How do you decide which beliefs to pass on to your child?

Updated Oct 12 2015
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By: Dana + LeRoyCC BY 2.0
While discussing all things family related with my fiancée, we were debating whether or not we should raise the kids vegan (I'm vegan, she's not) or according to my religious beliefs (she's agnostic and doesn't follow anything specifically). For us, as a queer couple, this opens some interesting dialogue because if we end up adopting and those kids are older, we don't necessarily feel right imposing beliefs on someone who is of an age where they can make their own decisions.

But then it got me thinking: why impose any of my beliefs on any child, regardless of their age? Certainly many parents do this and it works out for them — if you follow a belief structure that you feel to be moral, you may want to pass this on to your kids.

So my question to parents is this: how do you decide what to pass on and what to let your kid figure out for themselves? As a parent, are you more likely to choose one approach over the other, or do you find a balance between the two? — Aurora

  1. Good question! I think the two approaches can be combined. For example, we take our children to our church — so, that exposes them to our practices — but once they are old enough to ask questions, we certainly plan to discuss our own thoughts about those practices (which are complex), and to also allow them to explore other traditions, or no traditions.

    To some extent, the fact that we take them to our church isn't really even about them and spreading our values to them anyway, as much as it is just doing a family activity. They are young; they go with us. I also like the broader community of which they become a part in the process of attending church.

    When I think of my goals for my adult children, one is that they find some way to nurture their inner spirits as they go through life. That can be religion. That can be poetry. That can be nature. That can be climbing mountains. That can be music. That can be so many things. And I think modeling some of what I do to nurture my inner spirit — one of which is spiritual practice in community — isn't so much inculcating into my children my views, as much as it is just modeling to them honestly one way that I navigate life. And I can talk about it in this framework as I get older — not about "truth," but about my personal pursuit of a bit of zen.

  2. We're struggling with this right now. Our daughter is 5 so she's old enough to start asking questions about the world (where do you go after you die etc). I'm agnostic & my husband is (for lack of a better description) lapsed guilty Catholic leaning towards agnostic. His parents are pushing us to get her involved in a church but I don't feel comfortable. Little kids believe whatever you tell them and I don't feel right taking her to a church and telling her all these things are absolutely true when my personal beliefs fall into the "I don't presume to know the secrets of the universe, let's all just be nice to each other" Not to say anything against people who want to raise their children in a church…it just doesn't feel right to me based on our personal beliefs. It's a tough question & I think everyone needs to find their own balance. I usually frame things in a "well some people believe XYZ, some people believe blah blah."

    • "Little kids believe whatever you tell them and I don't feel right taking her to a church and telling her all these things are absolutely true"

      I struggle with this too, because I have fond memories of church activities when I was a kid and the church community can be a supportive place. My mom eventually told me when I was a teenager that she didn't like "all the religion stuff" but liked the community, opportunity to volunteer, opportunity to play music, etc. In our small town, there weren't many alternatives, so that's why we went to church.

    • Find a local Unitarian Universalist (UU) church. Depending on the church, they tend to be pretty neutral while still giving the church experience. This is my plan for my future kids. I'm an atheist, and my husband is what I call at apathetic cultural-Christian deist…so I would just do NO church, except that I know there will be pressure from friends and family. Rather than leave church as this big mysterious prohibited event that everyone else goes to and seem to enjoy…I figure letting them experience a neutral church is safer. Many UU churches have Sunday school for kids that is just world religion education; each week looks at a different world religion.

      • I actually looked into going to a UU church because I've heard they have a reputation for being more relaxed and are also supportive of LGBT community (I REFUSE to get my kids involved in a community that will tell them they are going to hell one day if they should happen to love someone of the same sex!) However we live in a semi-rural area and the closest one is an hour away. I do crave the community but we just can't spend that much time driving around on our precious time off.

      • Yes! I was going to suggest a UU church! Mr. Bear and I are both atheist, but want to take our kids to a UU church both for the neutral exposure to a variety of beliefs and for the community. The UU church in my community is awesome, incredibly supportive of the LBGTQ community, offers comprehensive sex education, and welcomes everyone. I really hope to find a similar UU church at our next duty station.

