‘Very Religious Parents’ Trying to Indoctrinate Their Grandkid

By Wendy Thomas Russell | October 21, 2013 | 5 comments

I got a letter from a reader today. Raise your hand if you can relate.

Looking for some advice on how to deal with my very Christian parents and my daughter. She’ll be 2 in January and is already saying “Amen” and “Yay God.” I am not Christian and feel disrespected by this. They know that I have COMPLETELY different beliefs. Any advice on how to “respectfully” get them to stop?


Pretty typical, right?

I started to write this mom a private response but, with her permission, decided to make it public. I’d be curious — and I’m sure she would be, as well — to hear advice from anyone else who has had some “success” in dealing with this particular problem. In the meantime, here’s my two cents:

1. Be brief, be direct, and be nice. Brief because this is a can of worms that can get cray-cray pretty quickly. Direct because this is important and you need to make sure there are no misunderstandings. (No one wants to have to have this damn conversation more than once.) And nice because that’s what’s going to keep tensions from escalating.

2. Try to get your parents’ buy-in. This is the goal. If your parents understand where you are coming from, and genuinely want to help you out, you won’t have to worry that they will try to indoctrinate your kid behind your back.

3. Be ready to lay down the law. If, after stating your case, your parents refuse to cooperate, you need to let them know — as briefly, directly and nicely as possible — that there there will be consequences. Then you need to tell them what those consequences will be.

You might start out this way:

Mom and Dad, I’ve noticed you’ve been sharing your religious views with Jane and I’m glad to see that. Your Hinduism/Buddhism/Christianity is important to you, and I want you to feel comfortable talking to her, and me, about anything that is important to you. That said, because I don’t share all your beliefs, it’s really important to me that Jane gets to make up her own mind about what to believe. So when you’re talking about your faith, I would really appreciate it if you’d be clear with her that these are your beliefs, and not just straight facts. (You can do this really easily by just adding “I believe” or “we believe” onto statements about your religion.) Again, I’m not asking you to withhold your beliefs, but rather to put them into a context that allows for other belief systems to be respected, as well.

If you get an “Okay,” that’s a success. Done and done. Move on. If not:

The thing is, if you aren’t willing to temper your language, it puts pressure on me to use strong language, too. Every time you teach Jane something as though it’s the only truth, I have to balance out — or even “undo” — what you’ve said. And that’s not good for your relationship with Jane, or with me. I’ll feel disrespected and even antagonized. But if you speak in a way that leaves room for Jane to make up her own mind, I’ll feel more comfortable with the whole thing.”

Again, if you get an “Okay,” great. If they still don’t cooperate, you might ask: “Well, what would you be comfortable saying?” See if, after a little back and forth, you can agree on an approach.

If that fails, then your parents are being overbearing a-holes. Here’s where those consequences figure in:

If you want to continue to have one-on-one time with Jane, you will have to agree to an approach that works for all of us. I’ll give you some time to think about it. Let me know what you come up with.

That ought to get their attention.

Also, a quick reminder: Richard Wade, the incredibly wise “Ask Richard” columnist over at the Friendly Atheist has some great advice for secularists dealing with religious family members. You might check out his archives sometime!


  1. […] and am on the cusp of having to do it myself.  Since I don’t yet have my own advice to give, here’s an article that I feel gives honest and effective advice.  Time will tell how it plays out for us.  Which brings me to my next […]

  2. I’ve dealt with this A LOT with my in-laws. They are of the 6000 year old earth, creationist bent, and every aspect of their lives revolves around their church and beliefs. To them, their beliefs are the truth – the only truth. I’ve spent more than a decade trying to get through to them that my husband and I don’t share their faith, nor do we want any small part of it. Our boys are now 5 & 6 years old, and just finally got to spend the first weekend at their house because up until now we didn’t trust them not to proselytize to our boys.

    What changed? They got cut off for a couple years after they couldn’t be induced to act respectfully as we were to them. That made a world of difference, and I don’t regret having to do it at all. We teach people how to treat us, and if you allow them to keep walking all over you, you’ll never get anywhere with them.

    Unfortunately, we still struggle with my husband’s grandparents on both sides. No idea what to do with the really old people who have no respect or decency… they seem set in their ways and unable to grasp change. They continue to be cut off from us, to the point that any further contact from them will probably result in some legal trouble on their end. Yeah – it’s that bad.

    Good luck. You aren’t alone in dealing with this. :)

  3. jwgmom says:

    That would be a great response if the child wasn’t a toddler. I think in this case the parent’s objective needs to be finding as way to get rid of the offensive language because if the grandparents don’t stop the kid is going to start repeating the language. Then they can start some good proactive work on the kinds of discussions they will and will not allow with the child as she gets older.

  4. Jill says:

    Nice, Wendy!

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Due out March 31, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.

      Natural Wonderers is my new blog published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of my previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
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