that she is not inferior to a man because some old book tells her so. (Oh, and also their God is kind of a jerk.) They have expressed their disappointment but said they will “do the best they can” to not try to make her love Jesus.

Well, their best isn’t good enough, because they haven’t stopped indoctrinating her. I don’t know if they’re just trying to be sneaky about it or what, but tonight at dinner she clasped her hands and said “I pray! I pray!” This is not the first time she has alluded to god or church but it was the most jarring.

I’m so frustrated, but most of all, I feel helpless. I can’t afford to move out and even paying a babysitter seems like an unnecessary expense. I keep telling myself to make it one more year and then I’ll hopefully be able to find a job with my degree. She’s young and she’ll forget about all their god talk.

Any advice or ideas about how to cope?
Janine

Dear Janine,

You are the girl’s parent, not them. You are in charge of her upbringing, not them. You have made it crystal clear what you want regarding her exposure to religion, and they agreed to it. After speaking “countless times” with them, it is now just as crystal clear that your parents are consciously breaking their agreement. It’s not a slip, not an accident. Yes, they’re being sneaky.

It was very kind of them to help you and be supportive when you got pregnant, BUT if that came with the price of their indoctrinating your daughter against your wishes, the price is too high. It appears that because they’re helping you, they think they have you over a barrel, so they can break their agreement about your daughter.

You are not helpless, even if you feel that way. You do have power. As grandparents, they want to be with their granddaughter. So you have them over a barrel. You said that you can’t afford to move out yet, but then you said “paying a babysitter seems like an unnecessary expense.” That sounds like you could afford it if you rearrange your priorities. It is a necessary expense if your current “free” childcare service includes instilling in your daughter the exact opposite values and self image that you want her to have. If you want her to grow up to be a strong, assertive woman, live that example for her right now when she needs you, long before she’ll appreciate it.

Find other expenses to eliminate. I know this is not easy, but your daughter is definitely being affected in ways that you do not want. Find an acceptable source of secular childcare right away, preferably one where she will have fun with other kids. That will help to replace the company she has been getting from her grandparents.

My first impulse was to advise you to be prepared with a prospective baby sitter and then make one last demand to your parents to stop proselytizing your daughter, but I think that is simply asking for something they cannot deliver. If they think that their granddaughter’s immortal soul hangs in the balance, then in their minds lying to you and continuing to indoctrinate your daughter is perfectly justifiable. After all the times you’ve already spoken to them about this, giving them one more chance is simply asking for more of the same.

In a cool, businesslike tone, tell your parents that you are grateful for their support and help, and at the same time you cannot tolerate them driving a wedge between you and your daughter. They have continued to break their promise to you behind your back. By being deceitful, they’re not setting a good example as people, and they are not representing their faith in a good light. By being dishonest for Jesus, they’re only confirming the negative opinion that you have of religion.

So you will be taking your daughter to childcare elsewhere, and from now on they can enjoy her company under your supervision. Do not even bother to argue if they attempt to guilt trip you, such as saying that if you loved them or if you loved your daughter, then you’d let them continue. Call that kind of thing emotional blackmail, and brush it aside.

From your letter it does not sound likely, but be prepared just in case they imply or overtly threaten to turn you and your daughter out. If necessary, point out to them that that would only bring hardship to her, and still would not result in her “loving Jesus.” She will only learn bitterness toward them. The wedge they drive will be between them and her. You and she will survive, and your career and financial success will only be delayed, not destroyed.

Take action now. Do not rationalize to yourself that you can afford to wait, saying, “She’s young and she’ll forget about all their god talk.” Small children are like sponges. They soak up languages, beliefs, social attitudes, and images of themselves extremely quickly and deeply. They have no guard at their mind’s door to sort out truth from lies, or teaching from manipulation. Another year of this proselytizing will be very influential on her.

Try this experiment: Take a clean, new sponge. Pour artist’s India ink onto it, and then immediately rinse it out. Almost all of the ink will wash away, except for a faint stain. Now pour more ink onto it, and leave it for a few days. After that much time, washing it out will only remove a small amount of the ink, and the sponge will remain deeply and permanently stained.

How much of a stain on your daughter’s psyche is acceptable to you?

Janine, needing your parents’ help with housing does not make you their slave. They sound like they are basically good people, and they have probably done these things out of love for you and for her, but they have already demonstrated that they’re going to persist in this unacceptable behavior. You have power. Use it. You have resources of determination that you have not yet tapped. I agree with you that you are “really kicking ass at this whole motherhood thing.” Sometimes that involves kicking the asses of specific people who think that they are in charge of the parenting rather than you. Hopefully you can establish a relationship with your parents that is built on mutual respect, but that will only be if you consistently enforce your own boundaries.

Richard

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

    There’s a reason religions love to preach to children, and it isn’t because “they’ll forget all that god stuff”

    Great advice Richard!

    • Staceyjw

      YEP. They purposely catch them when young. don’t think it’s benevolent.

      teaching myths is your best defense. Even better than keeping her totally away from them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Hmm… Great advice, but only if these grandparents really are indoctrinating her kid.

    I’m not entirely sold on that though. The writer only expresses one incident where a religious indoctrination is possible. Saying grace before a meal is something the child could have picked up on. The grandparents are still entitled to say grace before THEY eat a meal if that’s what they want to do, right? It’s not really their fault if the kid just saw this a few times and went along with it. I think that to tell the grandparents they aren’t allowed to practice any of their religious traditions around the granddaughter is impeding on their rights, in their own home none the less.

    The incident the writer speaks of is something that had just happened the same night she wrote the letter. Is it possible she was just really upset about it and over exaggerating the issue? I’m not sure. I wouldn’t blame her if she was. I for one would be very pissed off if I were in her shoes that night.

    I’d need more information though. If it seems like religious indoctrination is happening more often than just the one occasion, I’d feel much more comfortable endorsing Richard’s advice.

    • Diagoras

      If it were that simple, why would the little girl chant, “I pray! I pray!” Most kids that age call it “saying grace” not prayer. They don’t get the connection unless someone explains it to them. It doesn’t sound like something a little kid would just spontaneously say just because she saw her grandparents saying grace before meals.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        I could say the exact same thing about calling it “saying grace”. A child wouldn’t even know that it’s called grace unless someone explains that to them.

        Maybe when the grandparents say grace it’s something like “I pray to you god, thank you for this blah blah blah” or something like that. Who knows really. Maybe it would help to ask the kid where she learned that?

        • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

          but given that this is not the only incident I think you are focusing on a tree and missing the forest.

      • Anonymous

        That she says that is extremely disturbing in itself. She doesn’t understand what she is doing. She is too young for that. It’s only hollow ritual she has picked up somewhere.

        If she fully understood what she is doing, I could say “Fine. Let her do it”. But she clearly doesn’t and that’s why it should be prevented.

      • Anonymous

        That she says that is extremely disturbing in itself. She doesn’t understand what she is doing. She is too young for that. It’s only hollow ritual she has picked up somewhere.

        If she fully understood what she is doing, I could say “Fine. Let her do it”. But she clearly doesn’t and that’s why it should be prevented.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      She gives one example, and says it is not the first time. I think you need to be overly generous to the point of being naive to assume an innocent explaination.

      • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

        yeah I looked back and re-read that. My mistake. I thought this was the only incident. If the daughter has mentioned god and church before something is definitely up. Consider my earlier post void :P

    • Douglas Kirk

      Another big part of it is the way she said it. She didn’t say, “Are we going to pray?” or “Let’s pray.”  she exclaimed that she was praying as if it were something to be proud of.  Little kids do that all the time, I mean who hasn’t been through a “Don’t you see how good I’m being? I’m being soooooo good!” moment with a little one. 

      To think that simply the act of praying makes her good and is a virtue of itself?  That takes brainwashing.

  • http://twitter.com/findo Andrew Finden

    Going only by what is written in the letter, the ‘proof’ of ‘indoctrination’ is that her daughter wanted to pray at a meal.. could it be that she simply saw her grandparents saying grace? Should they be forced not to do that because you don’t want your daughter exposed to their religious practices?

    I’m slightly puzzled by:

    Another year of this proselytizing will be very influential on her.

    So…. how influential was it on the mother?

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      “This is not the first time she has alluded to god or church but it was the most jarring.”

      • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

        She’s living with two former ministers, and as Richard points out, children are like sponges. It would be fairly stunning if she wasn’t making any allusions to religious practices. I do think it’s a bit of a stretch to read deliberate malice based on the evidence available, but Richard’s advice still holds good – even if the child is just picking stuff up rather than being actively taught it, it’s still worth avoiding if possible.

        • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

          I’d suspect it wasn’t deliberate, except that it is being done behind the mother’s back.

    • Douglas Kirk

      “So…. how influential was it on the mother?”

      Because back in our day we had to walk to school and use an outhouse.  That’s why kids nowadays shouldn’t be able to have cars, or enjoy indoor plumbing.  No, I don’t care how ucomfortable it makes them, kids nowadays shouldn’t have any advantages that we didn’t because then they might grow up to be different people than their parents.  And how awful is that thought! 

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com/ Steve Bowen

    Hmm! I’m not so sure about this. Religion is a fact of life, you encounter it often and insulating a child from it entirely does not sound like a good tactic. My daughter gets a fair amount of sneaky prosylitisation at school, but I’ve taught her to recognise it when she hears it. Sure very young children will mimic, but I don’t think this child’s critical thinking skills will be forever impaired by her grand-parents.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      Often the problem is that the parent takes a “I will not force my beliefs on them” approach whereas the grandparents and school take a “this is the Truth” stance. So the kid hears Jesus is real in one ear, and nothing in the other. Expose to low levels of religion for innoculation purposes are only worthwhile if you are going to talk to the child and say “that’s just someone’s opinion”

      Dale McGowan has some great tips over at Parenting Beyond Belief. In fact I think he has a similar set up with religious grandparents.

    • Anonymous

      The solution to that isn’t indoctrination, but education. It’s a good idea for atheist parents to teach their children about religion – all of them. But it needs to be done in a value neutral way and not be presented as the Absolute Truth[TM].

      But note that the girl is two years old. She is too young to understand what is going on.

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      Yes, but now the daughter is two, barley old enough to understand any of this. I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask the grandparents to knock it off, even if it does not harm the child, they should not be undermining the wishes of the mother, especially if they agreed to it to her face. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m a little unsettled to find myself wanting to take a softer approach than Richard, who is usually a thousand times kinder and more patient than I could ever be.

    There’s indoctrination and then there’s indoctrination. What are we talking about here? Saying grace and singing “Jesus loves me” or “the devil lurks trying to steal your soul!”? The difference between liberal fuzzy-cuddly-Jesus Christians and conservative smite-thee-sinner Christians is vast and should be taken into account. The letter writer says both the father and the mother were ministers. This means they belong to a Christian denomination that accepts women into the ministry, which rules out most of the nuttier brands.

    If the grandparents are possibly secretly teaching the child about the “place of godly women” in society, how god hates the dirty homos and that baby has to believe in Jesus so she can go to Heaven and not Hell then by all means lay down the law at once.  Particularly if the word “Hell” is in common usage by the parents, a child of any age needs to be kept away from that. “Janine” is in a good position to judge just what kind of beliefs are being peddled.

    However if it turns out that most of the things are benign, a gentler approach could be called for. Certainly a firm demand that the indoctrination stop, but in another tone. Telling them that you love them and you know your child loves them, but if they insist on teaching her Christian doctrine you will be forced to find different childcare alternatives is an option. You can tell them that you think that, absent indoctrination, you’d be happier having them with the child. However expecting you to be so unobservant about your own child that you won’t notice that they are indoctrinating her against your explicit will to the contrary is frankly an insult to your intelligence and interest in your own child. If they aren’t the fire and brimstone type, give them one last chance to behave themselves, but be ready with alternative plans.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      What if, like me, she doesn’t see inculcating faith as benign. Even the most liberal faith sees faith as a virtue. That’s a step too far.

      • Anonymous

        Hmm I may not have expressed myself clearly. I’m not saying that inculcating faith is benign, it’s not. By “most of the things are benign” I mean religious teachings that, while false, are unlikely to scar and harm a very young child, like the concept of hell would. Note that I’m not saying to allow even this softer indoctrination to continue, just that if they are relatively mild things (cuddly Jesus) then the matter may not be so urgent that it requires inmediate separation to discontinue the practice, and the grandparents can then be granted a final chance to behave themselves. The letter-writer herself should be the judge of what things go into the “Stop or I’m taking her elsewhere” category and which into the “OMFG how dare you, she goes to daycare tomorrow” category.

        • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

          Do you think, having gone behind her back already, they will change their ways?