    • "I don't presume to know the secrets of the universe, let's all just be nice to each other."

      Love it!

      Edit: How did I not see that someone else already quoted you? Lol, oops.

  3. while i do not have kids yet (TTC but been thinking about this same question for years now), i can say that the hubby and i have more or less decided to live our beliefs… the problem i saw (growing up in the church, though this can apply to any parents of any religion) was that too many adults said the right thing, paid lip service, and told their kids what was right and wrong, but as for living the life? not so much.. we are all only human and never infallible…
    but i truly believe that if we live our lives as we would like our kids to live (with love and respect for all)… and if we set clear moral boundaries (tell the truth, do no harm, love all, etc) for the big stuff, they will learn to apply it (to family, then friends, then to random strangers, and finally to animals) as they grow… they will come into it naturally and will not feel stifled into believing what their parents believe simply because their parents said it was so.
    that and try not to make a huge deal out of the small stuff… wilde was right: life is too important to be taken seriously.
    does that make *any* sense? (it did before i typed it out…)

  4. For me, the religious part is easy. My parents tried the whole "we'll raise them nothing, celebrate both our holidays, and let them figure the mess out when they are grown" technique. It didn't work so well, leaving my sister and I somewhat spiritually confused. (I'd like to point out that I think this approach is different than "we're raising the kids without religion because we're atheists and want to pass that on." Neither of my parents were religious but there was also no plan in what they wanted to pass on in terms of spirituality.

    Since I found this approach confusing, and because it is really important to me that my children strongly identify as Jewish, we are planning to raise the kids Jewish. We can't control what they believe , and they might en up religiously practicing or not, but it is important to me that feel Jewish at the core, whether that is secular and culturally Jewish atheists or religious Jews. Because Judaism is both a religion and a culture, I think that much is achievable.

    As for other values, that's hard to negotiate. (This one is easy because I feel really strongly about it, maybe even a deal breaker and my agnostic fiancé feels less strongly. As long as we also explain his religious beliefs, in the context of raising them Jewish, and don't force observance or belief on them when they are older, he's fine with it.)

    I think it comes down to who feels stronger about it, what you think is important, and if you adopt older kids, what values they were raised with before. I think it is important to teach kids values, and the only ones you have to teach are your own, and then kids will take them or leave yours and make their own, but I think the framework of growing up with values is important and inevitable. You live your life in line with your values and this your kids learn them.

  5. I was at breakfast with a group of friends, and a friend (eating bacon himself) asked another friend's 5 year old if she liked bacon and if she knew where it came from. Being a vegetarian, I found this all very amusing. The kid looked shocked and thoughtful for a second, but then took another bite of bacon and quickly forgot about it.

    I think the most important thing you can do for your child of any age is to encourage them to think about the world around them. Educate them and give them the foundation to make thoughtful choices, whether it applies to diet, religion, money, etc.

    However, I think some things should be non-negotiable with kids like being kind to people and eating your vegetables. 🙂

    • Agreed! Rather than telling your children what to think, encourage them TO think. Some of the best questions you can ask a child are, "What do you think about that?" or "Why do you think that is?" And one of the best answers you can give is, "I don't know, let's figure it out."

  6. What I do with my kids is pass on beliefs that I feel they need in order to be good members of society and things that will affect other people…..anything else they can make their own decisions on as they age and can understand better. For example, it's important to me to treat everyone with equality and respect…this is something I stress on my kids. I believe in treating animals with respect and stress this on my kids. However, I will let my kids make their own decision as to if they want to be vegetarian or not. I will let them pick their own religion, or lack thereof, with an exposure to multiple paths. These things, for example, I feel won't (or shouldn't) affect others no matter what they choose, so I will not steer them one way or another, unless those choices do start to harm others. I will give my insight and reasons why I chose certain things for myself, but will make sure they have enough knowledge about different sides of the story to make their own choices. At least this is what works for me.

