An Atheist Mom's Prayer

It's a parenting truth that personal belief and how we teach our kids about religion don't always jibe as seamlessly as we'd hope. Here, MomSpeaker Jeanne McCullough explains how she reconciled the two in a way that speaks to her entire family's peace of mind. 

“Mommy, before dinner tonight can we pray?”

Red’s question caught me off guard. I knew this day was coming, though. After all, we send her to a Christian preschool.

If you follow my blog, you probably know that I consider myself an atheist, so why would I send my kid to a Christian school? The simple answer is that it was recommended to me by a very close friend whose opinions on things such as preschools I trust highly. I quickly found that I loved the teacher there as well. Plus, I did go to Catholic school for 12 years, and although I don’t believe that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, I do appreciate the lessons that come with most of the stories.

My husband and I have talked about this many times over the years, even long before we ever had kids. We plan to do public school beyond preschool, so what’s two years of some good ol’ fashioned Christian learnin’? However, what I never took into account was the fact that a 4- and then 5-year-old would be so much — how can I say this — smarter than I thought she would be. I’m not saying she’s smarter than other kids her age; what I mean is that I had no experience being a parent to a kid her age, so I didn’t understand the amount of absorption that would take place.

I know. That’s totally naive.

Again, I love the values and the lessons, and honestly I love many of the colorful stories. After all, I was an art history major and much of my interest was in religious art! When I was little, I looked forward to religion class at school, and I would doodle illustrations to the stories in my notebooks. But I appreciate the Bible as a collection of fictional stories or at best exaggerated tales that teach us how to be good people, like many other fables we learn as young children.

So the day has now finally come when Red wants bring religion into the house, and as usual, I wasn’t prepared. But it did open up a conversation between the two of us.

“Tell me, what do you think a prayer is?”

“Praying is when we talk to Jesus and God,” she chirped.

“OK, so what do you say when you talk to Jesus and God before you eat?”

“We say thank you to them for all of our food!”

This is something I can work with, I thought.

“I’ve got an idea!” I said. “Let’s make our own family prayer!”

“YEA! Can we make it a rhyme?”

So we came up with this:

Our Family Non-Religious Prayer

We’re thankful for our house

We’re thankful for our food

We’re thankful for our clothes

We’re thankful for our shoes

We’re thankful for these girls
(pointing to my daughter and me)

We’re thankful for these dudes
(pointing to my son and husband)

We’re thankful for our jobs

and all of our good moods

It’s silly, its cheesy and it works perfectly for us. The rhyme makes it easy to remember, and of course it has a comedic element. Most importantly, it does exactly what it needs to do without bringing a single god into it.

I think there are a lot of common misconceptions about atheists and agnostics, and the message I love to convey is that We Are Thankful. I don’t need to believe in a god to be a good human being who is thankful for her blessings. Every day, I am thankful for this air that I breathe, for these beautiful children I created with my husband, for the ability to work, for our shelter and for our nourishment. I’m thankful that I have so much to be happy for in this life because I know there are whole countries of people who don’t have a fraction of what I have. I often get caught up thinking about the amazing luck to be born in this part of the world in this part of the country in this part of the state with the health that I have and the means to be sufficient and sustain my own life. I turn 35 in June, and that’s pretty friggin' amazing.

So I’m keeping it simple and fun, and teaching my kids to be thankful. Pitbull is right, yo: Every day above ground is a great day. I don’t have to have a religion to know that.

Jeanne McCullough is a Montgomery County, PA mom. This post was adapted from her blog Mom Hearts Pinot.

Categories: MomSpeak