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Raising Pragmatists – Parenting Without God

It’s pretty safe to say that religion is not something which factors very highly on mine and Husband’s list when it comes to parenting our girls. We’ve taught them the basics about what each of the major religions involve and have told them that, if they choose to, they’re welcome to explore faith if it appeals to them, but we certainly don’t follow any religion ourselves and usually strive to separate the girls from these kinds of teachings. While this may seem like our household is “lacking” in something because of our aversion to faith, I actually think that it makes our jobs as parents a lot harder, in two specific ways.

Firstly, there’s the issue of death. When Husband and I have broached this subject in the past with Sausage (BB is still far too young and is mostly only concerned with cake and Mr. Tumble), we don’t have tales of fluffy white clouds and angels with harps to pass on. Husband and I feel that humans have energy and that energy is reabsorbed into the earth when we die, but beyond that there’s nothing. It’s really hard to look your child in the eye and tell them that we won’t live on together in eternity, as much as I would love that to be the case. Expecting a child to be pragmatic enough to deal with the thought that, one day, we won’t be together anymore and we won’t be skipping around in Heaven together is really quite tough.

When my stepmum passed away in 2011, Sausage was just three. Lorraine was another pragmatist and had a Humanistic funeral, presided over by a minister who talked not about God but about people and life and living as a good person. When we spoke to Sausage about her passing, we were careful not to say “Lorraine has gone to Heaven”, both as a way to respect Lorraine’s wishes but also to convey our own views on the situation, but whenever anyone else mentions death around the kids, they tend to soften things by saying that the person had gone to Heaven. While I respect people’s views, I can’t help but wonder if they’re making things easier for themselves because they don’t have to broach the subject of nothing after death, just as much as they are softening things for the kids.pragmatism

The other issue, whilst still Heaven related, is the issue of morality. Husband and I can’t teach our girls that if they aren’t “good” then they won’t go to Heaven or that bad people get their comeuppance in Hell. They don’t have the looming threat of eternal damnation keeping them in line, they simply have to self-moderate and apply what we’ve passed on in terms of ‘how to be a good person’. Anyone who knows our girls knows that they’re both really decent little people, with kind hearts and mindful attitudes (again, I’m talking about Sausage here more than BB, she’s still a work in progress!), both of which have been achieved without religion. It makes me really proud of Sausage to know that, when she’s being a good person, it’s not for the sake of a Heavenly trade-off, it’s because she’s a genuinely good person.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing people who’ve got faith and pass it on to their children; I’m all for personal choice and as long as people respect my right to live without faith, I’ll respect their right to have it. All I’m saying is, religion must make certain aspects of child-rearing a lot simpler.

What do you think? Are you raising faithless pragmatists? How do you broach the difficult subjects without making things seem too stark or scary? Do you use the phrase “going to Heaven” even though you don’t believe it? I’d love to hear your views, please leave me a comment below.

4 thoughts on “Raising Pragmatists – Parenting Without God

  1. I’d still class myself as CofE although only go to church at Christmas. N’s at a CofE school although there are muslim children who don’t go to assemblies or church. To me that’s wrong, because the christian children learn about the muslim and other faiths, but it seems not the other way round even though they’ve sent them to a CofE school.

    I didn’t mention heaven to N when my mum died (or my nan). He was 3, but someone had obviously mentioned it to him – not sure who because the OH’s not really religious, so I’m presuming it was the MIL answering a question easily. When he asked what happens to people who die, I just say that their body dies, but their soul goes up to the sky. I told him the bodies are then either cremated or buried, and the ashes scattered (everyone he’s known who’s died has been cremated). He seemed fine with that factual explanation. Although he does get confused when we’re going to a friend Evan’s…several times I’ve had to correct him when he thought he was going to visit Grandma at Evan’s!

  2. A very interesting post and not a side I’d thought much about if I’m honest. I’m CofE, went to Sunday school as a child, christened etc. My husband was raised Roman Catholic, took his 1st communion and attended up until secondary school age.
    We are bringing our children up predominantly CofE however do attend the Catholic services regularly too.

  3. Really interesting post Jayne. I wrote a post recently about how to approach the subject of death from the point of view of an agnostic. Essentially I’m very much like you although the husband does believe in God. I told my six year old the imaginary “best case scenario” although I think i err on the side of your belief about energy and death essentially being the end of any kind of consciousness. I told him that when you die it’s like going to sleep and having a beautiful dream. I think it’s acceptable to tell your young child a “magical” embellishment on reality – like Santa. Sure they will find out for themself eventually and maybe they will even feel disappointed and a bit conned at that moment but isn’t that a life lesson too – learning that there will be disappointments along the way and how to deal with them? I agree with you about raising pragmatists/realists but I don’t think early childhood is the right time to push blunt or stark realities. I went to a Santa’s Grotto experience with the boys last week and it included some “magical” touches like a cupboard which was a portal through to the North Pole and that really captured my (jaded) imagination. The thought of experiencing that as a child who could still believe in that magic – amazing. (Found this through Blog Builders group on FB by the way).

  4. I’m more spiritual in my beliefs these days, but as far as death is concerned, if Zack asks where we go, I tell him our bodies go into the earth and become part of the world we live in. As for our souls… no one knows for sure, so that’s my answer to him.
    He is learning at school about various faiths which is good for him, lets him explore different belief systems. 🙂

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