Secular Kids, Religious Relatives

Dealing with pressure from family members ORIGINAL POST:


As we approach the big holiday weekend, I feel like I finally need to ask the neighbors for some help as I've been struggling with this for some time and am about to spend a fun-filled 3 day family weekend. My husband and I both come from religious families (Jewish and Protestant). For various reasons, we have both distanced ourselves from our religious upbringings while still maintaining close relationships with our parents. All four grandparents live in the metro area and are an intricate part of our children's lives.

The problem we are having is now that the kids are getting older, everyone is trying really hard to cram as much religion into our children as possible when we're not around. I have no problem with the occasional trip to church or shul, or learning the Manish tanah or saying grace before a meal...but they're starting to apply some serious pressure. I was informed by my 3-year old that he takes communion at church. The Jewish grandparents have offered to pay for nursery school but only if we send them to a Jewish nursery school.

My husband and I are both feeling incredibly manipulated. Anytime we approach the topic with our parents about how these are our children and we would like to raise them as such, we get immense guilt about how we need to give them all their options so when they're older they can make informed decisions about their religion (Protestant) or why are we denying the faith two more believers (Jewish). It's actually a tight race between who can lay the heavier guilt, the Jews or the Wasps. I am determined to not let this issue create tension in our household, but we're both SO frustrated and of course because of the frustration we find ourselves taking sides over whose parents are less intrusive, less annoying, which religion is better.

I know that this is one of the things that comes with having parents close by, but I also know that if there ever was a community anywhere that has people who have dealt with this, PSP is it. I can't tell our parents to butt out, we rely on them too much to help with childcare. And I do think it's nice that the kids have exposure to parts of our non-secular upbringings. But how do we draw the line? And are there any ways out there to expose little kids to more than just the two biggies without feeling like we're being hypocritical.







I am a non-practicing Catholic from Rome, so in other words almost atheist, by definition. I see religion as culture, and I regularly expose my children to multiple religions, because I think they provide with depth of vision and perspective in life.


That said, my parents are in Italy and when we visit, my son goes for a daily walk to Church with grandpa. He now is used to it, but used to come back in tears worried for the poor bloody man dying on the cross, or asking questions about the "dead saints" ... I picked up some books just to let him know that some of the saints actually had happy lives and they were very nice people, no need to be scared of them. I regularly train him to surprise grandma and grandpa with questions about Buddha, other Indian divinities and a funny one that always remain unanswered:  "How much money does the Pope have?" :-)


In general, I think religious upbringing is nice, especially if they get to learn some Hebrew while in nursery school. Once at home, you can give them your perspective and they will get it, kids are smart. It's a great way to learn about their culture, and if that is what constitute the bond with their grandparents, so be it.
Count your blessings, since you have all 4 grandparents nearby and active in your kids' life.  We miss my mom and dad like crazy, we wish St. Christopher could take us across the ocean as often as needed ... and right there my older son starts wondering about this so-called patron of travelers...why doesn't he schlep grandma and her fantastic lasagna here every Sunday!?!?!??!?!


My partner has no living relatives, and I know for a fact he would LOVE to send our kids to any church with his mom, if he could.


Now, if they are "cramming" religion into them in a competitive way, look at the comic side of it. Your children will certainly make it clear by coming up with some fantastic synchretic belief (ask a Rabbi for communion? Recite Jewish prayers in a Protestant church?) like only young kids can do. Tell your kids that tHey are multi-cultural, and they have to respect all faiths, and they have to make themselves respected as multi-believers. Let them cross all the lines, so they will end up stumbling on the floor laughing, like you do when you end a tug-of-war.

I hope this helps, sorry this is frustrating you. Enjoy the family time, happy Easter/Passover!

mom of 2 boys




Hi, AC,

Good for your kids that at least you and your husband are on the same page! I'm an atheist of Episcopalian descent married to a Lutheran, so we have a similar sort of fight within our own household. Not that we actually fight about it; we're WASPs, so we just roll our eyes, have another cocktail, and daydream about the sailboat we'd like to buy.

I think this is the crux of the problem:

"I can't tell our parents to butt out, we rely on them too much to help with childcare."

If my grown daughter wanted me to take care of her child for free (please, [non]-God) but then put limits on what I'm allowed to say to her (or feed her, or how to bathe her, or whether she can watch TV) I'd tell her I'm not a babysitter and to go hire one.

Similarly, if I hired a paid caregiver who tried to convince my daughter that a lot of fairy tale mumbo jumbo were true, I'd fire her and hire someone who would adhere to my own beliefs.

So I don't think you can ask the grandparents to curb their religious blah-blah when they're taking care of your kids for free. You could try to pass it all off as "Oh Grandma thinks some crazy things, but she's harmless," but for harmony in the long term maybe it would be better if you were with your kids when they're with the grandparents.

But on the other hand, I think you should trust that your natural authority as parents holds more weight than you realize. My brother had three kids very young, and my parents were pretty much their only caregivers other than their parents. I once asked my brother how he handled the fact that his childrearing
ideas were very different from those of my parents, and he said, "Oh, they know the rules at Nana's are different, and they adapt." Not that beliefs are the same as rules, but I think you should trust that your parental fiat will win out.

And -- not to play the death card, but -- my father died while I was pregnant, and my mother died when my daughter was 20 months old. I would love to be fighting with them about whether or not my child should be told that Jesus was just a really REALLY good rabbi. Or anything else, really.

Best wishes,

P.S. What "big holiday weekend"???