In which Sally masters grace and I relax

As you may have noticed, I can sometimes be a bit angsty about raising my young daughter Sally without God. For one thing, God was just about the most important thing about my upbringing, and that makes raising children outside of religion seem completely foreign. For another thing, essentially all of our relatives on both sides are devoutly religious, and being the only ones in the family to be raising our children without religion can present interesting challenges. I think, though, that it’s time I took a deep breath and just relaxed about it.

You see, we recently visited some relatives for the weekend, and when everyone sat down for the first meal after we arrived, Sally reached out and grabbed the hands of those beside her before anyone had even said anything about saying grace. We hadn’t visited these particular relatives in a while, so she can’t have remembered praying before meals from the last visit. I think she just realized that, well, that’s what we do before we eat when we visit relatives.

What amazed me about this was how effortlessly Sally did it. She picked up on it and the message she got was simply “that’s how X. Y, or Z people do things.” And that was fine. And she was fine. I’m beginning to think she’s way more perceptive than I give her credit for.

When we visit relatives, we generally go to church with them just out of politeness. We’ve never discussed what it is or why we go with Sally, just “come on, it’s time to go to church with grandma and grandpa,” or whatnot. Since she hasn’t been old enough for Sunday School, she just sits with us or plays with toys in the nursery. This particular time we had a conflict and couldn’t, but when they came out Sunday morning dressed in nice clothes Sally simply asked matter-of-factly, “are you going to church?” They said yes, and that was that. Again with the perceptiveness.

After my latest post on atheist parenting, a reader reminded me that Sally doesn’t have the baggage I have. I might have baggage surrounding the story of Noah and the Ark, but to Sally it’s just a story. No baggage. Realizing this has actually been really helpful. I may have gone through pain at the hands of my parents’ religious beliefs, but Sally hasn’t. To her they’re just things that grandma and grandpa believe, nothing more, nothing less. No baggage. And that’s relieving, really.

And so, I’m working on letting go of my worry and fear. I’m reminding myself that this isn’t as complicated as I keep wanting to make it. I’m remembering that what’s most important is to lavish Sally with love and foster her sense of compassion, curiosity, independence, and critical thinking. And everything else? Well, it will work itself out.

And after reading through the comments on my latest post, I have come up with some concrete steps I can take. First, I’m going to get my hands on books of mythology for children, aiming to cover as many religions as I can. And then I’m going to read those books to Sally. To her they’ll just be stories, but they’ll lay a framework for later discussion of religion and religions. And they’ll set her up to be multiculturally literate as well.

Second, I’m going to give the local UU church another try. I’ve heard good things about their religious education program, and I think Sally is old enough to start going through it. It would also be nice to have a greater sense of community in which to raise our young family. And don’t worry, I’ll definitely be blogging about my experiences!

Mostly, though, I’m glad for Sally’s reminder to me that she’s not clueless and she’s not helpless. In fact, she’s already curious and empathetic, independent (for her age, at least) and thoughtful. And with that knowledge, I need to relax and stop worrying.

Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
Monogamy Isn't Biblical, It's Roman
Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
What Kind of Atheist Parent Are You?
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Contrarian

    I’m beginning to think she’s way more perceptive than I give her credit for.

    For serious. Little kids are really smart — they’re non-stop learning machines. Your Sally probably doesn’t know much, but she learns really fast by observation and emulation.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Yeah, kids are amazing sponges. My dad (who is very handy) told me that once, when I was about two-and-a-half, he (probably desperately) decided to occupy me for an hour or so by teaching me the names of some basic tools. For weeks after, to everyone’s great amusement, I couldn’t walk past a piece of furniture without exclaiming “Daddy, it’s a phillips-head screw!” or something to that effect. Wish my brain still worked that way! I never underestimate little kids’ ability to absorb amazing amounts of information and make very keen observations.

  • Froborr

    All small children, without exception, are more perceptive than you give them credit for. Even if you take the previous sentence into account.

