August 21, 2014

Atheist Mama: I had The Talk™ with my oldest (no, not that one!)

It's back to school this week around here. My eldest transitioned to second grade. *wipes tear from eye*

When I first started this column a few weeks ago, I talked about how my kids don't know I don't believe in God--especially my Big Kid, who has been exposed to religion. Well, as it just so happens, he does now.

Here's hoping I didn't fuck it up too bad.

It all began the day before school started back, when we were doing some last minute prep. We were going through their room, making sure all the toys made it back in place (after a summer of relaxed fun, it was a bit of a chore), which makes it easier to keep tidy during the school year.

Then it happened.

My kid was just chattering along, and I was chattering back, and he started talking about heaven, and how that's where people go when they die.

I said, like I have a million times over the past few months since my deconversion, "Well, you know, there are a lot of people out there that don't believe in heaven."

Every other time, he has brushed it off. This time, I am fairly certain he was trying to stall and bit off more than he could chew.

He asked, "Mom, do you believe in heaven?"

Oh shit!

Naturally, I went with honesty. I'm not ashamed of my new beliefs, although I don't share them too far just yet (I'm working on understanding some more basic tenets and really solidifying my reasoning before I "come out" entirely), so it made sense to tell my child the truth.

"No, honey. I don't believe in heaven."

"You don't believe in heaven?"


"But I do believe in heaven! I do!"

"And that's perfectly okay. Different people believe differently, and that's fine. It's okay for me to believe one thing and you to believe something different. We're different people, and we think differently."

His little brow scrunched up, and then came the next question.

"Mom, do you believe in God?"

And again, that debate. Do I try to deflect? Do I speak honestly about it? Again, I went with honesty. I'm not ashamed, and I want my child to know that.

"No, honey. I don't believe in God either."

"But I do believe in God! I do! How can you not believe in God?"

"Well, I believe in things that I have seen evidence for, and I have not seen good evidence that God exists."

His forehead scrunched up again.

"But if there's no God, how did we get here? There had to be a God."

"I don't believe that there did. Remember that Cosmos episode that explained the Tree of Life? I believe that we all evolved, over a very long period of time. That's why you and I share DNA with so many things, like trees and monkeys. We all came from the same place."

"But there had to be an Adam and Eve right?"

"I don't believe so, kiddo."

"Well, I do believe it. I do. I believe in God."

"And that's perfectly okay, sweetheart. We can all believe different things, and that's okay. Even different Christians believe differently. It's just part of being human. What we should do, though, is always keep our minds open to new evidence. When the evidence contradicts our beliefs, we should be willing to change. If I saw really good evidence for God, I would absolutely change my mind. I just haven't seen that evidence yet."

His brow scrunched up again.

"I don't want to talk about this anymore right now."

"Okay. That's fine. If you have any questions, you can always ask them."

All in all, it wasn't what I imagined. I imagined having some brilliant conversation, where he would be very open and accepting--not so much so that I would feel accepted, but so that I would know that his early indoctrination wasn't insurmountable. I still don't think it is impossible to get around it, but I was definitely shaken that he seemed so upset.

However, I was buoyed by the impression that he seemed to be upset more that our beliefs were different from each other than that I don't believe. I am hoping (fingers crossed!) that means he will come around and have more questions later, to try to understand better.

Atheist Mama isn't meant to be a parenting guide, and this isn't meant to be a script. These are my personal parenting experiences, raising kids without religion in a place that is very religious. It's my personal trek through how my deconversion is affecting those around me. There are things that I like about this conversation, and things that I don't like.

I've described this as a "parenting low" for me. In a way, it was. Like I said, I was shaken by how deeply he was affected by the idea. Now that I've had some time to digest it though, I'm quite glad that it has happened. I feel like I've done right by my child, and by myself, and I suppose in the end that is all that really matters.

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