          • Anonymous

            Probably not, but unless what the child is being taught is inmediately dangerous, I think it’s worthwhile to give them the benefit of the doubt. She lives with them and appears to depend on them to a certain extent, so making a good attempt to preserve a positive relationship is worthwhile. If the continue the behavior it will be easy enough to see and then they can hardly complain that they weren’t given a clear warning about the actions and their consequences.

            • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

              So it boils down to whether you see teaching faith to a child as dangerous. And in the letter she makes it clear that she does.

              There’s a reason churches want to preach to kids. You need to get those ideas in early if the are going to stick, the earlier the “better”

              • John Brockman

                “Give me the boy before the age of seven, and I will give you the man” – a quote often attributed to Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.

              • John Brockman

                “Give me the boy before the age of seven, and I will give you the man” – a quote often attributed to Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order.

  • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

    Judging from the letter, it sounds like she has already had several of these types of conversations with them and still has repeating incidents. 
    Maybe using the alternative childcare will be a sort of brisk wake up call to her otherwise loving parents that this is a non negotiable issue, and it may even help the daughter start learning how to socialize with kids her own age.

    The use of alternative childcare may not even have to be permanent, but just enough to show that she will defend her boundaries on the issue.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    Assuming that you can’t afford to move out until you find a job and the situation doesn’t yet warrant getting student loans to pay for room, board, and childcare, you could play the foil to your parents (also assuming they can’t help indoctrinating).  Explain to your child that you don’t believe in God.  Tell her your thoughts on religion (like perhaps religion is all make-believe).  This may confuse your daughter hearing two different contradictory things… but hopefully this confusion will buy you time until you can afford to move out.  Perhaps this is the best you can hope for at the moment.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744930698 Michelle Harmon

    Hi! I know exactly how you feel mama! I have two children, ages 6 & 4, I’m an atheist and my mother-in-law is Catholic. Before I go through the other responses and the comments, I’d like to share what I think… 
    You really have nothing to worry about. These little things your parents are sharing with your daughter are harmless and will not indoctrinate her permanatly into their belief system.  How they show love is FAR MORE VALUABLE AND IMPORTANT in your daughter’s and your life. Do you feel love is given in a positive manner by your parents? If so,  you can be certain they are transferring their love to your daughter with the same positive results.  My son, now 6, believed in God up until age 5, because of his grandma {lola} and the christian pre-school we sent him to {they have the BEST teachers, love them}. But he also believed in Santa and the tooth fairy {and kind of still does, depending on how deep I dig}. His temporary belief in god was not something I sweated for long {it was upsetting and made me angry at all those influence at first} but i did/do know, children have a mind of their own and as long as I honor his intelligence, share my love of information/answer seeking, both my kids will be okay.  Now, my son says he doesn’t believe in god and he doesn’t understand why people “believe in things like that.” I never told him what to believe, but I do share my perception with him without dancing around it – making sure to tell him that other people believe differently than his mama but that mama’s beliefs can be proven by science. I told him and my daughter that when something cannot be explained, we don’t have to make something up in order for it to make sense. We can test it… seek out information… ect. I tell him it is better to admit “I don’t know” or acknowledge “there is no proof therefore I don’t believe in that” rather than making something up. I know it is scary to trust what I am saying, but you really will be the biggest influence in your daughter’s life… trust her intelligence, she is not a robot that will be programmed. The more adults who show positive love to your little girl, the better. If you parents are loving, caring, wonderful people, cut them some slack. A few religious gestures are TOTALLY HARMLESS. I wouldn’t tell them that, do maintain your position, but don’t be afraid to let some of their behaviors go in one ear and out the other. This isn’t one of those worthy battles given your current situation and for the sake of your daughter’s relationship with two grandparents who are otherwise great. My advice would be to *not* move out and put yourself in financial strain while you are going to school. Being a single mom is hard, you need a village, you need a decent paying job to be independent from your parents… keep your eye on the big picture and your personal goals. Hang in there with your parents, what they are doing for you is very kind. I’m sure they can’t help themselves regarding their religious gestures/comments. My mother-in-law has even taken my son to church – he was so bored. You really do not have to punish your parents for this or worry about your daughter. You will be her main source of information now and for the rest of her life. Use these little incidences as opportunities to talk about what you believe, talk about supernatural belief vs. scientific knowledge. I know it is scary to trust what I am saying, just trust that you are going to be your daughter’s most important resource and trust that she will figure it out. She will. You are going to influence her more than your parents. 

    • Anonymous

      I think that this can only be an acceptable option IF indeed there teachings are harmless for the most part. Teaching a child about hell is not harmless, and should not be tolerated. Besides that there are still issues:

      - The way the letter writer describes the situation, it sounds like the grandparents are the primary caretakers while she is studying. That gives them enormous influence over their granddaughter. It’s not a matter of grandma saying some silly things when we go see her on Sunday. This child is in constant contact with two people who are not only religious, but ministers and thus highly trained in religious indoctrination that can stick. It’s entirely too optimistic to think that the situation does not place her daughter at risk for adopting irrational faith claims, though I wholeheartedly agree with you that the best defense is to teach them critical thinking from an early age.

      - There is a matter here of boundaries and how they should be respected. She has requested that her parents not indoctrinate their grandchild and they have agreed. They have not honored that agreement and are imposing their view of how a child should be raised over the view of that child’s mother. If this were a matter of giving her ice-cream and other forms of spoiling that grandparents are happily notorious for, I’d have no problem, but in this case, they appear to be willing to lie to their daughter in order to maintain access to their granddaughter for indoctrination. This is not OK.

    • Anonymous

      I think that this can only be an acceptable option IF indeed there teachings are harmless for the most part. Teaching a child about hell is not harmless, and should not be tolerated. Besides that there are still issues:

      - The way the letter writer describes the situation, it sounds like the grandparents are the primary caretakers while she is studying. That gives them enormous influence over their granddaughter. It’s not a matter of grandma saying some silly things when we go see her on Sunday. This child is in constant contact with two people who are not only religious, but ministers and thus highly trained in religious indoctrination that can stick. It’s entirely too optimistic to think that the situation does not place her daughter at risk for adopting irrational faith claims, though I wholeheartedly agree with you that the best defense is to teach them critical thinking from an early age.

      - There is a matter here of boundaries and how they should be respected. She has requested that her parents not indoctrinate their grandchild and they have agreed. They have not honored that agreement and are imposing their view of how a child should be raised over the view of that child’s mother. If this were a matter of giving her ice-cream and other forms of spoiling that grandparents are happily notorious for, I’d have no problem, but in this case, they appear to be willing to lie to their daughter in order to maintain access to their granddaughter for indoctrination. This is not OK.

