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Raising Kids Without Religion

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I’m republishing this post I wrote two years ago for (which is no longer online) because these issues and questions still come up in our household. I’d love to hear what you think: Can you / should you / how do you raise kids without religion?

Our daughter’s been asking questions. And I don’t exactly mean The Birds and The Bees kind of questions (although I’m preparing myself for The Talk which will take place sometime in the near future). No, our daughter is asking bigger, broader, meaning-of-life kinds of questions:

“God made everything, right? Except the houses. Yeah, he didn’t make those.”

“How does God make people, Mom?”

“Why does my cousin go to church and we don’t?”

“Did Jesus invent ice cream?” (OK, answering this one is a no-brainer because everyone knows it was the Chinese who invented ice cream. Oh. Wait. Maybe that’s spaghetti. The Chinese invented spaghetti. So, it’s entirely possible that Jesus invented ice cream? I’d better Google that.)

She’s confused. And she’s not alone. Welcome to your friendly, neighborhood home where the parents don’t subscribe to any particular religion.

My husband (who was raised Methodist) is agnostic.

I was raised Catholic and although I don’t really like the phrase I suppose some would label me as being of the “recovering” variety.

When I was a kid we went to church every Sunday (or, really, every Saturday evening ’cause God apparently doesn’t mind if you sleep in on Sunday as long as you punch the celestial clock at some point during each weekend). I attended CCD (even though I didn’t know what the acronym stood for until I Googled it for this post – CCD stands for the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, what the church teaches about itself). I received my First Communion, I went to confession, I was Confirmed in The Church. But no one was able to really explain Catholicism to me, at least not in a way I could completely understand or get behind. There were (and are) things I love about The Church but I have many issues with it too.

When I turned 18 I informed my parents that I would no longer be joining them on Saturday nights and I most certainly would not be dragging myself out of bed for church on Sunday mornings either. I effectively broke my mother’s heart, she who attended Catholic schools from grade school through college. It wasn’t my proudest moment but I knew I was being true to who I was and I had to stick by that since I certainly didn’t have any religion to stick to.

After I abandoned the only church I ever knew I didn’t try to find another. As much as I didn’t feel like a Catholic, I felt equally guilty at the thought of cheating on The Church with another. Yeah, Catholic guilt’s hilarious like that.

I believe in God. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I am a Christian but I do not attend church. My children attend a Methodist preschool because we like and trust the people who care for them. They attend chapel at their school about once a week. They learn about the Bible in those vague ways that preschoolers learn about anything: Good vs. Bad, which I’m sure helps (a little?) to keep them in line in the classroom. And that’s fine with me. I guess I’m glad they’re getting Christian information of some sort at least.

But the lack of religious education and structure for my kids (and for myself) is confusing. And I imagine that my children are only likely to become more confused about religion as they get older. Right now I work to confidently instill my core beliefs in them but I do so in pretty general of terms (treat people as you wish to be treated; be kind, loving, helpful, non-judgemental, and giving).

As our kids grow from babies into people I’m starting to wonder: Can you really raise kids without religion?


  1. I love the transparency Colleen! We have decided to raise our boys to believe in Jesus as our Saviour. Here’s my reason why: somewhere along the way, I had a realization that if there is nothing greater than myself to save me, then I am in a heap of trouble. I’m a self proclaimed *stumbling* follower of Christ. I think it’s important for my boys to understand that part too. I do my best to teach the boys basics in hopes that they will choose Jesus too and not rely solely on themselves for grace & salvation. Besides, someone at some point is going to try to teach/push something on them anyway. At least they will have a ground to stand on. We do struggle on going to church though. We haven’t found one that just wants to lead their people in having a relationship with Jesus and not so much in leading their people to follow their own rules. (one that I don’t have to drive 40 +minutes to get to, hence the struggle)

    • colleenpence says:

      Thanks for sharing your viewpoint, Melanie. I guess I’m more conflicted about organized religion than I am about sharing about God and Jesus with my kids.

      I agree completely with you on struggling to find a church that encourages a relationship with Jesus and/or God and that does not just push their own rules and agenda.

      Maybe a non-denominational church is what I need? I’m still nervous to try something other than the Catholic Church but maybe one day (soon) I’ll visit other churches to see if I can find a fit.

