Does Grandma’s feeling trump parents decision?

Question from Val:

My wife and are atheists and my mother is constantly speaking with our 3 and 5 year olds about God. I don’t know how to approach it with her. She tried to read them a creation story book once and we told her no. She got very upset and said that her beliefs were a part of her and we were trying to suppress who she was with her grandchildren. I don’t want to alienate her but this has to stop. I feel our children can learn on their own and make their own decisions when they are older.


Answer from Erick:

Although I’m sure her heart is in the right place, she’s not being completely genuine. If she really wanted to share her beliefs with her grandchildren she would wait until they are old enough to not only understand what she’s talking about, but also old enough to be able to discern fact from fantasy.

That being said, the best approach is always a direct one. Having raised a child myself, I understand how it can be difficult dealing with family members who think it’s their mission to keep my kid from going to hell. My approach has always been the same. I ask them to stop and make it clear that if they don’t, they are risking not only their relationship with my child but with me as well. This is usually met with either anger or apologies. When met with anger the key is to stay calm and not allow yourself to get dragged into a theological debate. The discussion isn’t about the value of their religion. The discussion is about how you want your child raised. Stay firm. Let them know that you understand and appreciate their concern and that you’ve got everything under control in this area. If they still remain angry, then let them be angry. At that point there’s nothing you can do but allow them the space to move past their anger.

For me raising my child was more important then having family or friends upset that I wouldn’t let them take my kid to church. If they choose to get upset, then that is their choice. Their feeling don’t trump my child being raised to think for herself. You’re responsibility is to your child, not to others feelings.

Hope that helps. Let us know in the comment section bellow.

16 thoughts on “Does Grandma’s feeling trump parents decision?”

  1. Would you let someone teach your kids that blacks are inferior? Or that it is OK to steal? Or it’s OK to litter wherever they go?

    I don’t know you Val so I can’t say what your feelings are on any of the questions above, but no matter how strongly you might or might not feel, the bottom line is this – they are your kids. It is your responsibility to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for them. I’ve been in your shoes in this exact situation. Family members think that they are saving the soul of my kids since I am a “hopeless” cause. It’s frustrating, especially if an effort is made to teach your children religion behind your back. But these are your kids, and you only get one chance to get it right. If that means making your mom right, then that is what you have to do. Mom’s may know best when we are kids, but as an adult you and your wife are the only ones that know what is best for your family.

    Good luck and keep your chin up.

  2. I meant making your mom mad, not right….Trying to watch Sportscenter and write at the same time.

  3. Slightly different view here ….

    Today it’s grandma, tomorrow some kids at school will be telling your kids stories related to religion and when they grow up they will hear them everywhere.

    I think asking grandma to stop isn’t a real solution. A better idea might be to ask your kids to make it a point to discuss with you the tales grandma (and anyone else) tells them about religion and god. That way, you can lead the conversation to a more reasoned direction and perhaps develop their power of critical thinking … and grandma remains happy as well.

    For e.g. I can picture myself giving a completely made up religious anecdote (say a hungry tiger refusing to attack a praying prophet) and asking kids who have heard a “genuine” religious tale (say Jonah and the whale) to compare the two – why are they different, how can they tell that they are made up, what will likely happen in real life etc. When (and if) kids ask why adults believe in such tales, such beliefs (and their fallacy) can be discussed further.

    One can argue that 3 / 5 years is not the appropriate age for us to worry about critical thinking. But I feel (perhaps mistakenly) it never is too early (or too late for that matter) to encourage thinking in human beings.

  4. Rohit, they are 3 and 5 years old. They aren’t old enough to even comprehend what is and isn’t important enough to tell dad. Too confusing for a child.

    Grandma needs to respect the boundaries that the parents have set in place. Older doesn’t always mean wiser, and this woman is doing more harm than good with her little tales

    1. TIm, I thought about what you said.

      Perhaps a 3 year old might not comprehend (but then he she is also unlikely to comprehend granny’s fuss over religion), but a 5 year old surely will. We do injustice to our kids when we assume they aren’t old enough to understand. I’ve seen a lot of 5 year olds who get/ comprehend very well what they’re being told.
      A simple instruction to a 5 year old like “whenever grandma talks to you about god or Jesus or Mary or the bible, you have to discuss it with us … because we also want to know” should be easy for the kid to follow.