    • Stacey

      I agree with you Michelle, as long as the child has a parent who is an advocate of rational thinking and is open and honest with their child about such things I wouldn’t worry too much about the little things learned simply from exposure. Brainwashing indoctrination is another thing. I’m also a mother of a 3 and 5 year old, I have Catholic parents, and I warned them when my daughter was born that if they tried to secretly have her baptized or try to tell her about God I would never let them babysit. Yes, they told me they were afraid that my family was going to hell, and I said thanks for your concern but we don’t believe in hell. I also realize that they aren’t going to take down their pictures of Jesus when we visit, so there is some exposure. But I think of it now as the same as seeing statues of Buddha or going into a Hindu home with pictures of their pantheon of gods or going to a wedding in a church. That’s not always a bad thing – it gives her the chance to see what other people do and believe, and I look forward to being able to share my own perspective. When my daughter has asked about God it’s usually something like, is God bigger than a dinosaur? And then we talk about it, and I’m sure my smart little kids will be able to see the difference between fantasy and reality and decide on the truth for themselves, like I did.

    • Stacey

      I agree with you Michelle, as long as the child has a parent who is an advocate of rational thinking and is open and honest with their child about such things I wouldn’t worry too much about the little things learned simply from exposure. Brainwashing indoctrination is another thing. I’m also a mother of a 3 and 5 year old, I have Catholic parents, and I warned them when my daughter was born that if they tried to secretly have her baptized or try to tell her about God I would never let them babysit. Yes, they told me they were afraid that my family was going to hell, and I said thanks for your concern but we don’t believe in hell. I also realize that they aren’t going to take down their pictures of Jesus when we visit, so there is some exposure. But I think of it now as the same as seeing statues of Buddha or going into a Hindu home with pictures of their pantheon of gods or going to a wedding in a church. That’s not always a bad thing – it gives her the chance to see what other people do and believe, and I look forward to being able to share my own perspective. When my daughter has asked about God it’s usually something like, is God bigger than a dinosaur? And then we talk about it, and I’m sure my smart little kids will be able to see the difference between fantasy and reality and decide on the truth for themselves, like I did.

    • Rickjohn2

      How absolutely sad it is that people reject God and the Bible because of misunderstandings and misinformation and claim to be open-minded and critical thinkers yet get all bent out of shape when a parent or grandparent who merely lives out his or her faith in God in a real way and has an influence on a child are then not allowed to live out his or her faith in God by atheists who claim to be so open-minded.  Shall we say the word “inclusive”?  How about “tolerant”?  Michelle, just because your daughter wants to imitate what she has apparently seen your parents do, does that preclude her from being a “critical thinker”?  Do you see any signs that your daughter is rejecting you as her mother as children in cults do?  Are you saying that because your parents believe in God that they are not critical thinkers?  Is that what you athiests think, that people who believe in God are not crtical thinkers?  Are you that arrogant to think that because you have rejected God because of your shallow-minded thinking that that makes you critical thinkers?  Think again.  I could go into how bigoted you are, but I’ll leave at that.  Look it up.  You fit the definition to a tee. 
      Relax, Michelle.  Your daughter will be fine.  Your parents are obviously far more open-minded than you are.  It’s you that you should be worrying about the influence you will have on your daughter.

      Sincerely,
      Rick Johnson

      • Jennifer Robinson

        Wow.  I’m curious, Rick, if the situation were reversed, and your parents were Atheists and trying to teach your children about Atheism behind your back, would you be so open minded about it and find it to be harmless?  Somehow I seriously doubt that.

        • StaceyJW

          Of course he wouldn’t stand for it. Think about those Christians that work so hard to ban gays from marrying, often primarily because they don’t want their kids to see it as normal! or no teaching evolution, because they believe in Creation? No real Christian parent is going to let 2 atheists spend all day teaching their kids that God doe ant exist and Jesus is a myth! and you know what, we wouldn’t expect them too, either.

          Being tolerant means TOLERATING behavior and beliefs you don’t agree with. not subjecting your dearest, innocent loved one to them all day.

    • Rickjohn2

      OOPS!  My bad.  I meant to respond to Janine and Richard.  Your comments are right on, Michelle.

  • Anonymous

    I’d tell them that she is too young and to wait until she is older to teach her about religion. By then the financial situation may have improved and it’s possible to be more independent from the grand parents.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      Unfotunately it seems like she already told them this and they couldn’t stop themselves.

  • TychaBrahe

    One thing to remember is that you do not have to take an all or nothing stance.  For example, let’s say you place the child in childcare two days a week, that being the limit of what you can afford without additional income.  Your parents will surely question this decision.  And when they do, you explain that despite your making it very clear that your daughter will not be brought up with religion, they are undermining you.  Therefore, you are going to find alternative childcare.  Two days a week is what you can afford now, so you are going to rearrange your schedule so that you can take a part time job and get your daughter into childcare full time.  

    Most grandparents will accept your boundaries, if you show them that you have the will to enforce them.

    • Anonymous

      It should also be good for child socialisation.  A child can’t interact with grandparents in the same way as they can interact with a peer and they have just as much to learn from their own age group as from their seniors.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

    I think this was horrible advice to give someone.

    The first thing to do is find out for sure if the Grandparents are trying to indoctrinate the child, and how. Perhaps the example of the child saying “I pray, I pray” was merely copying what she saw her Grandparents do. And I sure hope no one is expecting the Grandparents to not even practice their faith when the child is around.

    Also, comments like “I have told them that there is no possibility that I will change my mind”  do nothing but harm your position.

  • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

    I think this was horrible advice to give someone.

    The first thing to do is find out for sure if the Grandparents are trying to indoctrinate the child, and how. Perhaps the example of the child saying “I pray, I pray” was merely copying what she saw her Grandparents do. And I sure hope no one is expecting the Grandparents to not even practice their faith when the child is around.

    Also, comments like “I have told them that there is no possibility that I will change my mind”  do nothing but harm your position.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      I can see the reasoning behind Richard’s advice even if I disagree with it, but I absolutely support being honest with your parents about your beliefs. Giving them false hope you’ll reconvert is just cruel.

      • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

        I agree with you, but there’s a world of difference between saying “there is no possibility I will change my mind” and “It would require extraordinary evidence for me to believe an extraordinary claim”.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

          A lot of atheists see religious claims as not just extraordinarily unlikely, but logically impossible.

