They say you should never talk about religion or politics in mixed company, especially if you're looking to avoid arguments. While this is true to an extent, I don’t think we should all have to avoid speaking about our beliefs, or lack thereof, all the time. As a mom, I know there will come a time when someone brings up religion around my kid. I welcome all exchanges of this nature, but only if and when they're handled respectfully. There should be certain rules set for talking to my child about religion, sharing your beliefs with them, or explaining the beliefs of others.
I should preface this by stating that I, myself, am not a religious person. While I grew up catholic, took Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes and did my communion, my faith pretty much ended there. These days, I teeter between atheism and agnosticism, and since my husband also shares my lack of religious faith, we plan to raise our son in a secular household. That doesn’t mean we’ll be outlawing religion in the household outright, or banning his evangelical christian grandparents (and catholic grandparents on my in-laws’ side) from ever uttering a word about their god. It just means that we will try to instill some important boundaries when it comes to these open discussions about religion.
Mention That This Is Your Personal Belief
Though I recognize it will be difficult for the older generations to understand, I would prefer that anyone talking to my son about their religion also state that this is their personal belief. Acknowledging that others may feel and believe different things is important in allowing my son to make up his own mind about his personal faith.
Don’t Condemn Others For Not Sharing Your Belief
It’s completely distasteful to shame others for not sharing your belief. Still, as a child I recall hearing children who were being raised as christians condemning their non-christians friends and telling them they were "going to hell."
As an adult living during rather Islamophobic times, I’ve heard many folks ridicule muslims for their beliefs. None of this is acceptable. It's completely fine if you have your religion, but don’t dare shame others for their faith, especially around my kid.
Keep The “Scary” Stories Out Of It
I spent way too much time (I mean way too much) reading Revelations as a child and, as a result, scaring the crap out of myself. There is absolutely no reason why any child should read something like that. Just like I don’t allow my kid to watch violent, gory movies or pornography, I don’t plan on letting him read these kinds of religious stories until he’s much older and understands that they are, in fact, stories.
Ask Me First Before Extending Invitations To Religious Ceremonies
As my son gets older, I plan on taking him to various houses of worship as part of his spiritual education. I’d like him to see and experience a variety of religious rituals and ceremonies for himself, in an effort to understand that everyone is different and that religion is neither all-encompassing nor frightening. I’d be delighted to allow him to attend services when he is older, if they are age appropriate. I will not, however, allow him to go someplace where folks believe they are speaking in tongues, as I have been witness to these events and, even as an atheist adult, found it to be rather overwhelming. Allow me to first ask my child if they are interested in attending and allow me to decide if I feel it is appropriate.
Don't Say Anything Remotely Hateful
One of the things that turned me off from Christianity was hearing other Christians condemning people’s lifestyles, even and especially when those lifestyles did absolutely no harm to others. As a queer woman, I cannot allow my son to be around people who think it is immoral or wrong to be attracted to people of the same gender, or to be transgender. As a feminist, I can’t allow anyone to spew anti-choice or slut-shaming vitriol in the name of their god. None of this is OK.
Share The Positive Aspects Of Your Faith
There’s nothing I love more than a reason to celebrate, and if you’re showing my child about all the wonderful ways in which you celebrate your faith, I will only be delighted. While it may not my cup of tea, it’s OK to share religious songs with positive messages or show them all the great ways that religion has helped your life.
Don’t Put My Atheism Down Around My Kid
This should go without saying, but making snarky remarks about how I am an atheist (as though it's something I should be ashamed of) will not fly well. Everyone should respect one another’s faith or faithlessness. Never put down a parent in front of their child, in regards to religion or anything else.
Acknowledge That There Are Some Things That Religion Cannot Explain
While I understand that some folks prefer to say things like, “god works in mysterious ways,” I personally prefer for someone to simply state that they don’t know, and that it's OK to not know. I don’t think saying “I don’t know” or “nobody knows” goes against any religious principle, so why is it so difficult to do? Neither religion nor science can explain every single thing, and it’s important for my son to understand that not knowing is part of being human.
Don’t Contradict Science
It’s fine to tell my son you believe in god. It’s not OK to tell him that dinosaurs are a conspiracy, especially when we have insurmountable evidence to prove otherwise. Likewise, it's not acceptable to tell him how you refuse certain medical treatments because you’re putting your "trust in god," when science has a way of treating your illness. Keep those things to yourself (or better yet, rethink them because science is pretty amazing).
Don’t Invite My Kid To Pray With You
You can let my son know that you pray, or that you are going to pray, but as for asking him to pray with you? I’d rather he initiate that act himself and of his own volition. He might feel pressured to say yes to you when he would rather not. Of course, if he's all for it, it's fine by me.