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Question for Atheist Parents


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Showing 1-25 of 312 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 17, 2012 11:07:58 AM PST
Katydid says:
I was thinking about it today and wondering what you tell your children about death. Specifically, when they ask what happens when you die.

My friends who are atheist don't have children and weren't raised by atheist parents, so thought I'd ask here. Thanks.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 11:22:33 AM PST
John Donohue says:
Interestingly, my daughter was never particularly interested in what happens after you die. She was sometimes worried that the people she loved would die... but her concern was that they would not be here.

When she got a bit older, it was kind of obvious that death would just be oblivion for the person dying, and sadness for those who loved him/her.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 11:33:56 AM PST
dischism says:
Katydid

My children were fortunate enough that nobody they knew died while they were small, so they were never particularly interested then

As John said, by the time they knew someone who died, it was obvious that the dead were gone forever and grief was for the living.

My own father died when I was four. I just accepted he was gone and didn't question it.

Posted on Dec 17, 2012 12:03:24 PM PST
Jack Vix says:
I don't have kids, I would never bring anyone into a world this frightening. But I might adopt. I would be honest with them, I don't believe in euphimisms like passing away or telling lies like it will be heaven and they'll get whatever they want and see everyone they love. It would be horrible to say that, to offer that dream to either be delusionally believed or to be shattered by maturity that they won't be "saved". I mean what does it tell your kid when you are implying they need to escape life and be "saved"? It's not very life affirming. I want to invite them into the appreciation of life itself and nothing else is necessary for happiness but having it itself. This is all we know we have and it's incredibly precious.

I'd talk to them simply about what we know from neuroscience, that the brain is the same as the mind and to the question "where do you go?" I would tell them that death is when you STOP going, and that it's not an experience. There will be nothing to experience with no you to experience it, just like it was before you were born.

I'd let them know that some people want to believe there will be a happy place to go to so they act like there is, but like Santa Claus, there's no reason to think it's true. No, I would not trick them about Santa, as minor as it may seem to an adult, kids are impressionable, that'd be a betrayal of our trust. It may be cute, but I don't think it's productive for their learning minds to lie to them to adore their dumbness. Little kids are like scientists that are curious about the world, I want to give them honest answers or tell them I don't know something, not lie or make something up out of thin air to shut them up. It trains kids that curiosity is frivilous when they see you treat it as such with silly inventions and trying to quiet them. I want to help them figure things out, not tell them mythical answers.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 12:14:55 PM PST
J. Harding says:
Jack,

I agree about Santa. I don't plan on telling my kids that a magical man brings them presents every Christmas. Most people do not react well when I share that view. For some reason a lot people view not lying to your kids about Santa as child abuse.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 12:22:02 PM PST
Jack Vix says:
Yeah, it's just basic peer pressure group think. It's not like I wouldn't have them celebrate Christmas. I love Christmas, eggnog, drinking, loved ones, presents, it's great. It's like celebrating everyones birthday in one day. Wait, does that mean we're all Jesus? Wow, what an epiphany.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 12:26:46 PM PST
libloon2 says:
Katydid says: //when they ask what happens when you die.//

And then: You ask them what they think happened to Fido when he died. - And then follow with further questions.

Posted on Dec 17, 2012 12:51:34 PM PST
I told my daughter that no one knows what happens when you die, although there are a lot of people who think they know, and will be happy to insist on their interpretation. Honesty is the best policy, after all.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 1:05:38 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
My husband and I were raised Catholic, but realized were were atheists around 24, when our first-born was just 3. We raised three children. When they asked about death, we told them the truth. If it involved the death of someone else, such as a grandparent, we'd offer something like, "Papa lived a happy life and was loved by so very many people. He had you and his other grandchildren who made him SO happy and proud. He liked making you laugh and giving you Skittles and going to your games and taking you to the movies. I know how much you're going to miss him. We'll all miss him. But if we remember him and talk about him sometimes, the happiness he gave us will stay with us all our lives."

We'd tailor the answer to the question and always, always tell the truth although, depending on the age, maybe not the whole, unvarnished truth. Going to funeral masses and weddings took a lot of explaining!!