          Even if that’s not where Janine is coming from, I think a case could be made for being more forceful with family than you would be with a stranger. Especially if there are children involved, as otherwise the parents might pray for guidance and decide that God wants them to convert their granddaughter to save her immortal soul first, and then convert the mother once they have the whole family united in Christ. Best to dash that dream ASAP.

          Janine is doing the responsible thing in making it clear that the grandparents have no hope of converting her or her daughter, and if they try she will take her daughter and leave.

          • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

            What’s worthy of more respect, a stubborn assertion or a demand for verifiable evidence?

            The statement “There’s no possibility I’ll change my mind” demonstrates a stubbornness, which people may take as an invitation to try again later, perhaps when they think you’ve become more reasonable.

            The statement “Provide me with the extraordinary evidence required for this claim” sets a standard for your beliefs, one that many know they won’t be able to provide. It also creates more of a dialogue and understanding than simply shutting down what others are saying.

            It’s not about being firm or harsh. It’s about demonstrating a consistency in your thinking.

            • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

              But deconverting her parents is not the author’s primary goal in life. Otherwise I would agree.

              • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

                I never suggested anything about “deconverting”. It’s about taking the respectable position.  Stubbornness is not such a position. Taking a realistic, evidence based position based on logic and skepticism is.

                • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

                  The respectable position is to look after the interests of her child, which Janine is doing by holding firm.

                  More interestingly, why do you have scare quotes around “deconverting?” It’s the correct term.

                • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

                  That’s not really a position in this discussion. The proper way to look after a child is subjective. I’m sure the grandparents only have good intentions.

                  And I’m not sure if “deconverting” is a proper word, so I quoted it as yours. Even if it were a proper word, wouldn’t it indicate a conversion took place to begin with? The parents could very well have been raised as Christians, therefore I’m not sure saying they converted to it is appropriate. I suppose an argument could be made that everyone converts to their respective religion, since all babies are Atheists. But there’s enough semantics already.

  • Rachel Coleman

    Oh gosh, I so relate. My little girl is two. My parents are fundamentalists. I’m an atheist. I cringe when I visit, and am not looking forward to the future, as she gets older. My parents believe that without Jesus, my daughter will burn in hell for eternity. They will spare nothing to convert her to their beliefs. After all, they love her and want to save her soul from eternal torture. Yes, I’m the parent, and yes, my husband backs me up on this. But when family is involved it is SO HARD. At the moment, though, I’m actually more concerned about making sure that my parents and and the eight of my younger siblings who still live at home won’t spank her when we visit. Oh, and you know, how to tell them we don’t plan to homeschool. These are the kind of things you have to deal with after growing up in crazyland!

  • Rachel Coleman

    Oh gosh, I so relate. My little girl is two. My parents are fundamentalists. I’m an atheist. I cringe when I visit, and am not looking forward to the future, as she gets older. My parents believe that without Jesus, my daughter will burn in hell for eternity. They will spare nothing to convert her to their beliefs. After all, they love her and want to save her soul from eternal torture. Yes, I’m the parent, and yes, my husband backs me up on this. But when family is involved it is SO HARD. At the moment, though, I’m actually more concerned about making sure that my parents and and the eight of my younger siblings who still live at home won’t spank her when we visit. Oh, and you know, how to tell them we don’t plan to homeschool. These are the kind of things you have to deal with after growing up in crazyland!

  • Marylynne

    This is the first time I haven’t agreed with Richard.   I was questioning when my older daughter was about two – took years to complete the process, but from her birth she was being raised Catholic but always heard from me “People believe different things.  We are Catholic, we believe this, other people believe that, some people don’t believe in God at all.”   As she got older, it was “Dad is Catholic and he believes this, I don’t think there is a God because of this.”  At 13 she chose not to be confirmed and is an atheist.   My younger daughter is much more of a believer and much less of a critical thinker by nature, but also is already questioning at age 10, despite the Catholic upbringing by my husband, because of conversations she hears between me and older daughter.  

    My point – I think some religious exposure is not threatening to a reasoned, critical thinking worldview, but some critical thinking is very threatening to a religious point of view.   I thought it was interesting that as I lost faith the deal with my husband was that I could do what I needed to do but he was not comfortable with me directly talking to them about my doubts.   Is faith such a fragile thing mere exposure to questioning can undermine years of religious training?  YES!    And you have the advantage of no limits on what YOU can tell your daughter.   “Nana and papa pray to say thank you to God for supper.   I think that’s funny!   A farmer grew the food, and Nana cooked it!    I will say thank you to Nana.”    ”Why you no pray, mommy?”  ”Some people think there is something we can’t see that gives us good things.  I don’t think so – I will talk to friends and family I love, not to a god that I don’t think is there.”    You don’t need to do this is front of them, but hearing constant counterpoint to the religious talk will have things work out, I think.   

    As someone said, you can’t protect her from exposure to religious ideas and talk in our society, but by giving her critical ways to think about it you are inoculating her against the damage it can cause.    

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Miles-McCullough/1026691196 Miles McCullough

      I like this advice: make sure your children are exposed to everything, including your pov, and let them sort things out for themselves.

      Stress that people believe different things and encourage children to look at things in novel ways. Give your children books of Greek mythology and science to read (bonus points if it’s about space and dinosaurs and the like). Watch NOVA when it’s on, and if none of that works you can always watch the Matrix or Inception or whatever the latest “Was it all just a dream?” type of movie when they reach a suitable age and use the movie as a jumping off point for an in depth conversation about how we know things are true or false.

    • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

      That is all well and good, but in this case the letter writer made a statement that she did not want her parents teaching her children about faith, yet at least. Her parents agreed, but the letter writer feels that they have done so anyway. We can’t tell if that is true or not, but if it is, I don’t think Richard is unreasonable. This is a cause about one party allegedly agreeing to a set of values the mother wanted to raise her daughter in, then going back on that. 

      Wether or not the daughter SHOULD be exposed to the faith is an entirely different question, this question was about what to do with parents who were allegedly going back on their agreement. The mother and sole guardian of this child should choose when is the best time to talk about these things with her child, and her parents should not undermine that. 

      • Marylynne

        You are right. In the context of the question she asked that was a good answer. Maybe some of the replies can give her some peace of mind and some more choices while still staying with her principles.

      • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

        You missed a key point though. IF it’s true the parents were purposefully teaching their grandchild despite the wishes of their daughter, it would justify taking a stricter approach. However, Richard didn’t suggest that. He used the same argument so many Atheists tend to use when he essentially said “All religion is bad and will taint a child’s psyche”. No matter how convenient of an analogy it makes, children aren’t sponges.

        The Mother also said “I want to raise my daughter to be a critical thinker”. How is she planning on doing this? Protecting her child from all the bull in the world isn’t the way to go about it. Let the child see that there are good, intelligent people who believe some crazy things, since that’s the reality.

        • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

          But that is what the letter is all about, grandparents allegedly teaching their religion to their daughter’s child after they agreed not too? As I read it that is the thrust of the issue.
          Ie:  ”They have expressed their disappointment but said they will “do the best they can” to not try to make her love Jesus.” Then goes on to say, “This is not the first time she has alluded to god or church but it was the most jarring.” Saying that the situation left her feeling frustrated.

          The letter writer, who knows the situation, her child, and her parents best seems to believe religious teaching is occurring against her wishes. This is wrong if it were to happen in any cause, say Jewish grandparents and Christian mother. The sentiment of wanting to raise your children in your own religious/spiritual tradition is not limited to atheists, and I imagine the advise would also work if the roles were reversed. It doesn’t matter if the daughter is a sponge or not, the letter writer was trying to figure out if/how she should stand up for her boundaries and Richard encouraged her to stick to her guns and her decision.  

          She was asking what to do about religious grandparents who seemed to ignore her wishes in this sensitive situation. The daughter is still very young, and I think still young enough to not yet understand the arguments of either side. You don’t expose a child to things by throwing things at them before they can understand them.

          Just because the mother is shielding the daughter now, does not mean she always will, or wishes to isolate her for the rest of her life and will never expose her to the grandparent’s thoughts on religion. We know nothing of her plans in that regard, so we can’t comment on them. Only that right now, she doesn’t want her parents undermining her wishes. 

          Yes, I do think that Richard could have also talked about things to do if she can’t afford a baby sitter and reassured her that SHE is her daughter’s number one resource, but over all I think his response was fair and other commenters have filled in the blanks.

          • http://www.facebook.com/GooBallin Goo Ball

            “The letter writer, who knows the situation, her child, and her parents best”

            I may have become a bit more cynical than average from studying Psychology, but I don’t exactly buy this. People overreact, and misunderstandings happen constantly. If she’s considering finding other arrangements for her and her daughter, the least she could do is make sure her suspicions are accurate.

            Considering the “most jarring” example of this alleged secret indoctrination is the child “praying” before a meal, I’m not convinced the Mother isn’t over-reacting. And when we start becoming suspicious of a behavior, we often see harmless events as confirmation of our suspicions.

            So yes, I’d like to see something more than just the Mother’s suspicions before advising her to spend money that could be going toward more appropriate things.

            • http://disienai.tumblr.com/ Semipermeable

              But we only have the provided information, and if the letter writer’s perception is flawed and her provided information wrong, then it would be a nearly inhuman feat of insight for Richard to say so with certainty. The best he can ever do is to take the circumstance reasonably presented to him and advise accordingly. Which in this case I think he did, and offered her a potential solution to her frustrating gridlock.

              I highly doubt she would place her daughter into a day care if that move would have a significant negative financial impact on their lives, and to her the money may be worth the peace of mind she gains in asserting her own parental control. 

              Sure, he may have improved the response by including more information, but the response is not unreasonable.

            • StaceyJW

              I doubt she is making it up or overreacting. I doubt someone in her position, being a single Mom and an atheist, would be this concerned if there was nothing going on.

  • David

    I sympathize with your plight here, but, God or no god, you’re in the wrong.  You’ve shown up on their door, you and your child are now eating their food and availing yourselves of their roof for shelter.  Until you’re prepared to declare your independence from the material largesse that flows from their beliefs, you may have to swallow (indeed, you may be obliged to swallow) a bit of the spiritual largesse that seems to be emanating from the same locus.  If you don’t like it, you are free to leave…

    • BryanB

      So you would rather have her on the street then have her parents love her for who she is?
      Shame on you.

    • Kevin_Of_Bangor

      I truly hope you are not a parent.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      She is not in the wrong. If the parents had said “you are welcome under our roof, but in our house there is a god” you might have a point.

      The parents agreeing not to preach and going behind her back puts them squarely in the wrong.

    • Thespot273

      “from the material largesse that flows from their beliefs…”
      WTH does this mean? That they have a home only because of their faith? Huh?

      Offering to shelter their daughter and granddaughter, so they can get ahead and become fully independent and better off, if a nice thing to do. But it doesn’t mean they get to walk all over her, and disregard her wishes- especially after they agreed to follow them!

      Your attitude is troubling. Feeding and housing someone doesn’t give you the right to do whatever you want to them, you have to respect them as humans too. I support my husband and baby, does this mean it’s my way or the highway? What about my elderly Mom? Does she have to put up or shut up too, because I pay for her housing? While I agree that appreciation is necessary, and there is a certain amount of personal issues/quirks/behaviors you have to put up with when staying with someone, the idea that she needs to swallow this crap without a complaint is just awful. I wouldn’t expect my Mom to be an atheist, or force her to read Dawkins every night, just because I pay for food!

  • Christopher

    I was in this exact boat a few years ago, single with a kid and needed help. My parents were there for us and without them–short version is things would have been bad for me and my daughter.

    It’s difficult being angry with your parents for going against your child-rearing wishes while also being very grateful for their assistance. I was always both.

    Is the price too high? It wasn’t for me. Now that we’ve moved out, I’ve gotten remarried which included my new wife adopting my daughter, my girl has a little brother and my like-minded wife and I make all the decisions for both our children. Over the past few years we’ve been able to undo the things my parents had done and everything is fine with no lingering hard feelings. My folks were always only doing what they thought was right and that included helping to set us up for our earthly future (important) as well as our unearthly future (fictional, unimportant).

    My advice: You (Janine) and I have been blessed (if you’ll forgive the term) with people that care enough to help. Not everybody has that. I’m not going to tell you not to be upset- I couldn’t do that. I say: get over it. You don’t seem to realize how lucky you are. You can do damage control later.

  • Anonymous

    Right on, Richard.  I completely agree with your advice.  I love the India ink idea as well. 

