An Agnostic Parent’s Guide to Talking About God With Kids

When a parent believes God can’t be known, it makes questions about God hard to answer, unless they take time to think about them beforehand.

Parents who feel that God is unknowable may find themselves in a jam when their kids ask them about the big bearded guy in the sky. Unlike conventionally religious parents — whose faiths often come with robust programs to inculcate children with rituals, prayers, and faith — agnostics have no blueprint for an almighty deity to pass on to their children. Complicating the matter is the fact that God as a concept defies the reductivism often necessary to talk to kids about the big stuff. After all, the whole of human history has wrestled with the idea of an all-knowing higher power. How is a parent seriously supposed to explain this kind of stuff in the brief minutes before bedtime?

Agnostic parents have to work harder, Dr. Jesse Fox, who researches child psychology and religion at Stetson University, acknowledges. But “the real gift of being a parent, and also the responsibility, is that you can educate your kid in however way you want,” he told Fatherly. “So the starting place from an agnostic perspective is to think: what do I want my kid to grow up understanding?”

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Finding an answer means spending time wrestling with the question. Ideally, agnostic parents should start off exploring their own thoughts about God, long before their kids ask. This can help them get ahead of the Christ curve—introducing their children to a favorite version of God proactively, long before they come home singing confusing Christmas carols. “It’s better to be proactive, even if you’re not sure where you ultimately come out,” Fox says. “At least you have some perspective to give because your kid is looking for that. They’re looking for guidance.”

But parents aren’t known for getting ahead of uncomfortable questions. Sex, religion, and death are not topics that most parents want to discuss, and moms and dads are seldom ready to talk about such big issues. So, let’s face it—your kid will likely pop the God Question long before you have any idea how to answer it, especially if you’re an agnostic dad. If you’re caught by surprise, Fox says, the key is honesty. “You can give kids an answer, but they can tell how you got there, or if you’re really not confident,” Fox explains. “You have the burden of helping them discover those answers for themselves. Be as honest as you can in the context of what a small child can grasp.”

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Regardless, agnostic parents should understand that their children will ultimately decide about God on their own. So it’s not a crime to keep it abstract and generally positive. Answers like “Some people believe that God is love” or “Some people believe that God is the father of all things” might seem loopy, but at least it’s something for children to hang their burgeoning understandings on. The key is continuing to give children what they need most—trust and love from their parents.

“Kids who grow up with loving parents that can be a safe haven for them have a much stronger foundation to then begin journeying out into some of these difficult questions of life,” Fox says.

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