  7. I learned a lot about this from my parents, both liberal hippie-ish folks. They held strong convictions on politics, religion, and other issues. They didn't tell me what my politics would be or what religions I should align with. They just exposed me to a lot of information. We went to museums, watched the news, had conversations at dinner, traveled, and took a lot of opportunity to learn about life. They welcomed diverse perspective and opinion including from their children. This was rather controversial with some people, but my parents defended my voice and my space whether or not they agreed. The only values really instilled in us were respect, help others, don't be racist, and do your part. They linked these values to what we were interested in and cared about. My sister and I are very similar to our parents in some ways, and in others we are very different. Though we frequently agree on politics, religion, hobbies, art, and many other things I appreciate that I came to these things on my own.

    • I agree with so much of this — the key for me is raising my son to be a critical thinker. He might not make the same decisions I do, but I consider it my job to arm him with the best tools I can to make his own educated choices. So it's less about "believe X" and more about "here's how to make a decision about X."

  8. I can speak to the veganism — I'm vegan, my partner isn't, and we're raising our toddler (he's almost three) sort of in between. Whenever we cook at home, it's a vegan meal, and they are both lactose intolerant, so there isn't dairy anyways. That means my son really only eats meat when he's out with his grandparents or we're all out to dinner and he decides what he wants. At three, I haven't had any discussions with him about why I don't eat animal products and he hasn't asked. When he does start asking, I'll explain in age appropriate terms/ideas. Ultimately, we've left the vegan/vegetarian/omnivore decision up to him. Plus, if you're of the belief that what you make for dinner is what your kid will have, then they'll end up eating vegan most of the time anyway. 🙂

    • I'm in a similar boat: I'm vegan and my husband isn't, and we are expecting our first soon. We will probably do something similar to your 'vegan at home' style, but my big worry is the exposure from friends and family to the idea that meat and dairy are 'better', or that plant-based diets imply depravation. How do you deal with these subtle implications from others neutrally?

      • The other family members is SUPER hard. What made the difference for me — especially with my grandparents who watch my son once a week — was sitting them down and having a long conversation with them about why veganism is important to me, why I make the choices I do, and (because of how my grandparents are) arm myself with statistical data about where I'm (and my son) are getting our protein and other nutrients. It's gotten a lot better since they've realized that veganism isn't a "fad diet" or whatever they thought before. I even went so far as to show them my latest blood panel (I can access that information online) to show them how stellar my cholesterol and other levels are compared to what they used to be. Also, as long as I'm not "preachy" about my choices, they tend to not be as "preachy" about theirs. Also, openly asking them where they got their information or why they think the way they do with whatever they're hinting (not asking defensively, though, but because you are honestly curious and want to know). Usually, my grandparents will say, "Well, it's just the way it is" and I bring up other things that were "the way it is" that are no longer. It helps.

        Also, keep in mind that we can't control how other people talk about food, so when my son comes home saying "grandpa said X" about meat or soda (which he isn't allowed to have) or dairy, I ask Liam what he thinks about that. If it's about soda, he tells me "It has caffeine, so I don't drink it" because we've had age appropriate conversations about why caffeine isn't healthy for a toddler. Then, he'll ask me what I think. I always make him answer before I give my opinion, though. It's pretty much like Ariel says above — teaching my son how to think critically about the decisions we and other people in his life make.

  9. This is a really interesting topic, especially growing up in the South with many different influences myself. I wasn't raised in a church or faith, but I had cousins, aunts and uncles who were very religious. And of course, the general message in the Bible Belt is pretty much the same. However the strongest messages I got from my parents were about work ethic, treating people as I would want to be treated, honesty and fairness – a moral compass that was not based on religion.

    As a result, the values I want to pass on to my daughter are based on human compassion and a broad world view. My partner and I have talked a lot about how fairness, equality, love, kindness, curiosity, creativity, independence, etc. are the most important values we want to impress. If those core values take her to a place of faith or belief in a religious system or to be a world-roaming pacifist, then that's her choice and we'll know that we guided her in a way that was free of pressure and allowed her to think critically about her own life view.

    I love the question of vegan diet, though! We have friends where one mom is vegetarian and the other isn't, but they end up eating mostly vegetarian. If they're out at a restaurant, they're allowed to choose what they want.