I don't recall them ever asking specifically about the "nature of death." I suspect this was because they never had any reason to think that there was anything to death but - well - death. They did ask about concepts such as heaven and hell since their friends sometimes mentioned these places. (Sadly, some of them mentioned these places in the context of telling my children where they would not be going, or would be sent after they died.) I was OK with telling them we didn't have any reason to think such places existed.

Our atheist children are now raising children and we are very proud of all of them.

Posted on Dec 17, 2012 1:56:03 PM PST
Katydid says:
Thank you for the replies. I appreciate that you tell them what you know to be true and the gentle way you do it, it's a good example.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:00:27 PM PST
J. Harding says:
I guess that people who believed in Santa as kids remember that time in their lives fondly and equate the happy feelings of Christmas with belief in Santa. My parents never presented Santa as factual and I don't feel like I missed out on anything. I still enjoyed Christmas.

Posted on Dec 17, 2012 2:12:15 PM PST
IFeelFree says:
Is death oblivion? Obviously the body dies. Does anything of oneself remain alive? My experience in meditation is that even when the body is still, and the mind is silent, a kind of pure awareness remains. I think death may be something like this. It's not something I can prove scientifically, but it is the experience of many spiritual practitioners. I think we need to be honest with kids about death, but we need not reinforce the notion that it is oblivion, the end, because in fact, we don't know that with any certainty. Many atheists assume that point of view, however. On the other hand, it is wrong to fill children's heads with stories about an afterlife that we know nothing about, or repeat the fairy tales of religion. My approach is to try to keep and open mind, and inquire introspectively about the true nature of existence.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:16:53 PM PST
Saturday we were becoming concerned that our 7 year-old daughter wasn't asking questions. My husband asked her if there were any questions she'd like to ask us. She said, "You mean like where are all the little kids now?" He said, "Something like that." She then said that she didn't ask because nobody really knows for sure. She's fine. She knows that she is safe and loved and that is really what a family is all about.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:20:11 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
My children believed in Santa because it was fun and children have a natural ability to see "magic" in everyday things. Discouraging that wasn't in my nature. I also read them the Oz books and Grimm's Fairy Tales, although we always challenged them to think about what the natural explanations for things might be.

But we didn't lie; we just let them believe until they didn't any more. We also put up a creche because we told them Christmas was a celebration of the birth of a man who taught us to love one another and live together in peace and tolerance. (And because I had a beautiful hand-made creche set from our first Christmas together and my late father made us a manger for it by his own hand, so putting it up brings him back to Christmas for me.) We didn't elaborate on miracles and stars and angels, just a simple story of a simple person who gave us some gentle lessons about living well.

When he was about 10 or 11, by eldest asked me one day while he was supervising his younger siblings in setting up the creche if I thought Jesus was gay. I asked him what made him think that. "Well, he never got married, right?" I said that was true. "And he lived with his mom and he was sweet and gentle like Uncle John, right?" Again, I agreed. "And" he concluded, "he wore a dress."

I explained that all the men wore those long dresses in those days as trousers hadn't been invented yet (I made that part up) but that I didn't know if Jesus was gay or not.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:23:58 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
Well done, Rachel.

"She knows that she is safe and loved and that is really what a family is all about. "

And there really isn't anything else you can do, is there?

A good friend posted on her FB page a nauseating drawing of Jesus sitting on the floor in the classroom with all the little children while their teacher read them a story and dedicated it to the memory of the children. I refrained from comment - which was NOT easy - but hid the post - which was THAT offensive.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:27:09 PM PST
I just knew there was a good reason why I've never done the FB thing. I admire your self-restraint. The apologetics have been truly disgusting in the wake of this horror.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:43:36 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
'The apologetics have been truly disgusting in the wake of this horror. "

Isn't THAT the truth! Gag-worthy in the extreme.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:44:48 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
I love Facebook as it is such a lovely way for me to keep up with distant friends and family and an easy way to share photos. My friend list is very restricted.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 2:57:11 PM PST
John Donohue says:
Irish Lace >>I don't recall them ever asking specifically about the "nature of death." I suspect this was because they never had any reason to think that there was anything to death but - well - death..<<

That is a good point and I wonder if any child would ever think to ask about "after death" unless they were primed by some religious person to think it mattered. We did take our daughter to church when she was little (long story) and I will have to ask her whether they tried to scare her without our knowledge. If they did, we never heard about it.