      The problem I am (sort of) trying to address is the natural human tendency to be enamored of what we are shielded from. Especially with kids – once they perceive that you are trying to shield them from something their natural curiosity is likely to make them investigate that very thing more.
      And again, one might be able to stop granny … but who will stop so many other kids/ teachers/ all sorts of people kids meet/ all types of content on religion available to kids these days?
      I think its better and more fruitful to just inculcate a healthy habit of questioning and discussing everything from an early age.

      1. Rohit – That is well said and well written. I like it. I agree with you in principle. I think my point of view is somewhat tainted because I have had people tell my kids not to tell my wife and I things, and are kids succumbed to the pressure and kept things from us. They are good kids and didn’t mean to disobey, and got confused about what to do. The simple instruction example you gave didn’t work this particular time (but did most other times).

        I keep thinking of a saying we have in engineering: “Trust, but verify.” You do have to trust the kids, even at an early age….but that same skepticism you want them to have needs to be applied to people that might try to go behind your back with them.

        It’s a balancing act isn’t it? But what isn’t with kids 🙂

    2. If the parents are going to be encouraging the children to think critically about such things as they grow up, this isn’t going to have that much impact on the kids at this age. They are just stories read by grandma. True, it would be nice if grandma would comply, but the alternative would be a family schism that would leave grandma out of the children’s lives, and I don’t think that would be the answer. Teach the kids to classify grandma’s stories with the fairy tales and myths in other books.

  5. Sorry to say it so crass, but grandma is from a more primitive time in our history.

  6. Concerning advice from grandmas.

    Sitting Next to Grandma

    While sitting next to Grandma as she read to me
    I could tell she loved me, it was plain to see.
    I watched her dear old face as she told me how
    God made the earth for us, it was her solemn vow.

    It all began as a void with waters vast and deep.
    Then light was made before the sun; the Lord was really neat.
    I never quite could understand how this event could be,
    but Grandma read it from the bible that very night to me.

    And then God made the heavens but that confused me so,
    for where had He been before He had a place to go?
    Next came land, then plants according to their kind,
    such wonders of creation really blew my mind.

    But, I will never understand, no matter what they say,
    how plants could grow as they do, without a sunny day.
    But that’s exactly what Grandma read to me from the holy book,
    it was plainly there to read if I would only look.

    Then God made the stars and the planets in the sky.
    The sun and moon soon followed, again up very high.
    I wondered just how God made the light several days ago
    before the sun existed, there was much I did not know.

    All kinds of birds were next and every fish with fin;
    even a few sea monsters He claimed to have thrown in.
    The Lord saw that all was good and was so very proud
    that He created the animals next from His heavenly cloud.

    Grandma said He made all life, so He must have made bacteria,
    those nasty tiny killers that live in my cafeteria.
    Then Grandma read a verse that really made me wonder,
    “Let us make a man to live on the earth down under.”

    Who was this us? I asked Grandma, surely she would know.
    Are there other Gods, as some do claim? I really want to know.
    Grandma said He had some help from angels with great wings.
    Why, I asked, did He need aid from such outlandish things?

    I then asked Grandma if God looked just like me,
    and did He have an organ that He used to pee?
    Or was God a lady and did She have to sit
    whenever She began to feel that it was time for it?

    Grandma stopped her reading; she turned a shade of red.
    I thought for sure that she would decide to send me off to bed.
    She thought a while and then proclaimed, “Of that I have no opinion!”
    She soon went on and read some more, all about dominion.

    We rule the beasts upon this earth and in the sky and sea.
    He commands us, she did say, to subdue all we see;
    to be masters of all creatures and use them as we wish;
    to cook them up for all our meals, they make a tasty dish.

    But when the Lord had worked six days, he was so very tired.
    He had done, with winged help, all that was required.
    So, He blessed the seventh day and took a well-earned rest,
    satisfied, no doubt, that He had done his best.

