Please don’t force* your beliefs onto my child.

I’m not religious. I was baptized Catholic and received my first Communion, but I can’t ever remember a time when I actually believed in G-d. I haven’t attended church regularly since I was a teenager.  I’m fascinated by religion (all religions) in a purely academic sense.

T is not being raised in a religious household. When he asks existential questions (yes, my 5-year-old is existential), I try my best to give him different perspectives. I tell him that different people believe different things. I try to be as open as possible.

That all being said, T attends a Catholic preschool. They have income contingent tuition, so I pay a lot less than I would pay anywhere else in town. When I enrolled him, I discussed it with the director. She explained that the school is part of the Catholic schooling community, but they are a non-secular school. No part of the education is based on G-d, Jesus, or the Bible. There is a statue of Jesus in the cafeteria, but it’s more of a leftover from the days when it was a solely Catholic school.

I was hesitant, but I really couldn’t ignore the fact that the school is ridiculously affordable and right around the corner from where I work. The directors were both very kind, and the teachers I met seemed to be just what I was looking for.

T has been attending this school for several months. The woman who had been watching him before set the bar high (we loved her), but the teachers here seemed to be okay. It would do until he could start kindergarten and attend public school.

Until this morning, when T informed me that he is going to heaven after he dies.

T has been fascinated by death for about a year (not in the teenage-goth sort of way, but still kind of odd for a 5-year-old, right?). We’ve had a lot of conversations about how nobody really knows what happens, but here are a few things that some people believe. And here’s what I believe.

I had an abbreviated version of that conversation again this morning, as I drove him to school. When we pulled up in front of the school, I casually asked him who told him about heaven.

“Miss B—.”

Imagine my surprise when it was the teacher that I get along with the best. She’s my favorite of the pre-K teachers. We talk every day at pick-up (she doesn’t start until after I drop T in the morning), and I’ve always felt very comfortable talking to her about the things T tells me about school.

Like the time he told me nobody would ever play with him on the playground. And she told me he was always playing with lots of kids. And I came early one day to see that was exactly the truth. He’s kind of a drama queen.

Miss B— has also told him that G-d made everyone. This, just after he and I had a great conversation about evolution.

Thanks, Miss B—.

I’m livid.

I have absolutely no problem with Miss B—‘s beliefs. And when T gets older, he is more than welcome to believe whatever he wants. But right now, he is a very impressionable 5-year-old child. I do not think it is at all okay for her to fill my child’s head with her beliefs. Especially in a this-is-the-truth sort of way.

Yes, I’m going to talk to her today when I pick him up from school. I hate confrontation, but if it had to be with any teacher, I am kind of glad it’s her. I already know that I can talk to her, and that she will be honest with me.

But how do I face this sort of confrontation without seeming  like I’m condemning her belief system? How do I do it tactfully, when there is no way I’ll be able to do it out of earshot of at least a child or two?

And, at what point do I bring it to the director’s attention?


*And, despite the title, I don’t believe she’s actually “forcing” them onto him. I’m just really bad at coming up with blog titles. Don’t yell at me, okay?

I’m pouring my heart out with Shell, but I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the issue.

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28 comments on “Please don’t force* your beliefs onto my child.”

  1. Jenn@Fox in the City

    Hum, tough spot. You have a relationship with her so being as honest as possible would be the best way to go . . . I would think. Let her know that that is not what you are teaching T and that you would appreciate it if she would shift the focus away from religion when speaking with T. What do you think?

    Good luck hun . . . I too hate confrontation.

  2. Las Vegas Mama

    Since your son is already getting “the other side of the story”, religiously speaking, from you, there should be no harm in the teacher telling him the Catholic side. Of course he will choose whatever he wants when he gets older…and one teacher isn’t going to “convert” him when he is 5 years old.

    If I may make an observation, the fact that you said you are livid makes it seem like you may be a little touchy about Catholicism. Would you feel the same way if someone told him that he will attain nirvana, or reincarnate to be a different person after he dies?

    You already taught him different things that people believe. This is just one more perspective of what people believe.

