November 05, 2015

Atheist Mama: How can I balance my strong religious family heritage with our secular transition?

This may become somewhat of a theme. It's definitely become a key riddle in my parenting right now. We come from an incredibly religious family, so our transition to a secular family has meant breaking with a long-standing part of our heritage.

I've talked about this some in the past--my mom even brought it up when we had our only somewhat direct conversation about my atheism, making it seem like I was insulting my ancestors, essentially, with my lack of belief.

When it comes to my kids, I struggle sometimes with maintaining a balance among encouraging them to be freethinking, connecting them with our family heritage, and shielding them from the more damaging aspects of religion. This really was driven home for me this week when I was helping my mom do some decorating and we were talking about her current state of spirituality. My mom and my older son had this conversation:

Son: So you believe, Nanny?
Mom: I do. I believe very much.
Son: Okay.
Mom: Did you know we come from a long line of preachers? We do. You have a line of great-grandfathers that were pastors.

I resisted the urge to point out that he also has a great grandfather who was, at the least, emotionally abusive of his wife, whom he neglected and left to fend herself and try to feed their eleven children on her own while he was drinking and whoring.

But I digress.

Conversations like this are important to my mom. I think they are important for the kids too, because they allow them to connect with that heritage that we have.

I have friends who are lifelong atheists, and none of them struggle with this. I don't see many of my friends transitioning out of progressive religious sects really struggling with it either. I think this may be another facet of our fundamentalist upbringing--religion has been a huge part of our identity. I remember my family flipping out because one of my aunts converted (briefly) to Catholicism because it wasn't the "right" kind of Christianity.

I'm glad to give my kids that heritage, but I'm equally glad to encourage them to think critically about it. I appreciate the role my family plays in helping to encourage that connection, although it does sometimes feel like these conversations are intended to point out what an aberration our family is compared to the ones we come from.

In the end, it's a juggling act. It's about keeping all of the balls in the air and trusting my kids to sort things out for themselves.

And I'm okay with that.

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