      Thanks for your comments. I love hearing how other parents handle this issue.

  2. Here are my feelings: My husband’s mother was raised in a very strict German Lutheran house and was forced to go to church, get confirmed, etc. She hated it. She was very much a free spirit and felt very constrained and restricted by her upbringing. She decided to raise her kids to “decide for themselves” except, they had no basis of understanding to make a decision. So, the younger three have all “gone astray.” None of them are raising their children with any religion. Ryan was lucky enough to have spent most of his formative years with his grandparents who sent him to a Lutheran high school.

    So I guess the take away from this is, kids can’t “make their own decisions” when they have nothing to choose from.
    Tara recently posted…Go WestMy Profile

    • colleenpence says:

      Tara, that’s a great point. As adults I think we assume that we’ll raise our kids to be inquisitive enough that they’ll seek out various paths and find the one that is right for them in terms of spirituality. But, if we don’t expose them, at least to something, they have no place to even start.

      I hadn’t really considered this so I’m very grateful for your comment. Thanks (and I miss you, lady!).

    • Very good point Tara.

  3. Wow, I was raised Catholic as well, I felt I didn’t have a relationship with God or of any knowledge…and I too, became agnostic in my late teens and early 20’s. My family now attend Leon Valley Baptist…and love it. The preaching is biblical sound doctrine, we read straight out of the Bible and fellowship is great (Hebrews 10:25). We must figure out if we want to keep this generation in our faith…or we’ll lose it. Faith that Jesus does not exist is faith just the same. Also, we might believe that God exist, but does he know us?? That is the question. We homeschool our children for that reason alone…to have a relationship and to know Christ. I will state — it is a decision for the parents…but know it is an eternal decision just the same.

    • colleenpence says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jessica. Interesting that we were both raised as Catholics and no longer practice. I, too, didn’t feel a true connection with God while growing up. I’m still trying to find my way with that relationship because I do want my children to have faith in God.

  4. Denise Sample says:

    I am another recovering Catholic – I had no idea you were. I guess we should be in a 12 step program together. We’ll invite Jessica & Melanie too.

    Jesus is my Savior and I believe the bible to be the true Word of God. I found Bible Study Fellowship and have learned SO much more than I ever did in hundreds of sermons or years in a pew. BSF takes a book of the bible and studies it in depth over the course of a year. They teach straight from the bible and share biblical principles. BSF has children’s programs that teach the children the same lessons the parents are learning (obviously simplified). We also belong to a Methodist church but attend the contemporary service that is focused more on worship and not on religious routines. But Sundays are hard to do.

    Humans were created to worship. Your children will find something to worship regardless. Maybe they’ll worship you, their friends, technology, education…

    The bible says: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

    God wants your children to have faith in Him even more than you do. :) Trust in His grace as you guide them!

    • colleenpence says:

      Thanks, Denise! It’s encouraging to find a former (?) Catholic who still finds ways to instill faith and worship into her children’s lives. I’m so appreciative for you sharing this with me.

  5. My mother actually retired from the archdiocese, that’s how Catholic we are. I went to private school until I was in 5th grade, belonged to youth groups, lectored at mass, sang in the choir, went on Tech retreats, ACTS retreats, and even Novenas on Tuesdays. I even received a Knights of Columbus award in high school.

    I am no longer a practicing Catholic. My spirituality can only be defined by the way I live my life, and the way I raise my child. I agree that children need to be taught something to be able to decide for themselves. My view is that all organized religions are basically centered around the same concept: prophet or Son of God sent to earth to teach mankind heavenly wisdom, give or take. Fundamentalists ruin it for everyone. Truly, I believe that all religions have a spark of truth.

    My husband and I got married in the church to suit my parents. Our daughter still isn’t baptized, but we believe she is heavenly.

    The Universe is good.


    • colleenpence says:

      Bry, I love your comments. You so aptly state what I’ve been trying to do with my life and my children so far. I want to live a Godly, good life, set a great example for my kids, instill a deep sense of right vs. wrong, and teach them that we are all equal in this world and deserving of love.

