This is probably the most common question I get asked, whether it be on Twitter, email, Facebook or Instagram. “How do I stop my mom from turning my kids into believers?” It’s endless, the number of you who are trying to raise little critical thinkers and are being actively undermined by the very people who are supposed to be your support system. Some of you have a parent who is taking your kids to church, others overhear their siblings reading Bible stories to their nieces and nephews. One recent email I got described a hysterical little girl arriving home from Grandma’s, terrified because she had been threatened with graphic images of hell if she did not believe in God.
It may come as a shock to you, being as my entire family is atheist or just not religious, to find out that this is something I not only understand but have experienced. I have members of my family who have a wholly unhealthy relationship with food – they are terrified of GMOs and pesticides and think the government is willfully giving us all cancer via chemtrail. I have other members of my family who will not eat this for that reason, or cut this out of their diet for some other reason. Their lives are unbelievably wrapped up in the food they consume to the extent that their entire day is spent prepping, storing, buying, reading about and discussing food. Rarely, when I am around these members of my family, can we talk about anything else. It’s food, 24/7, and how the food industry is all in a giant conspiracy to kill us all, completely ignoring the fact that life expectancy continues to improve at a rapid rate of two years per decade.
For a long time, they talked about these things around my son. There was a period of time during which my son refused to eat vegetables unless I assured him they were organic. As someone who lives paycheck to paycheck, things labelled “organic” rarely enter my home. I found myself having to lie to my child, just to get him to eat healthily. I knew I had to put a stop to this.
I was lucky. I didn’t have to take all of the steps I am about to outline for you. Just talking to my family worked. However, I was fully prepared to take all the steps listed below because my child, as much as I love everyone else in my family, is the most important thing in my life by miles.
Adapted for religious family, here is a six-step plan for ending the attempted indoctrination of your kids:
1. Give your religious family member the opportunity to correct their behaviour by talking to them.
Tell them you are uncomfortable with the way they have been pushing religion on your children, and that you are politely requesting that they stop. For some people, this is enough. This is as far as most of you will have to go. If it’s not though, and your family member continues to push, move on to step two.
2. If you share parenting duties with a spouse or a co-parent, you must first sit down with this person and come to an agreement on what you will and will not put up with.
For instance, you might be fine with your kids being read some of the less violent and terrifying Bible stories before bed, but you draw the line at them being told that the stories are true. You may be okay with your parents taking your children to church, so long as you are present when they do so. Make sure you define a very clear boundary with your child’s other parent and then agree on the consequences should that boundary be breached. Agree to follow through with all the steps that follow this one. Be sure you’re both going stand the very same ground, that you present a unified front and that you will back each other up as you progress through these steps.
3. Sit down with the offending family member and clearly express that there is a boundary you do not want to be crossed any longer.
The most important thing in this step is to be as clear as you possibly can. For some people, confrontation is something to be avoided and in situations like these, that attitude can cause you to beat around the bush or use unclear language that is then up for interpretation. This will not work in this situation. Be crystal clear and firm, and do not mince words.
4. Be just as clear when you describe to your religious family member what the consequences are if they do cross this boundary you’ve laid out.
It’s important to ensure the consequences you’ve decided upon with your child’s other parent in step two are consequences that will actually work to motivate the offending family member. For instance, if they step over this clearly laid out boundary, they will have limited time with your children, and under supervision only. Perhaps you might even want to eliminate their time with your children altogether. Whatever the consequence, it should be something that will free your children from being indoctrinated, and also be an effective currency with which to barter with your religious family member.
5. Talk to your kids and get them to debrief you whenever they spend time with the offending member of your family.
Express the importance of honesty, so that your children will tell you if Grandma or Grandpa is still crossing the line. Be aware of what is being said to your children, and where they might be being taken. If the family member in question seems to be respecting your wishes, you’ve succeeded, but if not, it’s time for the final step.
6. Follow through. I cannot express the importance of this step enough.
Follow through with the consequences you laid out for your family member. Failing to do so is like powering up a blaring neon sign that says, “Walk all over me, my words mean nothing.” Not only will failure to follow through with the consequences fail to solve the original problem, but it could also be the one signal your offending family needed to start to push even harder. You could, by simply not following through, make this problem infinitely worse. Of course, it sucks to have to take drastic measures like limiting the time your kids can have with their grandparents or their aunt or uncle, but you have to be ready to do what is right for your child, and your child’s family unit. You must prioritize your child’s right to freethought. This is not your choice; you put the ball in your family member’s court when you clearly and explicitly laid out what you will not tolerate and what the consequences are for ignoring that. Everything that came after that was their decision and not yours. You are not to blame for this relationship between your child and your other family member eroding. The offending family member is at fault.
That’s it. Whether your family member decides to respect your wishes or not, if you carry out these steps, your child will be free from the threat of indoctrination from that person. I cannot express to you the importance of both the clarity in getting your messages across and the follow-through, though. Failure to be clear or to follow through could undermine this entire process and exacerbate the issue.
Do you have a family member who tries to get your kids to believe? How do you deal with it? Let me know in the comments.