    My mother is a very devout Catholic (though I was raised Lutheran) and I know she prays for my soul and those of my son and husband.  But she is respectful of how we feel and would never stoop to those methods described by the letter writer.  We see her for a few weeks every summer and at Thanksgiving.  She prays before meals (it is her house) and we bow our heads in respect.  She and I discuss religion occasionally.  That’s about it.  But I would not hesitate to ask her to not indoctrinate my son if it came to that.  She can pray for him all she wants.  Anything else is up to my son as he gets older, not her or any church. 

    Parents have the right to insist that people not discuss certain things with their children and other people must respect that.  The parents described in the letter are providing shelter and such out of love for their daughter, and that certainly does not give them the right to preach to the granddaughter despite her mother’s wishes against it, especially if the mother has asked them to refrain.

    Janine, have strength and stand up for your child.  You are her strongest (and only) advocate.

  • http://jackhudson.wordpress.com/ jhudson

    I know this my sounds incredibly obvious – but how about if this – if one doesn’t like the impact one’s parents are having on one’s child, don’t live with one’s parents. It’s absurd to move into someone else’s home and expect them to modify their behavior to suit one’s sensibilities.

    • Anonymous

      It’s not like she’s telling them to never pray in their house or to take down any references to religion or to turn off Fox News.  She’s asking them to not actively teach her child about God, Jesus, and religion.  I think that’s a fair request.  It’s one I made, and in my case, it was respected.  It’s not that hard to NOT preach to someone.

    • http://twitter.com/gordongoblin Gordon

      is it absurd to expect them to hold to what they agreed to?

      • http://jackhudson.wordpress.com/ Jack

        I think it is absurd to assume that somehow their faith will
        not be evident just because they made such an agreement. It’s like living with
        pastry chefs and saying, “Now, I don’t want you to encourage my daughter
        to eat sweets”. The solution to the dilemma is rather obvious

        .

  • Trace

    Lots of good advice.

    My 2cents (for what is worth) if you like your free room and board but not your baby-sitting arrangements, start saving your pennies and find a different day-care solution as soon as you can. Many campuses offer them to students at fair rates.

    Good luck to you.

  • Mudskipper5

    Hemant’s approach is one option, and you are within your rights to go this route.  To me, this seems to threaten to do more damage to your relationship with your parents, it may place more stress on your daughter, uprooting her from what she sees as a place of security, and I wonder what your daughter might think with regards to your reaction to her religious behavior.  As a child, she may not see the negative connotations of her actions and just feel like its a fun game.  Not saying this is right or good, but how you respond to the situation will be  noticed by her.  In your place, I would want to find a less confrontational path.  

    When I made the transition from the religious life in which I was raised (though admittedly is wasn’t very stringent) to atheism, the situation that helped me arrive at that point was MORE information not less.  Learning about different religions, their practices, their beliefs, their concepts of god or gods did a lot to help me recognize the man-made, fairy tale aspects of religions around the world, including the religion my family followed.  It wasn’t an immediate “Ah ha” moment, but over a period of several years, I came to the realization that I was an atheist.  Natural, not forced and I certainly wasn’t prevented from being exposed to religion.

    I suggest that perhaps instead of objecting to the “I pray!” moments, you take them and use them.  Tell her the differences in prayer for Christians and those who practice Islam.  Talk about the Hindu religion… which god in particular would you pray to in a polytheistic faith?  Who would you pray to if you were Buddhist, a faith that has no “god”?  Again, more information, not less.  Instead of shutting down her natural curiosity, open her eyes to the overwhelming variety of faiths and help her see the contradictions when you compare them.  Help her ask questions about all faiths, including your parents’ faith.  This is the way to raise a skeptical child who thinks critically, not by barring her from ideas and a family who obviously loves her, but by opening more doors for her and guiding her through them as a responsible, actively involved parent.

    Whether you do this in front of your parents or not is up to you, but in your place, I would not hide it.

    Best of luck.

  • Sunny Day

    I’d 

  • Sunny Day

    I’d start raising her on stories about Hercules and various Greek Gods.  It’s what worked to inoculate   me when my neighbor kids took me off to Awana to play games and learn about god. When they caught on that I was categorizing their stories about Jesus in the same place I put Zeus and Grims Farie Tales and the Jungle Book they stopped inviting me.

  • Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    I would advise you to strengthen your kid against your parents’ arguments. There are some kids’ books out there advocating freethought–off the top of my head the only one I can think of is “Just Pretend” by Dan Barker, but I’m sure there are others–and also tell your kid that you love Grandma and Grandpa very much but that they believe some things that just aren’t true. Remember, kids are smarter than you think! I also know of at least one freethought parenting book, “Parenting Beyond Belief,” which I’m sure has advice about how to talk to your kid about religion.

  • Tortuga Skeptic

    I would say more investigation would be in order.  Is there a way to ask your daughter more about it?  Is she just imitating behavior or is it more.  I do understand that it depends on just what type of Christianity we are talking about, but that is not clear.  Single parents often run into this type of situation where the other party is not doing his or her part to support the child(ren) and they must turn to family for help.  This turns into a power struggle because the, now grandparents, often have a difficult time seeing the their child as an independent adult and still think they know what is best.  I’m not sure how I’ll handle that later either.  The bottom line is I would find out more before acting too rash, but have a couple of plans just in case.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eggfulaura Egg Fu Laura

    One thing that I have found helpful when my daughters ask about religion (their dad takes them to church) is to explain bible stories like I would ANY OTHER FAIRYTALE.  Large sweeping gestures, lots of drama in the voice, smiling and winking…  that way it doesn’t become a taboo worth exploring;  it’s just another silly story.  :)  If they ask whether or not something is real, I ask, “well, what do YOU think?”  This inspires critical thinking and they come up with the most WONDERFUL explanations about how things work.   From there, if there’s time, we can work of figuring out how things REALLY work, but for now, I see no harm in just allowing their imaginations to run wild.

  • http://profiles.google.com/jen.velic Jen Velic

    I see both (very familiar) sides to this argument.  On one side, I have religious parents who would take me and my son into their home in an instant if we needed them, but would never ever dream of indoctrinating my son against my wishes.  On the other hand, my MIL was my (free) childcare, and she never listed to my wishes when she watched him (not religious, but just a basic “I know better than you, so I’m doing it my way” assholery), so I yoinked him out of there so fast it made both of our heads spin.  As a mother, YOU lay down the law, and the grandparents are to follow it.  End of story.  It shouldn’t matter whose house you are residing in; you are the parent and your word is law regarding the raising of your child(ren).  

