Your teen just declared himself atheist. You want him to celebrate the holidays. Help!
There’s nothing to prevent a non-Christian from celebrating the Christmas holidays. I have Jewish friends who celebrate Christmas time and who say they grew up celebrating Christmas, decorated tree included. Give him a challenge: If he’s really comfortable in his atheism, he shouldn’t feel threatened by those who don’t share his views.
– Doug George
I’d preemptively disabuse the child of the notion that silence always means endorsement. One can maintain respectful silence during the Thanksgiving prayer without compromising one’s personal beliefs. Ditto for Hanukkah, Christmas Mass and whatever else makes up the family’s holiday observances.
– Phil Vettel
I say throw open the door to any and all holiday traditions you enjoy, not just the religious ones. If you want to have a tree, have it. If he wants to add a tradition of his own to the mix, fantastic. Winter solstice party for his friends? An outdoor hike or picnic? A fun winter movie night? Holidays are a great time to spend fun time with people you love, and a great time for kids to learn how to create occasions in their lives and the family’s life. How you choose to do it should be entirely up to you.
– Cindy Dampier
“Find out what ‘atheist’ literally means to your son and what it symbolically represents,” said psychologist Carl Pickhardt, author of “Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence: How to Understand, and Even Enjoy, the Rocky Road to Independence” (Jossey-Bass). “A lot of early- to mid-adolescence is spent trying to differentiate yourself – not just from childhood, but from your family and parents and fitting in the way you used to.”
Turn his new announcement into a discussion point, not a bombshell.
“The main thing for parents to remember is not to get frightened or overreact,” Pickhardt said. “This could very well be a trial differentiation rather than a terminal differentiation. A lot of kids have to question their faith in order to confirm it.”
Whether and how you celebrate the holidays shouldn’t be affected by your son’s status, he said.
“Parents can say, ‘Just because you’re an atheist at this point in your life doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the holidays with family. You can simply do it in a nonbelieving way.’ ”
If attending religious services together is an important tradition for your family, ask your son to come along as a neutral observer. If prayers are said before mealtimes at relatives’ houses, remind him to use his good manners and respect house rules, even if that means remaining silent while the rest of the crowd gives a collective “Amen.”
“This isn’t the time to get inside your kid and wrestle with him in terms of his beliefs,” Pickhardt said. “Appreciate that he’s asking larger life questions and take him seriously as a young person. You want to respect his decision and talk about it and keep it open so he never feels like his decision has to be forever.”
Have a solution? Your 13-year-old is invited on a pal’s holiday ski vacation. Do you let him miss Christmas? Find “The Parent Hood” page on Facebook, to post your parenting questions and solutions.