  10. I love this conversation because I struggle with this daily. It's not just about me and my husband's beliefs; it's my MOTHER and to a lesser extent, in-laws.

    I was raised Baha'i and my mom is a firm, strictly-following Baha'i. Sort of like the Baha'i version of a greek orthodox, if that makes sense. I'm fine with Baha'i teachings (who wouldn't be?) but after having grown up as a missionary child, I don't want ANY religion or belief system shoved down my kid's throats.

    I don't want ANY tint of "better than thou cuz of what we believe".

    But it's very challenging getting my mom to back away without offending her.

    the main thing we do now is tread slowly and carefully. We explain everything. We try and take the kids to other spiritual expressions and we try to emphasize the 'many paths to the same place' concept. We try and diffuse my mom's brainwashing when she's with them and explain out things so they retain a joyful sense of spirit.

    Sigh. It's not easy.

    • In having this issue with my ex'a in-laws! My daughter's step-mom's parents are very Christian, and they are trying to push some Christian values that I don't agree with on my daughter. And her dad does nothing to stop it, even tho he is atheist. He just doesn't want to offend his in laws. Meanwhile I feel helpless since I physically can't approach them. I just hope that what I teach her, as her mother, wins out over what her step grandparents have to say. Ugh indeed!

  11. We don't have a child yet, however religion wise my husband is atheist and I'm rediscovering my Jewish roots (albeit badly) so our child will have Christmas and Chanukah (I never got the chance to celebrate it) as the two celebrations are something my husband and I are passionate about. However what belief they follow will be up to them as they get older, personally I've dabbled in Paganism, Wicca and various others before I found my perfect belief. I'd like my child to have that choice, as with their diet, I eat meat, so does my husband but I'll let my child choose meat if they want it.

  12. My husband and I are both religiously observant Jews, so we're definitely going to raise our kids with Jewish practices: going to synagogue, Shabbat observance (we don't travel, make purchases, cook, or use electricity on Shabbat), keeping kosher, celebrating Jewish holidays, etc. As far as beliefs, things get a bit hazier, since Judaism is far more practice-based than belief-based. As far as religious beliefs, I feel like we'll teach our children what we believe and different perspectives from our tradition, and they can decide from there.

    There are, of course, some fundamental beliefs that we'll emphasize, like "be nice to people" and "don't judge people based on appearances" and "it's good to ask questions."

  13. If one parent's vegan and the other eats meat, the meat-eating parent can make a meat dish off to the side, and diners can choose whether or not to include it with the food. That way, everyone has options. (This is how I cook when I'm cooking for a mixed group.)

    I think kids are naturally curious. I was watching my niece once while doing homework, and she asked me what I was working on. I said, "Science homework." She asked me what kind of science homework. I said, "Evolutionary biology." She asked me what that was, and I knew I was going to be in a steaming pile of it because our folks are Catholic and I was going to have to explain to a six-year-old what evolution was.

    That didn't go over the best. But I have a personal philosophy to never lie to children if I believe something to be true. I raise my daughter knowing that you just gotta pick & choose what you want out of the world, and that some people might not like it (and might be quite verbal about it!) but that everyone is entitled to do as they please without infringing upon anyone else's right to do the same. (And, of course, that being directly mean to people will get you nowhere.)

    • She will learn about evolution eventually, so there's no use hiding it from her now! It's not like you barged in to her sunday school or interrupted family prayer time with lessons on evolution, so I think it's okay.

      There are lots of intelligent people who compartmentalize their beliefs. Most of the time they understand the scientific evidence, but at church they adhere to religious belief. And to decrease the cognitive dissonance, some people make up alternative theories like "God oversaw the process of evolution and made sure the right chemicals, temperature, etc was in the right place at the right time in the early atmosphere."

      • Lots of intelligent people manage to have religious beliefs and scientific beliefs that don't conflict! It's less about compartmentalizing and more about realizing that different things can be true in different ways and that there's not one right way to understand the world.

        For the record, Catholics are free to accept evolution. There have been several papal encyclicals on it, even. (Not Catholic myself, but very interested in the intersection of science and faith.)