    Now, that said, sometimes we feel a certain affinity for certain ideas – like going to heaven. I would not discourage that if it is something that brings him comfort or makes him happy. Your issues are your own. Let him figure it out – he sounds like a pretty smart little boy. 🙂

    • Roxanne

      I appreciate your comment. Truly.

      I would be equally livid, no matter what. I have talked to him many different beliefs. We’ve talked about heaven, nirvana, reincarnation, the different deities, etc (but not hell; I know how sensitive he would be to something like that).

      My problem is that the teacher feels it is somehow OK to talk to a 5-year-old about it, in a school setting. He is a very smart kid, but he is also prone to believing anything an adult tells him. He didn’t come to me to say he learned a new belief; he told me that he “is” going to heaven when he dies. As if there were no question, no alternative. It makes me wary. I know my son, and I know how he responds to new information.

      If he were going to a regular public school, and it were a ‘world religions’ type of curriculum, then that is an entirely different situation. This is a preschool. I am paying for it, so shouldn’t I have a say in whether the teacher can talk about religion in the school setting or not?

        • Harper Jayne

          If the agreement is “we won’t teach your child about religion” then it’s rather irrelevant if it’s the “school of our lord hunga munga” . . . the agreement was made, and need to be upheld by all parties involved.

  3. Ms. HalfEmpty

    Even if the curriculum is not religious, there is an assumption that people who work at or attend a Catholic preschool subscribe to Catholic beliefs. If you were more concerned about religion than money, you probably would send him to a secular or non-denominational preschool.

    If it’s really a big deal to you, change schools. But I really don’t think it’s something you can complain to the director about.

    • Harper Jayne

      I am fairly sure given the explicit agreement she says she made, that she actually can complain to the director. It’s not as if there was no discussion of the topic. There was a clear one, and an agreement made.

      This question has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with a school agreeing to abide by a parent’s wishes and then failing to do so.

      If you ask a school no to teach your child about x, y, or z and they say “that’s fine, we may be funded by organizations that support those things, but we won’t teach them to your child” it is a violation if they do so.

      It’s nice to have the luxury of not giving a damn about money. Most of the rest of us have to worry about it. It is not unreasonable to say “I understand that your school will cost me less, but I want to make sure that if I do pay tuition here, you will not teach my child about things I do not wish them to learn” . . .

      If the school does not agree, that’s perfectly fine. You make the decision at that point if you value money more, or less than you value avoiding the sensitive subjects.

      However she was not given this choice. She made a decision based upon the fact that she was told that it would not be an issue.

      This may not be an outright lie, but a mistake has been made and it should be rectified.

      • Ms. HalfEmpty

        No, the original conversation with the director was about curriculum. The teacher did not formally teach the subject of heaven or God. She was expressing her beliefs in a known Catholic community.

        I am quite anti-religion, but I don’t think this situation was out of line at all.

        • Harper Jayne

          As I said, I don’t think she was lied to by the director, that said, it still constitutes a mistake when you have a discussion involving religion with a child when their parent has expressly requested that it not happen.

          If that were to be an issue the director should have said so up front. As it stands the teacher simply made a mistake, and asking her to be careful in the future should not be a problem.

          I am not at all anti-religion. I believe people are free to worship how they choose. I prefer they be reasoned and tolerant about it. I also prefer they only discuss it with people who are of an age to formulate their own opinions if there is no guardian present.

          • Ms. HalfEmpty

            Good luck having a guardian present each time a taboo (in your mind) topic is discussed around a child. Part of learning and growing is exposure to different beliefs.

        • Roxanne

          It’s true that the original conversation regarded curriculum and the teacher’s comment was (most likely) not instructing anybody. Even if she was expressing her beliefs, I would have appreciated her making that clear to my son.

          And maybe she did. I can’t say I believe I’ve gotten the entire story just from listening to my 5-year-old. He’s quite intelligent for his age, but he is still operating based on his own perspective. This is all speculation. I have yet to discuss it with the teacher directly, but I plan to when I pick him up from school today.