      One daughter was baptized in the church (She was in the NICU and very sick after birth so my parents brought in their priest. In my addled state I was in no mood to thoroughly consider the situation and felt it couldn’t hurt, so it was done). Our son has not been baptized. Every so often it feels weird to have one child baptized and one not, but not really I guess, as we are not practicing Catholics. They are both wonderful, loving, caring children and heavenly, too, like your precious girl!

  6. It seems from the majority of those commenting here (and from a great many of my friends), a great deal of focus was placed on being a “good Catholic” rather than being a good Christian. So, now as adults and faced with wanting to raise children as good Christians, you’re at a loss with how exactly to go about doing that. Just an observation.
    Tara recently posted…GratitudeMy Profile

    • colleenpence says:

      Growing up as a Catholic, I remember learning about Catholicism and it’s history and standards. I heard homilies that tried to relate the teachings to real life. But, in our house, religion was a very pure and pristine thing, simply a daunting experience steeped in tradition. I don’t remember talking about our relationship with God or Jesus, the way some do in other religions. This may simply be a factor of my own experience, rather than a blanket accusation of Catholicism as a whole (and I’m pretty sure it is). But as I’ve grown up, I’ve had big difference with the way The Church handles things and what is acceptable.

      I believe that people are created equally and God loves us all. And that’s one of the ways I define being “Christian” and how I live my life.

  7. My Grandfather is a Deacon. My Grandmother works for a convent. My Uncle is a Priest. Was at church every other day…”that’s how Catholic we are.” LOL

    However just like my culture I find that with my religion we have become “Americanized” or “Modernized”.

    If you where to ask my grandparents they might describe me as a “Cafeteria Catholic”. I personally don’t find anything wrong with it. I like having my choices. Most people say you can’t pick and choose what you want to believe. I disagree. I continue to practice my faith as a Catholic and raise my family as Catholic. I am no saint and I don’t go or take my family to Church every Sunday. But I do try to live my life and raise my family by the “do on to others as you would have them do on to you” rule. I think that is the basis of most Christian doctrine. It is really the basis of most organized and non organized religions around the world.
    My children began to ask questions by four…even as a Catholic I found it hard to answer. I wanted my kids to understand the natural biological/science of things and faith. Now I am waiting for the youngest one’s to ask questions.

    So without rambling to much more what I wanted to say was…
    God is everywhere…so within walls of a church or at home we all find God in our own way and time.
    Adriana recently posted…teacher gifts.My Profile

    • colleenpence says:

      I love your expression of Catholicism, Adriana. I, too, want to pick and choose. But that way of thinking is generally rejected by The Church. Still, like you I could live my way of being Catholic and no one needs to be the wiser, I suppose! Definitely something to consider. Thank you!

  8. Michael Graef says:

    Great post Colleen! As always, your transparency is so compelling. And you raise many good questions about a very important topic.

    I love Denise’s comment:

    “Humans were created to worship. Your children will find something to worship regardless. Maybe they’ll worship you, their friends, technology, education…”

    I understand that God does not reveal himself to everyone in the same way, to the same depth or with the same timing.

    That being said, if Jesus is who he claimed to be — the one true God of the universe living among us as a man — he does not leave open the option of picking and choosing which of his teachings we will follow. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

    Jesus claimed to be the only way to God — the only means of eternal life. When I put the enormity of that claim into the context of parenting, to allow my children to “choose their own way” would be akin to withholding food and water.

    Will they eventually have to test what I’ve taught them and make their own decisions about whether it’s true? Absolutely. But that’s true of everything we teach them, isn’t it?

    Adriana, I love that you said “I am no saint.” Neither am I. None of us are! That the whole reason Jesus came: to show us that NO ONE can live up to God’s standards, but also to give us a way out — to accept HIS death as punishment for OUR shortcomings. But there’s a price: My life is no longer my own. I live to fulfill HIS purposes and HIS agenda.

    As yet another recovering member of the ex-Catholic club, I know all about the trap of “be good and you MIGHT get to heaven” theology. That’s not what the Jesus taught. No one is “good enough” to get to heaven except Jesus. But he invites us to the party anyway because he loves us that much.

    • colleenpence says:

      Michael, thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. It’s obvious you’ve thought a lot about this and you’re firm in your beliefs. I appreciate and respect that.