        • Thank you!
          Yeah, my religious and scientific beliefs don't conflict at all. I've been challenged on this many times, people just don't seem to get how it's possible. How can I believe in evolution AND Adam and Eve? The two can't have both happened. To which I reply: Yep. Guess what? I don't believe Adam and Eve ever really happened.
          Yes, I am still a Christian. Belief in the Bible as a literal historical record is not required to be a Christian. When you look at the vast majority of The Bible as mythological, there's nothing for science to conflict with.
          Now there have been some examples where historical data has caused some cognitive dissidence for me and my faith, but I have never encountered anything in science that has conflicted with any aspect of my faith as a Christian. If anything, science (especially biology and geology) has strengthened my faith.

  14. We just try to instill some morals and ethics in our kids and leave the beliefs to them. We have mixed ages from 5 to 12, and all have asked various questions along the way. Our answers tend to be in the form of 'some people believe x, y or z . I believe a, dad believes b. When you've learnt enough, you'll believe what you feel is right for you'.

  15. I'm struggling to answer this one myself. I grew up in a household with a clearly agnostic father who was nevertheless upset that I knew nothing about the Bible at age 13, and a mother who went religion shopping every few years (everything from Lutheran to Muslim to new-age "stuff" that I don't know the actual names of).

    I don't begrudge my parents not teaching me about a single religion. I'm 6 mos. pregnant and have NO intention of bringing my child into any religious institution. The mistake I DON'T want to repeat is my parents' indecision/confusion. Because nobody ever intentionally taught me anything about spirituality and all the adults in my family seemed to struggle with faith, I was sent a message of "what you believe is up to you, but good luck actually figuring that out." It was far more frustrating and upsetting than I think anyone in my family realized. That's the kind of thing that don't want for my daughter. I want her to be able to ask questions about how the world works and find answers with the guidance of a confident, curious adult. I want her to have someone to help her understand what happens after someone dies.

    But I also want her moral compass to be built on something other than faith (my parents did an AWESOME job at that part, just to be fair to them). Husby and I are dedicated to crazy liberal doctrine, social justice, life-long learning, and responsible living, and we want our kiddos to believe in that with all their hearts and minds. I'm going to be that mom wearing her baby to protests, and asking her 8-year-old if she wants to hold a sign with Mommy, and I am totally okay with it. It's my responsibility as a parent to raise kids who are going to make the world a better place. And that won't happen unless I show them what that looks like (and involve them!) early on.

  16. We don't GET to decide what our children believe, no? Their thoughts are their own. We get to decide family rules and traditions. I don't think this necessarily has to be a conversation about what beliefs to pass on to your kids… instead, I think it's more about what you want your FAMILY to be like and who you ARE now, and you've probably already been making those decisions as a family of two. For example: you've obviously made some kind of decision about how you eat at home and how you eat outside the home, and now you need to figure out how it makes sense to fit your child into that. Continue to be authentic and thoughtful and enjoy the ride!

  17. I don't know if its possible to not pass anything on to your kids. I mean, you can try, but then they will form their opinions based on God knows what; TV, peers, marketing, and I don't know about you, but that's the last thing I want.
    My policy has been to show my kids that there's great diversity out there and that that's a good thing. I tell them what my partner and I believe, and also what other people believe. We talk about beliefs when my child is exposed to them. I say "Some people believe XYZ. What do you think about that?"
    I also focus on the values in our belief systems, because the system itself may not be super important, but the value is. So, I take my kids to church now, but whether or not they grow up to be progressive Lutherans is less important than whether or not they understand the values taught at our church, such as celebration of diversity, practicing peace, standing up against injustice, caring for the least of these, and being good stewards of our environment. Belief structures are nice, but it's values that really are important and useful in life, and if you don't teach your kids values, someone or something else will.
    There's no guaranteeing that your kids won't form other opinions based on what they learn elsewhere anyway, but I don't see why so many parents don't want to throw their 2 cents in with it. The fact is that your kid isn't going to form opinions out if thin air, they're going to do it using things they've learned from what their told and from what they're observing. They're going to observe you no matter what, so you're going to pass stuff on that way no matter what you do. If you don't talk to your kids about your beliefs and the values behind them, someone else will. Are you sure you're going to like what that person says?
    I believe our job as parents is to do more than just making sure our kids don't die for 18 years. I believe it is our job to try and help shape our kids into positive members of our communities, and to do that, we must teach them a few things. That doesn't mean you have to tell them "this belief is right, and this one is wrong" and form narrow minded, black and white clones of yourself. But it might mean conversations like "I'm a vegan for these reasons. What do you think of that?" And then your partner saying "I'm not a vegan for these reasons. What do you think of that?" It might mean a lot of dialogue with your kids, and sometimes a lot if struggle finding ways to be respectful about beliefs you don't share, or maybe deciding not to be respectful over certain issues (we're very clear in our family that people who litter are self absorbed, idiotic, jerks, and we call people out for being sexist or bigoted). How its going to look for each family is different.

