First Forum Post, "What to do with Christian gifts for my Son?"

My son is 18 months old, and I was raised in a fundamentalist christian family. A Baptist family to be precise. I struggled with religious dogma for much of my life, and I have since come to atheism through critical thought and study of natural sciences. My mother first found out that I no longer considered myself a christian 4 years ago while I was planning my wedding. She asked me directly after I told her that we were not getting married in a church and the ceremony would be done by a Justice of the Peace not a pastor. My response was straightforward and loving. I said that I did not consider myself a christian but thank you for raising me to be moral and thoughtful and kind to others. She cried.

I love my parents very much, and have avoided discussing religious issues for fear that those discussions would bring pain and fear on them. I'm sure most of you know that they believe so surely that I and my wife will go to hell, that they fear it more than anything. I remember what it was like believing the way they do, and I have no interest in trying to convert them at this stage of their lives. It's pointless to do so and would only cause a rift.

My problem is with the gifts they've given to my 18 month old son. At first it was a small book, no big deal and easy to hide. But the frequency and number of christian gifts they are giving him is getting to be startling at times. How about a bunny that sings “Jesus Loves Me”, or 3 children's books at once called “God Created Me” “God Strengthens Me” and “God Watches Over Me”. Or a Little Drummer Boy book depicting the nativity scene. And a Veggie Tales DVD set. It's getting to the point where my son is more sentient, and soon will understand what is in these gifts, and I will have more and more trouble hiding these things as the grandparents come over. Many of these books teach things that actually make me angry because they the exact opposite of what anyone should be teaching their children. The “God Watches Over Me” book depicts a child getting lost and praying until he found his home. A lost child should be looking for familiar things, and people of authority, not hoping for “God” to bail them out. It may seem like nit-picking, but my child is like a sponge right now and for years to come.

So this is my first post on the ThinkAthiest forum and I want to hear what everyone thinks. This is obviously going to be a battle of sorts, but do I wage it directly or do what I can to teach my son to think critically enough to hopefully counter the christian influence my parents bring to the table. It's very hard for me because I want my parents to be a part of my son's life. There were many good times we had when I was growing up, and they are capable of having fun without being religious. I guess what confuses me and that when I was young, I never had this many christian toys and books and my son is only 18 months old. It scares me to think of what may come next.

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Step one, buy every Dr. Suess book you can get your hands on.
Step two, put every book your child ever gets on a book self.
Step three, don't worry, your child will never, ever get around to looking at the dumb books.
Step four, show your relatives the book shelf everytime they visit, fist bump your child while they remain clueless.

Seriously, Veggie Tales will not hurt anyone. Think of them like a vaccine that your child needs to be exposed to early to develop immunity. Our benign bacteria DEMAND that we eat dirt while we are young to get a robust fauna in our guts.

This is the hardest challenge - worthy of a Jedi - let them attend a church camp later in life. Nothing will put a callus on your rational mind like church camp.

The willow bends so it will not break.
I thought about giving my dad a subscription to The Skeptical Inquirer and Free Thought magazines in response to the magazine subscriptions he kept sending me, but I decided that it would be too much like "kicking a skunk". When my son was born my wife and I decided we would tell him what we believe but let him decide for himself what he wanted to believe. When he was very small his grand parents were all pushing their christian beliefs on him, and he even went to church with them on several occasions, but after about a year of going with them he stopped. We asked him why he stopped and he said, it just doesn't make any sense. And he's never given it another thought.
The same thing happened to me and my son when he was a baby and toddler. I didn't give him the gifts and told his Dad's family that the gifts they were giving were really for them, not for my son and that if they weren't going to give him gifts that he would like and that I, as his parent would approve of then I asked not to give him anything at all. The Christian gifts stopped and have not resurfaced.

We still had struggles with his dad's family trying to indirectly influence my son with religion because religion is a big part of their family gatherings, but this has been easy to overcome by talking to my son about what other people believe, and explaining that some people don't believe anything. By the time my son was 10, his dad's family's religiosity had become more of a nuisance than anything else. He's 15 now, and even more of a militant atheist than I am.
I like Veggie Tales, they're cute! AND, more importantly, I think a Veggie Tales cartoon is the PERFECT place for all that Jesus talk. Yup, toss Jesus right in there with all the other plainly obvious absurdities like talking vegatables!

"Daddy, is that stuff about Jesus true?"
"You heard it from a talking tomato, what do you think?"
That's really a tough one. I would ask your parents in a loving way why they are giving gifts like that when they know that you intend not to raise your kids as christians. I think it's a question of respect right now. You can let them know that you feel a little disrespected by their gift giving. Right now that's the central issue rather than finding children's books (Get as many books as you can and start your kids reading early if possible-my kids could read before they hit kindergarten-it's really important). Certainly you can tell them that you have no intention of letting your child read that at such an early age, so ask them what they are trying to accomplish? The best thing to do is not be too confrontational, but be firm.

My kids grew up without religious knowledge initially, but I don't ban religious books from the house. My daughter, whom is 9, does occaisionally read a childrens bible stories book from time to time, but both my son and daughter know that I am an atheist. My son is 10, and is aware of religion, but my influence has secured a skepticism in him even at an early age that is obvious from some of his comments. Hey, I even listen to christian radio within my kids earshot (for my own reasons, e.g. interested in creationist comments, etc.). It's an opportunity for discussion when they are old enough. Your kids will idolize you first before others, so don't worry too much about incidious christian influences just yet.
First things first, you need to have a talk with your parents. Tell them that you aren't raising him as a christian and that you'd appreciate that they didn't overcompensate for what they see as a failing in their eyes (your Atheism). Chances are, they think they didn't do enough for you, so they're going to pull out all the stops for your son to make sure he is 'saved'. If it were me, I would tell them that you appreciate the thought, but that these kinds of gifts are not the best thing for him, nor do you want to indoctrinate him in any regard. Not being christian does not make you anti-christian, and that you want to raise him to think for himself and draw his own conclusions. Just be sure to remind them that you love them and do want then in your child's life.

As for the gifts, I'd keep any harmless ones and simply trash the rest or see if they can return them for something he will actually enjoy. Hiding them and then bringing them all out for visits will only drag the problem on and possibly make it worse. Being honest to your parents is the best route. They may not agree, but they will have to appreciate you being level with them.
Welcome to the forum!

The others have given some good advice, and my own opinion is probably not particularly relevant, as I have no children. However, I would recommend that you might want to send this same letter to Richard on the Friendly Atheist blog. He's running an atheist advice column there and usually gives sound advice.


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