    Grandma put her bible down and looked at my young face.
    She believed in all that she had read, of doubt there was no trace.
    But in my mind at that early age I just could not conceive
    how the stories that my Grandma read could really be believed.

    I went to bed that very night and thought about creation
    and wondered if they believed that story in every other nation.
    Do all good folk believe the book she read with such conviction,
    or do they read from their own books of faith and superstition?

    Now that many years have passed and I have learned so much,
    I look back upon my youth and Grandma’s loving touch.
    Although she believed with all her heart, she really did not know
    the truth about how life began and how it still does grow.

    She thought that God had a chosen few and that the end was near.
    She did her best to instill in me that belief she held so dear.
    She tried to teach me to fear God and of the sin I bear,
    Adam’s sin passed down to me and all of us to share.

    What Adam did with Eve that day they falsely had been blamed,
    for if God had made them what they were, they did as He ordained.
    So now when I think of Grandma’s God and His threat of hell,
    I know it’s just a fairy tale that works, as does a spell.

    When I have kids like Mom and Dad, I’ll make sure they have
    a true idea about their lives, both the good and bad.
    Thank you Grandma for being you, and for loving me.
    You made me think about this world and who I soon would be.

  7. A couple of genuine questions from a christian.
    1. Are you going to make your kids aware of the weaknesses of various scientific theories or pretend they don’t exist?
    2. If your kid becomes a christian and raises your grandchildren in church are you going to teach them differently while their parents aren’t around?
    3. If your answer to question #2 is yes, wouldn’t that be hypocritical since “it is the parent’s responsibility to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for them”?

    1. Point 1: A straw man argument for 4 reasons:
      First, most parents have little knowledge of science and no credentials to teach science, so if we’re sincere about our children understanding science that’s surely best left to properly qualified people working in schools.
      Second, no scientific theory would ever have been recognised as such if it contained any substantial level of weaknesses. A theory, by definition, is a “well-substantiated explanation………based on a body of facts……repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Knowledge is always improved upon, but no scientific theory is going to disappear or be overturned. Added to, yes, modified, yes, tweaked, yes; abandoned, no.
      Third, recognition of gaps in knowledge is built into the scientific method. That’s one of the reasons the scientific method is by far the most successful means we have devised for acquiring information about the universe. Look at any peer-reviewed scientific paper in any legitimate scientific journal – you don’t get published unless you discuss any actual or potential shortcomings of your research. Science certainly doesn’t hide any weaknesses, it thrives on them, using them as avenues of research.
      Fourth, compare that attitude to religion in general. When was the last time a Sunday school or a preacher, or a missionary openly discussed the weaknesses in their beliefs and claims? They’d be out of a job very quickly. Even academic theologians in many Christian colleges are at risk of losing tenure if they stray too far from the party line, the ‘mission statement’ they have to sign.

      Point 2: This is a fair point. But – there’s a difference between teaching children about aspects of the culture that they’ve been born into and teaching children that myths are true. I for one would have no problem telling children the story of Noah’s ark, for example, it’s a great piece of mythology. But I’m not going to lie to them and tell them it accords with archaeology, naval engineering, molecular genetics, climatology etc, because it doesn’t. I’d just tell them, you know, the truth. It’s despicable for one group of human beings deliberately and knowingly lying to another, in some ways, more vulnerable group. Even if they are their parents. Yet that’s what you seem to be advocating.

  8. Replying to Jimmy (I think next but one above me, unless someone posts while I’m typing this):

    1. Yes, if I happen to know them. In many cases I won’t be familiar enough with the theory to know the weakness, but if a theory comes up in conversation and I happen to know or be able spot a flaw in it I’ll certainly mention that.

    2. No. If they ask me about my beliefs, I’ll answer, while mentioning that their parents believe something different. But I won’t raise the subject.

    3. N/A.

  9. Jimmy, I had to comment on question 1 above. It has been my experience, with you in particular and with believers in general, that your level of understanding about most things scientific is pretty weak. The very question you ask bears this out, as someone already pointed out. I’d like to offer you the opportunity to discuss any theory you like and we can determine together whether or not it us weak. I look forward to your reply.