    I think setting up childcare, and subsequently setting your parents down and talking with them one more time would be the best approach.  I would add, in this case, that you need to set some very, very specific guidelines here.  I would even have a prepared bulleted list that they are to follow to the letter.  Put it up on the fridge in full view of everyone in the household, and keep it up.  Of course, you would start out by saying how much you appreciate their love and support, but that this is something that you cannot and will not bend on…your child is the most important aspect of this situation.  Ask your parents if they could reverse the situation and see how they would feel if a Muslim or Hindu was indoctrinating their child.  I’m sure this thought has never crossed their minds.  It might just get them thinking…..

    If your parents see things from your point of view, then perhaps you could let this go.  But be prepared to revisit the situation, especially if they are stubborn or if they “slip up;” then yoink!

    Even if you cannot afford full time daycare or preschool, a few days a week would be good for her; having play time with kids her own age is very, very beneficial.

  • http://profiles.google.com/gemmaellen Gemma Mason

    To be honest, the main thing I’d be worried about would be if the letter writer thinks her child is being indoctrinated into thinking that being religious is synonymous with being good.  I don’t think it will hurt her daughter to hear a few bible stories or see a few rituals, but to be told that the only way to be a good person is to believe a certain thing?  That’s a problem.

  • http://silveroutlinedwindow.wordpress.com/ Shannon

    Be strong – integrity is what counts.

  • Parse

    I agree with Richard on this.  You need to find a different source of childcare; your current one is too expensive.
    You had an agreement with your parents, one that they failed to live up to – repeatedly.  If you don’t enforce some consequences now, any future arrangements you have with them will be maintained at their convenience.  They’ll feel free to lie to you and continue to indoctrinate your daughter – because the worst that will happen is they have another argument with you, but they’ll have ‘saved your daughter’s soul’. 

    While looking for another place for childcare, I agree with Sunny Day’s suggestion.  Expose your daughter to the myths of various cultures; Greek, Roman, Chinese, Native American, Hindu, whatnot.  This makes Jesus and God just one of the gods she’ll know about, which may help prevent her from filing your parent’s Bible stories under nonfiction.

  • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

    When I was growing up, I had a plaque on my wall. All I remember of it is one line “Raise up a child in the way he shall go, and when he is grown, he will not then depart from it.” 

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I still have habits and thought modes that I catch that are direct from the religious influence on my upbringing. Escaping the big point doesn’t mean you’ve automatically left it all behind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mischief.ujioka Chie Fujioka

    I was raised in a heavily christian family, and found Richard’s reply intriguing. Switch the religious roles and you arrive at the advice given to Xtian parents hoping to preserve the ideological purity of their impressionable children. The sponge ‘exercise’ felt particularly similar in its lack of actual relevance.
    While it is true that children are exceptional at parrotting behavior, I think adults are often unaware of the conditioning effect of their responses. For example, my sister laughs when my niece imitates her by pushing a stroller, posing for a camera, or cleaning something, and then remarks on how uncannily ‘girly’ she is. Regarding the prayer situation, I imagine something similar.
    That is not to say that this mother’s wishes should not be respected by the GPs. However, she does not control her daughter’s mind and must accept that the child may grow up to believe something she does not. And if the daughter associates atheism with the loss of her GPs affection, it may create an averse reaction. Thus, I think isolation is not the solution.  I agree with several previous posters — these present opportunities to encourage critical thinking, perhaps via the Socratic method.
    Disclaimer here — this is based on the limited information in the letter. If the GPs are explicitly ignoring the mother’s request, then I think a serious conversation needs to happen, in which boundaries and consequences are clearly stated.

  • Sclayton

    I agree with those who suggested that the little girl may just be imitating her grandparents personal prayers, without having been encouraged/taught to.  They are entitled to pray in their own homes before sharing a meal and she’s bound to notice and ask them what they’re doing with the simple explanation of “Grandma is praying”.  If going to church is a big part of their life, it’s only natural that she might see them leaving for church, meet their friends from church or overhear conversations about church between her grandparents and fellow members who are not actively trying to proselytise.

    If it were me, I would initiate a conversation with my parents along the lines of “This evening ________ folded her hands and exclaimed that she was praying.  I so appreciate what you are doing to help us and value your relationship with her, but we’ve discussed my wish to raise her without religion, so I thought I would reiterate my concern that she not be taught to practice religious rituals.  I realize that this is your home and she may just be imitating what she sees you do, but it bothered me enough that I wanted to ask you about it.”  Hopefully you’ll be able to have a productive conversation and end by acknowledging your continued gratitude for what they’ve done and thank them for being willing to have a difficult conversation with you to keep the lines of communication open.  You could also ask them if there’s anything they’ve been hesitant to talk to you about regarding your living relationship.

    As someone else mentioned, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to check into the possibility of at least part time day care through the university, whether you confront your parents or not.  

    Starting to take her to the children’s class at a Unitarian church might be a good idea.

    And lastly, although it’s difficult to find good books for small children that encourage free thinking I would recommend “Whoever You Are” by Mem Fox, in board book format and some of Todd Parr’s books “The Peace Book”, “The Family Book”, “It’s OK to be Different”, etc.   If you can’t afford to order any of these for her birthday, etc., you can probably borrow them from your local library.

  • Margiebargie

    I wouldn’t worry too much. My mother was very religious and did all she could to indoctrinate us kids. My dad is not religious at all. I was surrounded by religion and religious people but my dad’s snarky comments kept me from taking any of it too seriously. Today I’m a happy atheist. Thank you, dad! One influential person can head off religious craziness.

  • http://withinthismind.com/ WithinThisMind

    Forget the religious side of it entirely.

    You have made a decision for your child.  Your parents are deliberately undermining it, going behind your back after promising they wouldn’t.

    The issue could be giving your child sugar and junk food after promising they’d follow the healthy diet you set out.

    The issue could be letting your child watch TV when you’ve grounded the child from watching TV.

    The issue could be cutting your child’s hair when you were planning to grow it out.

    The issue itself is completely irrelevant.

    You are her parent.  It is your decision, not theirs.  And if they cannot understand that, then you are 100% within your rights to cut contact between them and your child.

  • Jill

    I’d also recommend the following link to Janine, a document called “Raising Kids on a Shoestring”.  It’s by Feminists for Life but has a lot of good info for single parents or parents on a budget:  http://www.feministsforlife.org/taf/2009/Fall09.pdf


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