How do I go about raising my kids in a non-religious home, without confusing them?

From Freethinking Mom

I have been visiting this site on a regular basis for almost a year now. My husband and I de-converted from Christianity in December 2007, and I have posted the odd essay here.

Today, however, I come asking for advice.

We have three kids. A daughter aged 4 and 18 month old twins. We live in South Africa, and the crèche my kids go to have a loosely Christian foundation. Please understand, this is not the fundamentalist type Christian schools that I have heard so much about in America. They have bible story time and they pray over their food. No hellfire and brimstone nonsense. Unfortunately, the area we stay in is predominantly Christian, and there are no secular pre-schools in our vicinity. We are also not prepared to move the kids to a different school.

How do I go about raising my kids in a non-religious home, without confusing them? They are taught at school that you should pray before each meal. At home, obviously, we do not subscribe to such a belief. My four year old now refuses to eat, until we have prayed. We do not make an issue out of it, and we have tried to explain to her that some people like to pray over the their food, but that we don't, but she is insistent, (like only a four year old can be). I have suggested to my husband that when she is adamant, we should make a statement like "We are thankful for this food" and leave it at that. No "Dear Jesus" and no "Amen". Just plain and simple.

(A friend of mine recently also became a freethinker. She and her husband struggled with the idea of not praying before meals anymore, so they started a lovely new tradition. They now "hi-five" each other before they eat. Maybe we should do the same.)

The school knows that we are non-religious. They have no problem with it. I think it would be inappropriate and unreasonable to insist that my children be excluded from all religious activity. At this age my kids will not understand the reasoning behind such a decision, they will only know that for some reason they are different and that they do not fit in with the general way of doing things.

My personal opinion is that the less we make an issue out of it, the less impact it will have on their lives. They will soon realise that we do not follow the same ideals, and at that point we can then start expanding their minds. However by then, would the damage already have been done?

I do not want to offer answers to questions they are not old enough to ask yet. I also do not want to raise my children to be intolerant of people who do not share their believes. I want to protect them from indoctrination, but at the same time expose them to the reality that not all people think the same way and that this is OK.

Also, my father-in-law is not a healthy man. How do I explain death to my kids? We do not believe in an afterlife, yet, the only frame of reference I have is what I was taught as a child. Animals go to the farm and people go to heaven (If they were good and had Jesus in their hearts). What do Atheists tell their kids?

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I anticipate your insights.

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