  10. Tim, there is a reason I asked the first question that I asked on here. There has been a lot of talk on here about parents being genuine with their kids and letting them decide for themselves. I think it’s important to tell them about the strengths and the weaknesses of scientific theories for life in order to be intellectually honest. I think Dr. Sarah’s response was intellectually honest. There is a lot about life that is not completely understood. This has led to many scientific theories about the origins of life. Obviously these theories have weaknesses or else there would not be multiple theories. If a theory was 100% accepted by the scientific community then there would be no need for other theories.

  11. “There is a lot about life that is not completely understood. This has led to many scientific theories about the origins of life. Obviously these theories have weaknesses or else there would not be multiple theories.”

    OK, but why not:

    There is a lot about life that is not completely understood. This has led to many theological arguments proposing the existence of a god. Obviously these theological arguments have weaknesses or else there would not be multiple arguments.

    “There has been a lot of talk on here about parents being genuine with their kids and letting them decide for themselves. I think it’s important to tell them about the strengths and the weaknesses of scientific theories for life in order to be intellectually honest.”

    Agreed, but why not:

    There has been a lot of talk on here about parents being genuine with their kids and letting them decide for themselves. I think it’s important to tell them about the strengths and the weaknesses of theological arguments for god in order to be intellectually honest.

    Now Jimmy, let’s be honest. When it comes to both children and adults, who do you think fulfils this ideal best? The scientifically inclined community or the religiously inclined community?

    Like I said in an earlier comment, your strawmanning. Discussion of gaps in knowledge within a scientific theory (i.e., a “well-substantiated explanation………based on a body of facts……repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.”) comes with the territory. Even science fiction capitalises on it big time. Science thrives on gaps in knowledge. In my experience, that’s exactly what makes it attractive to many young people as a career. Religions, on the other hand, lose adherents quickly when their gaps in knowledge (i.e., their unsubstantiated, unverifiable claims) become known; they have no comparably rigorous, independently verifiable methodology, in which to address these weaknesses.

    1. Continuing my comment above:

      Tim commented that his experience of having these debates is hampered by believers in general having a weak understanding of science. This is my experience too. He went on:

      “I’d like to offer you the opportunity to discuss any theory you like and we can determine together whether or not it is weak.”

      I note you did not take him up on his offer but replied in such a way as to suggest that you don’t really understand what a scientific theory actually means or entails in the real world (I appreciate that having two distinct and opposing usages the word ‘theory’ is often used erroneously and/or sloppily in conversation). Nevertheless, despite my giving you, in an earlier post, an abbreviated operational definition of a scientific theory, you still made the following comment:

      “If a theory was 100% accepted by the scientific community then there would be no need for other theories.”

      This leads me to suspect you don’t understand the difference between an ‘hypothesis’ and a ‘theory’. I wonder, can you give us an example of a scientific theory that is not fully accepted by the scientific community, that finds itself competing with other theories? I can’t think of one.

      The strongest theories, such as e.g., biological evolution (common descent), relativity, and the germ/microbial theory of infectious disease are so well accepted that there is not a single professional body of scientists anywhere on this planet that would even begin to question them. Nor any research department in any properly accredited university. There are no ‘competing theories’. What are, sometimes hotly, contested are things like which avenue of research to take to add to a theory or to fine-tune the observed mechanisms that make up a theory, e,g., the relative effect strength of natural selection, random mutation and genetic drift in a specific species population; isolation of possible viral agents responsible for a particular constellation of symptoms; what method to use to search for the hypothesised Higgs Boson. In these cases it’s specific hypotheses that are being tested, it’s not the theory itself that is being tested. So ‘Darwinian’ evolution became ‘Neo-Darwinism’ then the ‘Modern Synthesis’; ‘Special Relativity’ morphed into ‘General Relativity’ etc. In no case did the underlying theory change, just the details.

      So when you refer to “weaknesses” do you really mean areas within a theory we haven’t investigated comprehensively enough yet? If so, then it’s hardly fair to call them “weaknesses”. More like potential opportunities for investigation.

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