  18. Here's another example. I'm a feminist. If I don't teach my kids about my feminist values, what they're going to learn about men and women is going to come in a large part from the media. I'm not cool with that. So I tell my kids that what was said on TV about this or that is wrong. Yes, girls can be bad ass super heroes. No, you don't need skin lightening cream. Diets are not good for you, and you don't have to be thin to be beautiful. That was not a respectful way to treat a person. Etc. I have to challenge that stuff, because if my kids see me not challenge it, they will see it as an acceptance, and when parents accept something, it must be good, or at least okay. Am I forcing feminist beliefs on my kids? Maybe. But it's just as true that the TV is forcing sexist beliefs on my kids, and if I don't challenge it, I might as well have forced those sexist beliefs on my kids myself, because they just observed me accepting it. And really, at least this way my kids are seeing two points of view and are now opened up to think critically about both points, because I'm showing them how to challenge what they've been told. They might challenge me too, but I guess that's just proof that you can teach kids your values and still raise free thinkers.

  19. I'm vegetarian, my fiance isn't, and we are expecting our first child in January.
    As a matter of fact, he comes from a South American, very meat-eating family. Right now, with only adults in the household, everybody does what he/she wants. I don't buy or cook meat, so if he wants meat, he has to take care of it himself. That also includes things I consider "junk-meat" like (pre-seasoned) chicken wings and bacon.

    I have been thinking about how to raise the kid, as it is definitely part of my identity to be concious about the consumption of animal products. My fiance became a more concious shopper (of e.g. free-range eggs) since we share a household, but before meeting me, he absolutely didn't care.

    I'd have no problem raising a kid vegetarian and would if it were just me, but there are two people to our partnership and I agree that everyone should make their own decisions. So the compromise is that my husband-to-be would still be responsible for buying and cooking meat if he wants to, but the meat that enters the house has to be ethically sourced – no hormones, no feed antibiotics, free range and preferrably local.

    We will see how that works out :).

    • There was a girl that I went to elementary school with that I remember very clearly. Her parents were strictly vegetarian and raised their kids that way too. She always had the healthiest lunch sandwiches (e.g. dark bread with low-fat quark, red peppers and chives). Now, in hindsight as an adult, that seems like a good idea, but I remember that for her as a kid, it sucked. Not only did she get teased about it, she would also throw out her sandwiches on a very regular basis and go to the cafeteria to bum breaded chicken fingers and fries out of other students…

      I prefer to give my kids more freedom to choose, but to be concious about which meat they eat if they decide to do so.

  20. I'm a long time vegetarian and my husband isn't, though he doesn't eat meat very often, pretty much only when we go out for dinner. Before we got married I expressed that if/when we had a kid, I would prefer it to be raised vegetarian until it could choose for itself, probably around age 5 as that was the age I decided to vegetarian and could comprehend my choice. Husband has agreed and supports the idea. Often I hear people say "well don't force your belief on them until they can choose, so let them eat meat until they are old enough to decide", and to that I say, why does meat eating have to be "the norm"? You don't hear religious people say they will raise their kid as an atheist until they are old enough to choose, right? So my kid will be vegetarian until it can make an informed decision. Ditto, it will be raised atheist until it can make an informed decision.

