Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s new advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: When you’re entire family is agnostic and/or atheist and doesn’t attend church, how do you handle your child’s interest in religion? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My husband and I don’t attend church. I wouldn’t say we’re atheist, necessarily, even though we have a few in our family. Agnostic would be the term, I guess. He was raised Catholic and I was raised Presbyterian, but I rarely attended church growing up. Our son is 7 and even though he hasn’t been around his friends much this year, he knows some of them go to church every Sunday. Recently, he’s asked us why we don’t go. I’m not sure how to handle this — I think it’s great he’s curious, but I don’t want to quelch that or make him feel like we’re “bad” for not going, because we’re not. He’s vaguely asked about Jesus and God and we’ve usually given him pretty simple answers, but I do want to engage with him on this as much as he needs/wants.
No, you’re definitely not. When it comes to Big Topics™, I think the truth is always best — be honest, but keep it short, age-appropriate, and leave room for their own questions.
If you do believe in some version of God and/or spirituality, I think it’s good to tell him that and explain why. You can say something like, “Well, I believe in God but I choose to believe in God and celebrate God in my own way, and for me, that’s not in church.” You can explain how you do this outside of church, and what ways you honor your spirituality and how it’s unique to you. Your husband should do the same.
You don’t mention that either you or your husband had a negative or traumatic experience with religious practices or organizations, so I’m going to answer this as though you’re simply not interested in organized religion (and I truly hope that’s the case for both of you).
If he’s looking for more of a history lesson, then feel free to go down that road, too. My own daughter is a non-baptized 5-year-old and we’ve talked about Jesus the person and that “God” means many different things to different people. When kids’ questions become more specific, so can your answers.
This could grow into a cool historical lesson on the world’s religions and the history behind them. Often, children aren’t given a choice in their family’s religious practices. For some families, religion and culture go hand-in-hand. For your family, it doesn’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it and learn together and let him develop his own ideas and thoughts about it.
For now, he might just be wondering why his friends get dressed and go somewhere every Sunday with their family. Either way, he’s learning!