Posted on Dec 17, 2012 2:59:20 PM PST
I took my daughter to a church once, because the crazy lady I was with at the time insisted on it for at least Easter services. I made the mistake of leaving her for a couple of minutes, and when I came back, I found her in tears because a few members of the church (and the crazy lady) were haranguing her with images of hell if she didn't accept their point of view. Needless to say, I am no longer with the crazy lady.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 4:57:26 PM PST
Ariex says:
Katydid says: "I was thinking about it today and wondering what you tell your children about death. Specifically, when they ask what happens when you die."

Ariex: What do you tell your kids about Santa Claus? Seriously. That depends on their age, doesn't it? Why crush a childhood fantasy before it dies a natural death? On the subject, though, I told them that I didn't know, and that I didn't think anybody else knows either, because so many people claim to know, but there are so many different and conflicting answers that it is just one person's word against another's, with no real facts to appeal to. I also admitted that I believed death was just like deep, dreamless sleep.......absolutely no awareness at all, just like before we are born. (oblivion, no existence)

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 5:02:30 PM PST
Wulfwig Fox says:
Well, I wouldn't go with Gandalf's take.

PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.

GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.

PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?

GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.

PIPPIN: Well, that isn't so bad.

GANDALF: No. No, it isn't.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 6:28:17 PM PST
Katydid says:
Ariex: What do you tell your kids about Santa Claus?

- Well, I do have a little boy that just started preschool. And I have been honest with him regarding that.

I have made it clear that other children and their parents like to pretend about Santa and we don't want to ruin their fun with it by volunteering information they may not want to know right now.

I personally don't want to tell him things I know are untrue that may bring up trust issues with other things like there not being monsters in his room and such :) - trying to get him to not constantly come to my bed and stay in his is tiring. :)

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 7:16:42 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 17, 2012 7:26:31 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
"We did take our daughter to church when she was little (long story) and I will have to ask her whether they tried to scare her without our knowledge. If they did, we never heard about it. "

When our kids were children they were sometimes invited by their friends to go to church or church functions (this was as natural to the kids as if they were asked to go to a picnic.) We never said no when the kids asked if they could go. Partly it was because all experiences were teachable moments. Partly it was because we didn't want them any more "separate" than they already were. And partly it was because we didn't ever want them to think "that's bad" about the things that were different about other people.

One summer, my middle child asked if he could go to a summer Bible School with his best friend. I talked with his mother, who was a neighbor and friend and she assured me he'd be treated respectfully and no bullying or criticism would be tolerated. And he was (I'm talking about 8-year-olds.) The Bible camp was two weeks. They did all sorts of fun activities and, he reported, he heard some "stories and stuff." But he hadn't been inculcated in it ... raised in it. The religion part simply didn't make an impression. He had no idea what any of it meant. Later, as a young teen, he went with that same best friend to "Teen Challenge" at his church. They had a great time and the youth minister did his gentle, low-key, respectful, but sincere best... and couldn't make a dent. I actually liked him a lot. And I think he actually, reluctantly, liked me too (I would occasionally help to chaperone on field trips.)

When the kids had questions, we'd answer them with simple straightforward facts. We never said, "There is not God." We never said, "They believe something silly." We just told them how we saw it, taught them to think logically and critically and taught them about evidence and asked them to respect others even when they didn't respect others' beliefs.

And they never really wavered. As they all reached adulthood, my hub and I were rather amazed by and not sure how we managed to raise these three fine, strong, ethical adults who were were all atheists in the midst of a culture steeped in rampant god-ness. Then we realized ... it was because we were who we were and we were their parents. They loved and respected and _believed_ us. And, like all children, they just assumed that who we were and the nature of our family was the "norm" and measured everything else against that standard. Just as when I was a girl and went to the Presbyterian church with a friend's family, I simply assumed they were "off the mark" because my Roman Catholic family was correct and "real." The others were just "wrong." Not "bad" wrong. Just incorrect wrong.

My kids did exactly the same thing.

Sorry. That got a bit long-winded, didn't it?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 7:17:55 PM PST
Irish Lace says:
" Needless to say, I am no longer with the crazy lady. "

Good move!
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Initial post:  Dec 17, 2012
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