      However, one of the things I struggle with is the idea that there is only one right way to worship (Christianity). I believe God created all of us and loves all of us and that the different and various ways in which people across the world worship all have their own beauty and relevance. What a gorgeous spectrum of human life and our connections with God! I imagine God is proud of the creative ways in which people choose to worship Him.

      • Michael Graef says:

        Thanks for the thoughtful response, Colleen! I do appreciate that. I’d like to leave you with one final thought: be very careful that in your quest to be open-minded, you don’t inadvertently close your mind to the possibility that there IS only one way. You need to test the claims and teachings of Jesus with your own intellect. Don’t trust me or anyone else to tell you what he said or meant. Do the research and draw your own conclusions. It’s just too important not to. :)

      • If you really study the bible… it states Jesus is the only way. He is the focus of the whole Bible. So, yes, Jesus is the only way. Aside from Him, it’s man-made religion. Luke 4:8, John 17:3, and specifically John 14:6. What is the whole point of the Bible?? It’s Jesus. If you look at every relgion/prophet aside from him….they are all dead people. No resurrection. No life. We don’t worship dead people or statues…but a living being. That’s why I am against anything that teaches many ways to get to heaven. Jesus is the only way. Having faith as your PERSONAL savior. Also, baptism do not save a’s just an act of faith. baby baptisms is not recorded in the bible because it’s a personal choice you make to follow Christ.
        Jessica S. recently posted…Giveaway: One Free Registration for BIBLE BEE MaterialMy Profile

        • colleenpence says:


          Thanks for sharing your beliefs here in a respectful manner. I appreciate learning about your viewpoint, even as it differs from mine.

  9. Kristin Zeppelin says:

    Hi Colleen
    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog & these particular responses. I too grew up Catholic & believe it/my parents gave me a great foundation for me to find my way :). My family has moved a lot & we have made our church home in various faiths finding where the holy spirit is leading us. Much like the book The Shack I believe as long as you are in a Christian environment where the story of Easter is the center…we can worship in various ‘faith clothing’ but underneath we’re all the same. I do feel that because there is so much in this world that we can not control for our kids, I am comforted knowing their relationship with Christ will give them peace & strength to handle any challenge. I also wanted to leave you with a few book recommendations as it is important to discover on your own. I just had a friend who like you is searching for answers & is a bookworm so I asked others for their favorites & compiled this list :)
    A Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel
    “What is the Gospel” by Greg Gilbert
    “the Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller
    “The Reason for God” by Timothy Keller

    • colleenpence says:

      Kristin, it is so kind of you to share this list of books with me. Thank you so much! I love hearing about how your faith is important to you and why you work to instill your beliefs in your own children. I would love to feel as certain in my heart as you and so many other commenters here do. But I’m still on this journey, I guess. And I really appreciate your support and reading suggestions. Thank you for stopping by to read and comment!

  10. Hi Colleen,

    I just saw this post and wanted to share the 2 churches I’ve been to here in San Antonio that I love. Oak Hills Church and Grace Point Church are two really good “baptist/non denominational” churches that I love. We primarily go to Oak Hills Church but to go to Grace Point for things like VBS and other events, mainly because they are similar but we live closer to Oak Hills. I’m in the same boat as the other commenters, I believe in Jesus and need him in my life because quite frankly, my life is chaos, and giving it up to him makes me feel better. Lol. As far as raising the kids in religion, I teach them about Jesus, because that is what I know has made me a strong, forgiving person, and I want them to embody that.

    What I love about those 2 church’s though, are they kids activities. They both have an awesome kids’ ministry. It’s not “Sunday School” anymore, it goes beyond that from mission trips, camps, field trips, hiking, parties, concerts, and so on. My kids have loved all the friends they have made, role models to look up to, and activities we do together.

    Just though I’d share some churchs that had really awesome kids ministries :)
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  11. We need to meet for coffee and talk about this. My husband and I sound like you guys, and this is a struggle we have as well. Would love to hear what you’ve learned since you posted this.
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    • Colleen Pence says:

      I would love to chat with you about this topic. Although, I haven’t come to many conclusions since this post. :)


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