    Also, yay for myths! I can’t tell you how many people (most of them atheist, agnostic, or vaguely-something-or-other-that-doesn’t-involve-organized-religion) I know, myself included, that have fond memories of encountering mythologies as a kid. I distinctly recall being sad when my parents told me I couldn’t be Norse, because their myths were *so* much cooler–I was probably eight or nine at the time.

  • Tanit-Isis

    If it helps, I was raised secularly and found it fairly normal to say grace and go to church while visiting relatives, while never doing so at home. Sometimes I even wanted to go, just to have the experience. I don’t know that I ever absorbed much doctrine (or even mythology), other than the most generic god-is-love sort of —I was still thoroughly puzzled when I got an Easter storybook when I was about nine, having no idea who the main character was (although his death at the end upset me). Conversely, my mom has a bit of an anti-Christian kneejerk reaction, and I definitely absorbed some of that growing up, as well, a reaction I don’t have towards other faiths. I think your idea of tracking down mythology stories of multiple religions and covering them all equally is a great idea.

  • machintelligence

    The Vikings definitely had the most badass Gods. Let’s put Thor back in Thursday.
    Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

  • trepto

    That’s pretty much how I was raised, and how we’re intending to raise our daughter. Most Sundays when I was growing up we’d go to “fighter practice” with a local medieval group, where there were plenty of other kids and an incredibly diverse range of beliefs about god(s) or lack thereof, not to mention goodly doses of history, weird food, and fresh air. I was in middle school before I knew that most people *didn’t* know anyone who didn’t believe in god, or who believed in more than one.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    “I’m beginning to think she’s way more perceptive than I give her credit for.”

    Small children constantly make me think this! They really tend to have minds for detail and routine–often they seem to notice patterns that adults don’t eve notice! I’ve more than once noticed subtle habits of mine for the first time when a little kid in my life calls attention to them by innocently asks “Why do you always do that thing when so-and-so says this?” or something like that. It can be kind of scary. lol. But clearly advantageous in some ways!

  • Rilian

    I’m in the middle of reading, and I just wanted to say that I picked up all that stuff too. My parents were effectively atheists, but my grandparents et al were baptists, and I knew what to do all the time, and my grandpa gave me a children’s bible when i was 5 and I just said thankyou and pretended to like it and I even read it, even though I didn’t “believe” in it.

  • Lauren F

    Thanks for sharing this. I have similar anxieties, though the pressure from family is not nearly as great (and probably is just in my head in some cases). I think I, too, need to step back occasionally and not make the issue more complicated than it has to be!

  • RQ

    Thank you for this post, among many others. :) I’ve noticed my eldest adapt to situations very easily, without wondering particularly why people do things differently. He has started asking questions about Jesus, though – mostly ‘Why did they want to kill him?’ – which I’m finding a bit difficult to answer without getting into complicated things, like whether he existed or not… But we’re working through it, and he just keeps asking the questions from time to time, and we talk about it as neutrally as I can manage. I’m pretty sure he sees the whole story on the same level as The Hobbit (the current favourite fantasy story), and just wants to know why (because the dwarves only went to Smaug’s mountain for the gold, i.e. logic!).
    I think I’ll tell him to ask my parents about it sometime, and then talk to him about it afterwards, to discuss it from my point of view. (So you’ll have to get into the religious education at some point… Just a warning! :) )

  • Lisa

    Hi Libby! I am so glad I found your blog through your guest post at Authentic Parenting. Your story really hit home with me. I too am in the process of deconversion, with some uncertainty how to parent and teach morals/values without god. We grew up with spanking and yelling and religi0n crammed down our throats and I still haven’t committed to how I will approach raising my daughter in those aspects (religious brainwashing is very strong). I’m not quite an atheist, but no longer a Christian. I feel I’m in transition I guess. I want to teach my 3 yr old about religion and let her decide for her self. I don’t want to force or deny religion, but open her eyes to all religions and let it be hers to choose or not choose. I look forward to following you on your parenting journey. Glad I found you!