I am an Atheist mother, but I believe that my children should make their own final decision. I try not to influence them in any way. They know that I do not believe in a “higher power”, but I tell them that when they are old enough that they need to make their own decision on what they choose to believe. I just want to know what other people think about this. I get question from my children on who God is, and I just don’t know how to respond sometimes without influencing them in one way or another….
It took me a long time before I thought I understood enough to say, 'most likely not!'
I have to thank our family church, family, friends, reading, crazy people, door to door evangelistsm, etc, with my slow turning to 'what a load!'
I have to thank life, death, joy, sorrow, trashed dreams, and a growing appreciation for existence with my, mostly final, 'sorry I just can't get there from here, better luck next time!'
I do mostly find good people, mixed with nuts, that offers me some hope for a better world, sadly I have a problem holding my dread at arms lenght so it does not poisen a nice day.
My son is 5 and my daughter is 8.
You may find this book “Raising Freethinkers” useful. Teach them about the history of the major religions and the diverse beliefs that people have.
Here's the deal: They're going to make their own decision anyway, so why damage your relationship with them by trying to make them believe what you believe?
I'm an atheist as is my daughter's mother (my ex). My daughter belongs to a "Christian church" (not defined by adjectives like Lutheran, Baptist, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, etc.) and takes her children there. She knows I'm a nonbeliever but still loves me (which is the Christian thing to do). I won't lie if my grandchildren ask me about my religious beliefs but I won't try to inculcate them either.
I think people are best left to their own devices. I was once religious as were many of us here, but that didn't stop us from waking up to the truth.
I don't think "children" have the capacity to make up their own minds concerning religion. I think it really is too big a subject area for them. I believe once they are young adults they can begin to come to some conclusions on their own. As a parent, I think we owe it to our kids to tell them the truth; and the truth for many of these questions is "I don't know, but here's what I think...". When my kids ask such questions, that's usually how I start. I then tell them what Christians believe, what Muslims believe, what others believe. I use it as a time to teach them not only that there are many religions out in the world that have different beliefs, but also try to bring up why I don't believe in particular ideas and try and teach them how to question such ideas and apply some sort of logic when it comes to such ideas.
Whatever they decide, I'll be ok with it. I can just hope that they were lead to their decision by their own knowledge and reasoning power and not through any sort of indoctrination.
Many theist/cult groups/fellowships use a 'hard sell' approach. Guilt, fear, suspension of independent thought, control of reading materials, 'love bombing', issolation, etc. Young folks can be be overwhemed by such practices, and many soft minded adults are not immune.
About 14 years ago I went to Seattle with a small group to take part in a 'free' EST training. Over about 7 hours, we were separated from our friends, issolated into a 'hard to reach group', then cross-examined by their seemed best trainers. I had already spent years in my philosophy training, and had extensive experiences with the Moonies, Scientologists, Bagwah Shee Ragnesh, etc.
The EST intake training seemed to consist of mostly a rather nieve attempt to soften us to to separate us from any money they could grab, attempts to doubt our own cognition to replace it with their own, and confront us individually with different promoters debate skills. After about 6 hours I had had enough, and I remember the last poor fellow that came up to me to check and see if I had any more 'questions' before I sign a check, I said 'bugger off you asshole!'.
Just before I left, it became clear that the number of hard cases were few, and I meet these in a small room to compair notes. There was one very charming gal, she introduced herself as a social pychologist and was visibly disturbed by the whole ordeal. My last thing said before our 4 hour trip home was, 'grow a very deep soul, to save your mind from shit like this!'
But that's just the thing. My children know that I do not believe in god(s), but it is hard to let them make up their own minds when others are trying to push religion on them. I believe that children are extremely influential and I don't know how to control the intensity of their influences without influencing them myself sometimes...
Your influence should be to teach them to question all such claims. You cannot completely control the ideas that they are exposed to out in the world or through the media unless you isolate them which probably does more harm than good in the long run. At this young age (5 and 8), they may "decide" they do believe in the old man in the cloud, but they also believe in monsters under their bed. Later on they'll "decide" something different. These decisions will change as they grow and mature. Hopefully they will continue to ask questions and make sound decisions.
I think it's important that kids, sooner or later, learn about religion. Religions become popular precisely because they have strong missionary tendencies; that is, they try hard to convince everyone to believe, and they have lots of very good-sounding arguments and tools to help them convince the unsure. If children don't learn about what religion is, and how it makes some of its arguments, they might be blown away when they first meet a born-again evangelist.
I think it's important that they know something about god, and why you don't believe in god. It's important they understand science, and reason, and how to determine true from false. It's not important that you force them to believe one way or another, or for you to panic if they start gravitating Christian or Pagan or something, I think.
I could be wrong on all this, though. I don't have kids and I've only recently become an atheist.