  21. Exactly! Feeding them meat would be making a choice for them too. So why is it okay for me to make the choice to feed my kids meat, but if you make the choice not to, you're forcing your beliefs on them? The fact is that we are both forcing our beliefs on our kids, what's important is that we acknowledge their right to make a different choice when they are old enough to do so.

    • I would agree if I were raising the kid alone, s/he would be vegetarian until s/he is able to chose otherwise.
      However, I am not a single parent and while my fiance and I leave each other a lot of room in the relationship to do and be whatever we want, he is not unconditinally supportive of the kid being veggie.
      So the compromise is when I cook and feed, no meat. But when he cooks and feeds, ethically sourced meat (which he buys and cooks) is ok if he wants it. I think that's only fair…

      As for spirituality, I agree. Since neither of us attends church, the kid won't either. We will just make sure that the kid gets as much factual information on different religions as possible (in the sense of general education) until s/he's old enough to chose. It'd be nice if the kid knew what's the story behind the presents at Christmas or Easter, but beyond that, we will focus on teaching moral values over spirituality.

      • That's cool too, my point is just that it's kind of arbitrary what we label as "forcing your beliefs on your kids". Why is raising your kids vegetarian considered forcing your beliefs on them, but raising them to eat meat isn't? They're both a forcing of beliefs, and that's okay, because what else can you do? If both parents decide to force their beliefs equally, that's okay as well. Then you're forcing your beliefs about compromise on your kids too though!
        I hear parents say things about not wanting to force their beliefs on kids, and I find myself wondering why. It isn't as if the whole world isn't going to be fighting to force it's beliefs on your kids, why not throw your two cents in too? Furthermore, as a parent you're going to have to, at times, make choices that simply are forcing your beliefs on your kids. Deciding how you feed them is a great example. Whatever you feed your kids, you are forcing those beliefs about food on them. And you can't not choose how to feed them, you know, because its sort of illegal to starve your kids.
        Wanting kids to make their own choices and grow into their own people is great, but I don't think you get that by being a parent who refuses to express your own personal opinions and values to your kids out of fear of "not forcing your choices on them". When you do that, what you're really doing is simply choosing to let your kid listen to and learn about everyone's opinion but yours. I might also add that doing nothing is frequently also an act that teaches kids values. Choosing not to take them to church, for example, is probably forcing agnostic or atheist views on your kids, and that's okay, because there's nothing wrong with being agnostic or atheist. But much like the vegetarian vs meat eating thing, I don't see why taking your kids to church is considered forcing your beliefs on your kids, but raising them agnostic or atheist isn't. It's all forcing your personal beliefs, and that's okay, because you kind of have to do something.
        No matter what I "force on" my kids, they're going to grow up to do their own thing. They might not grow up to be church goers. They might grow up to be much bigger church goers than I am. They might grow up to convert to Islam, who knows? But right now part of my job as their parent is to teach them about their heritage, our family values, and how to be a positive member of society, and some of that will be arbitrarily labeled by society as forcing my beliefs on my kids. And I think that's BS. My kids will take what I teach them and compare it to what they learn from other sources and make their own decisions. I just want my voice to be in there with all the voices they're going to hear from peers and teachers and neighbors and politicians and (shudder) the media. It's not forcing my beliefs on them, it's teaching them about why we live the life we do.

        • So, I see your point. Anything other than "normal" is seen as taking a stance and forcing your beliefs on people around you. And I'm told that kids learn a LOT by your example…

          But to play devil's advocate, if your theoretical 7 year old ASKS you to take him/her to church, would you?

          Seeing as I'm surprised I don't burst into flames when I enter a church, I think I would try to avoid it. But I think the right thing to do would be to ask them why they want to go and what they've heard about it. Maybe they know their friends get cookies at Sunday school, and that's all there is to it. But maybe they have some serious questions about the world and they are looking for tools to answer them! (That being said I would include science museums and the library as places to look for answers!!!)

