July 17, 2014

Atheist Mama:
My kids don't know I'm an atheist.

I have two biological children and two stepchildren, ages 3, 7, 9, and 11. The four of them span the course of my husband and my journey to nonbelief. The eleven and nine-year-olds don't live with us full-time, and are exposed to belief on a regular basis with their mother's family.

My seven-year-old was born in the midst of me trying to fervently hold onto my belief. Although I was pregnant, and unwed, and felt uncomfortable in a myriad of ways--not the least of which was because I was, ya know, pregnant--I dragged myself to church every Sunday morning during the last few months of my pregnancy. As soon as I was back on my feet, he was in the nursery...then the preschool class...then the Children's Church. He did a week of Kids' Kamp during the summer.

Meanwhile, he's exposed to belief on other sides. He attends a local public school in an area that is highly religious. His best friend's family is highly religious, and his best friend has been known to preach hellfire, brimstone and the Rapture from the backseat of my car.

The three year old? That little guy was born after I moved out on my own and set up house with my then-fiancé (now husband). He's never been to church and has no idea what the hullabuloo is even about.

With kids at such a wide-range of positions on the belief scale, I find it difficult to say, "Mommy/Kayla doesn't believe in God".

Instead, we're taking  a roundabout approach.

It started with the first episode of Cosmos. When I saw that it would involve Bruno, I knew what was coming--I'd just finished up Doubt, and the story of Bruno had moved me nearly to tears myself. I debated on whether it was appropriate and decided that yes, it most certainly was.

As the children watched the story unfold--Bruno's dedication to an eternal universe, the church's reaction, his imprisonment, and finally, that last moment, when his sentence was delivered and he defiantly said, "I think you fear passing this sentence on me more than I fear it being passed"--a variety of emotions played across their faces. The portrayal of Bruno was beautiful--he seemed likable, passionate, dedicate. Certainly not worthy of death.

Then the questions started.

"Why did they do that?"
"Why would anyone do that?"
"What did Bruno do wrong?"

It becomes difficult to walk a fine line when you believe, like I do, that religion can be deeply damaging. I don't want to define their beliefs for them--but I also don't want to shy away from the truth that even in our society today, religion can often demonize and reject people for believing differently, something we would never allow in our home.

As we progressed through the series, we came up across other questions. Notably, the seven-year-old broke out: Where's God in this?

"Well, dear, some people don't believe in God." (Like me.)

Perhaps it was an opportunity, but it certainly wasn't one that I felt comfortable talking about at that point. I don't know if there's a right or a wrong way to introduce your indoctrinated child to nonbelief, but for now, I'm going to continue a more passive route. We'll continue to filter spiritual influences and introduce new ideas. We'll continue to talk about the good and bad things about religion reasonably, although I'm sure my bias will come in at some point. We'll study science together, a subject that I never felt comfortable with growing up.

All told, my little guys (and our bigger gals) will grow up in a very different home that I was raised in. And while I love my parents deeply and am glad to have had the experiences that made me who I am today, I have to say that I don't think that's a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.

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