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A Secular Parenting Workshop at a Skeptics' Conference

Today I had the opportunity to present and lead a discussion (along with two early childhood educators) on secular parenting at the Eschaton 2012 conference.  I started the discussion with a look at the Child's Hierarchy of Needs and whether spirituality is truly a need or just one tool or method for meeting our needs. Overall, the focus of my presentation was on the idea that we do not need to give our children religion in order to raise them to be good human beings. All we need is to love them, model respect for ourselves and for others (including our children), and give them the freedom to ask questions and to define or label themselves. During the presentation and discussion we talked about how families can do this and about how we are supported through the Quebec government's new Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum.

These are the slides that I used to guide the discussion, which includes some thoughts, models, examples and books that I'd recommend.


Here are some links to the books I recommended in the presentation:


Are you raising your children without religion? Or raising your children in a religious environment but giving them the freedom to choose their own path?

Do you have questions about parenting without religion?

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Reader Comments (13)

I was baptized before I was a month old, spent 6 days a week K-8 at church school and Sunday school. All that (for which my parents suffered greatly) to grow up to feel as a female my church had no appropriate role for me or my gifts. So I have space for spirituality but not dogma. For my kids I model the values without the sexist contradictions or hypocrisy that clouded my appreciation of my childhood church.

I would rather they forge their own path than be forced into conflict as their minds expand beyond the arbitrary limits of many religions.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Rose Adams

I am sure it was an interesting discussion, and I keep meaning to pick up the books you've suggested. We are not raising our children with religion, though we talk a lot about it, and have a lot of "some people believe" discussions. Our children are free to believe, or not believe, what they choose, though we are honest about our own thoughts on the matter. I do resent implications that we can't teach our children morals and ethics without a faith--we focus on teaching them to be good to others and do the right thing in the here and now, to make THIS world a good place to live, not so they will be rewarded after death. Most major religions have some version of "do unto others", and it's a good rule to live by, whether there is a god or not.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

We also are raising our children without religion and mainstream spiritual beliefs. But I don't consider us a-spiritual. I think we have a lot of spirit in the form of wonder at the universe and life. We honour the natural rhythms of the world with the kids and try to help them learn how to be good stewards of the world and their community. I don't make any bones about the fact that I think believe in gods is akin to fairy stories. I'm a former catholic and apparently I still carry my resentment around with me.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLeanneP

Thank you for sharing! It is hard to get people to understand this point-of-view. I will definitely check out the books you mentioned.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Z.

My husband & I were raised in households steeped in Christian ritual.

We now raise our children without practicing religion.

We answer the "big questions" (why are we here, what happens when we die) with, "what do YOU think?" followed by discussion over what we've individually and collectively discovered along with admission that we don't KNOW the answers to all the questions. We encourage them to keep an open mind, an accepting and empathetic heart (to understand not everyone believes the same things), to keep searching for what makes them and others happy. We as adults are still learning, growing, and changing; to simply give our children concrete or finite answers seems limiting and disingenuous.

What we DO say is that the key to life is to treat others with love and respect and to leave this world better than when you arrived. How you get there is your choice; and I agree, religion isn't necessary to that journey for everyone.

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkelly @kellynaturally

Nice one. I sort of forget it's a big deal to some people that we're raising them without any sense of religion or spirituality. And I had forgotten all about that difficult conversation I had with my oldest that you referenced. Glad I have the blog to remind me ;)

December 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

We consider ourselves agnostic and we are raising our son without religion. My grandparents were Buddhist, my parents were going to catholic schools and they raised me without religion. My partner was raised catholic but wants nothing to do with religion. I will definitely check out the books you recommended, thanks. Our ideal is to raise children with an open mind...

December 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnh

So wonderful to see this! It looks like your presentation was terrific. Thanks for recommending my books -- I'm glad you've found them helpful.

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDale McGowan

This is such an important topic! I found Dale's books to be a real lifeline when we ventured into the world of parenting and your blog to be another reassuring and informative resource for our non-religious parenting approach. It's nice to feel a sense of community with like-minded parents and to have some solid tools, too! Keep it up, and know you're very appreciated.

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

Would have loved to hear this discussion and seen your presentation! From the slides, it looks like it was really intriguing. The slide with Emma's story really made me think...

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth Kane

I am raising my child as a liberal Episcopalian and regular churchgoer. My partner, who does not practice any organized religion, and I agreed that I would take the nursing baby to church, and then as he got older we would let him decide whether he wanted to continue. He is now almost 8 and has always been enthusiastic about it. He chose to be baptized shortly after turning 3.

I was raised Unitarian and was very frustrated by the "you can believe whatever you want" idea for two reasons. One was that, both from the congregation we attended and from my parents, I detected a subtext of "...as long as it isn't anything we think is stupid." That is, it was cool to turn to Buddhism or Navajo spirituality or Wicca or a mixture of beliefs that appeal to you personally, but deciding that Catholicism or evangelical Christianity was the right path for you meant that you were deluded. The other reason was that I yearned to have adults tell me what they believed to be genuinely true, rather than all this equivocation about "some people find comfort in this idea" or "see if this is meaningful for you." I know many people raised Unitarian who have been very satisfied with it all their lives, but I really craved more structure.

I think there's great value in being raised as a believer because it develops a sense of how to utilize rituals to seek guidance and peace. However, that doesn't mean that parents who don't believe in any organized religion ought to join one just to provide a structure for their kids. Hypocrisy really kills off the spiritual value of religious practice!

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenter'Becca

I'm an atheist, I intend to raise my daughter without religion. However I do intend to teach her about all sorts of religions.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterScarlett R.

'Becca, thank you for that comment. I have always been a bit baffled by the a-religious parents' mantra "they can choose for themselves what to believe when they're old enough." For one thing, well, of course they can, whether you "allow" it or not. But also, among other reasons, I have observed that religious belief is rarely, if ever, a considered choice; it's a result of what you are taught when very young by your parents and by the culture in which you grow up -- or occasionally, a result of some sort of dramatic experience later in life. (Lacking both early indoctrination and any later mystical experience, I couldn't simply choose to believe in a god if I wanted to; I find the concept quite literally unbelievable.) And I will honestly be dismayed if my children develop ANY religious faith, because I believe it to be genuinely true that spirits, gods, and all other supernatural beings are nothing more than human fantasies -- and I hope I am raising my children to understand the difference between reality and fantasy.
As far as my opinion of Christianity, I don't make it a subtext with my kids; it's right out there in plain sight! Of course, my children are welcome to disagree with me, about anything really, but they're expected to have a good REASON. Not a belief. A reason.
Using ritual to strengthen relationships, make difficult decisions, seek peace, and experience wonder and awe is indeed a great thing, but there's no requirement for any such practice to involve belief in anything supernatural. And rituals are meaningful in the way and to the extent we choose to make them, not because of anything innate to the ritual itself. "See if this is meaningful to you" indeed. Now there's a way to nearly guarantee it won't be.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterhollyml

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