          • Well, I do take my son to church, because we are Lutherans. 🙂 But if my son asked me to take him, say, to a mosque, I probably would, yes. And we also include a great deal of science in his life and education, because despite contrary belief, religion and science are not at odds at all, and science happens to be my favorite subject. I believe that a lack of basic science literacy in the general population is the cause of a great deal of social grief today.
            But whether or not to expose your child to beliefs different than your own was not the question. The question was whether or not to expose your child to any beliefs at all, especially your own, because God forbid we "force a belief" on our children.
            And my response to that is that if you don't do it, someone else will. And even if you do "force a belief" on your kids, there's no promise that they're going to grow up to maintain that belief. They are going to take in info from all kinds of sources and make their own decisions. The best we can do is be one of those sources.
            How many of us here grew up in conventional homes, or religious homes, or conservative homes, and grew up to be offbeat, atheist, progressives anyhow? Clearly we as children were able to make our own choices and reason in our own ways no matter how much our parents tried to "force their beliefs" on us. What makes us think that our children will more blindly follow our beliefs than we followed our parents?

          • I missed your first comment above about you already going to church with your kids! And that is great that you would take them somewhere else if they asked.

            About the science and religions are not at odds: I do need to be reminded that MOST people can hold religious views while learning about science. It just seems impossible sometimes when a select portion of the population tries to teach religion in the science classroom, but not every religious person tries to do that. Eventually with higher level science as the kids get older, it's hard to reconcile critical thinking based on scientific observations with explanations based on bible/religious stories. Cognitive dissonance is hard on humans, which is exactly why we developed religion to explain things and science to explain them…better. Sorry, couldn't resist 🙂

            And I agree with your main premise that you can't NOT show your kids your beliefs. I am not a parent yet, but I am involved in education in settings where the parents are present. I just wants to congratulate every parent or person in a kid's life who spends their saturday taking that kid to a science museum. And even better than the kid's reaction to the demonstration is the interaction between the parent and the kid. I love it when the parents get involved and ask their kid questions, not just tell them "how it is," EVEN when it comes to science! It just means that the parents 1) are introducing them to something new and 2) getting them to think about it. This hopefully sets them up to be able to think about other things that other people introduce them to!

          • It's not hard at all to reconcile religion (in this case, Christianity) with any level or aspect of science when you don't view the Bible as literal truths. Not everyone who is a Christian literally thinks we all came from Adam and Eve six thousand some odd years ago, or that Moses really parted the Red Sea, or that Jonah really survived being eaten by a whale. Many of us believe those tales are metaphorical. They still carry cultural truths and meanings, much the same way fairy tales do, but they aren't literal. I don't know why so many people don't understand that. I don't know why Christians like me are looked at like I'm some kind if freak. There are lots of us out there.
            Is it that metaphors are hard to understand in a culture where English education is more and more frequently being stripped of literature? I don't get it.
            I too am outraged when I hear stories of people insisting religion be taught in science classrooms. Religion is not science. At best, it might have a place in a literature classroom, maybe history. If creationism ever made its way into my kid's science classroom I would pull them from the school in a heartbeat. I wouldn't even need to discuss it with my agnostic husband. 🙂 I expect my kids to have genuine science educations, including upper level science. As well as genuine English educations so that they can understand the difference between theory and fable, and why each one has its own value and truth, even though they are very different things that should never be confused. Also, I expect them to have accurate history educations. I don't know if these expectations are reasonable given Common Core and testing schedules, but maybe that's beyond the point.
            The point is that it's really not that hard to reconcile science and religion.

  22. Late, but I wanted to say that I agree with everything Jessica said.

    I want to teach my incipient children everything about what I believe and why.

    That's not to say they have to agree with me, but isn't sharing our values with our kids one of the top roles of parenting? As a feminist, shouldn't I teach my kids that women and men are equal? As an environmentalist, shouldn't I teach my kids about climate change?

    They can have their own opinions about both of the above when they get older; I won't disown them for it. So how is religion any different? Or why is it 'not forcing' if I raise my kids with no religion at all, but it IS 'forcing' if I bring them with me every week to my Quaker Meeting?

    The values of my faith (non-violence, care for the earth, radical honesty, simple living, unconditional love for each other) are so intertwined with the rest of my life and values that I can't separate them.

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