Teaching Children To Ask The Big Questions Without Religion
Emily Freeman, a writer in Montana, grew up unaffiliated to a religion — culturally Jewish on her father’s side, a smattering of churchgoing on her mother’s. She and her husband Nathan Freeman talked about not identifying as religious — but they didn’t really discuss how it would affect their parenting.
“I think we put it in the big basket of things that we figured we had so much time to think about,” Emily joked.
But then they had kids, and the kids came home from their grandfather’s house talking about Bible stories.
Nathan acknowledges that this came from a good place, and his father was acting in concern. “He feels like these lessons encapsulate a blueprint for how to move through life. And so of course, why wouldn’t we want our children to have those lessons alongside them as they travel through the world?”
But while Nathan and Emily wanted their kids to learn about love and compassion, they didn’t want them to hear Bible stories. When the boys were so young, the certainty of those stories felt like indoctrination.
“They trust everything that you tell them,” Emily observed. “About how their body works, about how the world works. How a cake suddenly becomes a cake from a bunch of ingredients on the counter — everything!”
Emily and Nathan ended up having some pretty difficult conversations with the grandparents, who were worried about the kids.
Parents need to figure out how to talk to their kids about a lot of things — including religion. These conversations are not new. But according to the Pew Research Center, a quarter of Americans now don’t affiliate with any religion at all. The numbers are even higher for those under 30 — which covers a lot of people becoming parents.
Typically, there was what sociologists called a “life cycle” pattern to religion, according to professor Christel Manning, who studied unaffiliated parents for her book Losing Our Religion: How Unaffiliated Parents Are Raising Their Children.
People often, as you may expect, would leave religion during the rebellious teenage years — Manning says the baby boomers were the first generation to do this in fairly large numbers. But about half of them went back after they got married.
“If I’m single, and I have a certain spiritual or secular outlook, that’s my personal thing,” Manning explains. “But when I form a family, then there are other people who become stakeholders in this process.”