          • Harper Jayne

            Best of luck Rox. I am pretty sure it’s not going to be an issue for you. You’ve already said you have a good relationship with her. I suspect it was just an oversight, or, as you’ve said yourself, a misunderstanding.

            My nephew who is four was told he would be hearing about Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream . . . he responsed with the news that he had a dream about having a new kind of train tracks . . . kids don’t always get nuance.

        • Harper Jayne

          (Can’t reply to deeply nested comments.)

          There’s a difference between someone talking about Jesus in the supermarket and a teacher bringing the subject up in school. I think you’re pretty well aware of that. Kids talk to each other about things all the time. That’s fine too. They’re peers sharing their experiences and ideas.

          The issue is in people who are in an authority position being (even accidentally) evangelical. I have two parents. Both were teachers. Both are Protestant. Neither one has ever to my knowledge uttered anything regarding religion while in an educational setting.

  4. Jim W

    Yeah, religion. . . such a weird thing. Let me say this. . . I was raised protestant, attended Sunday School, was even in a church youth group in high school. . . but I’m agnostic.

    While I doubt I’d be livid, per se, I’d definitely talk to the teacher about how you want T raised (from a religious perspective) and just indicate you’d like his religious education to come from you, not her. She probably ASSUMES that because you’re in a catholic preschool (even though it’s nonsecular) that those sorts of things are okay. Just let her know they aren’t, and if she’s as awesome as you say I’m sure she’ll get it.

      • Harper Jayne

        Oh, and for the record, you can mark me down for all of the above. Protestant, Sunday school, youth group, . . . agnostic.

        My wife was raised Catholic, attended private Catholic High School, no longer attends Mass and does not overly believe in Catholicism, but does believe in God.

        And my children get to make up their own minds. They will go to religious services with relatives at various times during their lives. We may send them to private schools which are (at least in part) religious, depending on where we are and what the quality of schools happens to be.

        We will maintain open dialogue with them regarding religion. Because free will is important, but it’s difficult to exercise truly free will without having your options explained to you.

  5. Shell

    When my boys attended preschools that were associated with a church, they also had some religious instruction. They kept it non-denominational, but still generic Christian, so they did talk about these sorts of things.

    That sounds like what is going on there. And what usually happens in any Christian school.

    I understand your concern entirely, but it might not be something that they will change.

    The only time I was ever thrown off-guard by something like this was in one preschool where my boys were taught a prayer for before snack-time. In a school not associated with a church. I was okay with it because of my beliefs, but was thrown off. And then Hubs reminded me “We’re in the South.” LOL

    • Roxanne

      I was already thrown off once when T came home talking about saying a prayer before they ate at school. Upon further discussion, the children all say a “prayer” of thankfulness that is directed completely towards the cafeteria workers. Which I thought was a lovely sentiment.

  6. Robbie

    I have taught pre-k for 12 years in a variety of settings. Because we received state and federal funding the obvious separation of church and state was in place. We served a financially and ethnically diverse population. Through casual conversation children would discuss thoughts about their fish dying, saying grace before meals etc. Any talk of a religious nature or what children said about G_d, Buddha, etc was acknowledged with a “different people believe different things and that’s ok.”

    I am curious to hear how the teacher and school respond to your concerns. good luck!

  7. MommySaidThis

    I think I would be upset if someone was teaching my child something contrary to my beliefs as ‘truth’. Especially if they knew it and did it anyway. I don’t have access to the official charter for that school and how it’s being ‘sold’ to parents. I think that would be the deciding factor dor me, regardless of if i was paying or not.
    I know my kids don’t always tell the full story. They just don’t think in those terms. Is it possible there is more to it? Was she talking directly to him? Was it a group setting? Did he overhear her talking to someone else entirely? Maybe you have these answers and that’s why you’re ready to talk it out.
    I’m glad you have a good relationship with her already. I’m sure it will make things easier in figuring out what happened and where to go with it.
    I expect my kids to hear differing opinions about all sorts of things. I use it as a learning opportunity. It sounds like you’ve already covered the ‘there are lots of different beliefs’. Hopefully you can help him process this too.

  8. Stasha

    I absolutely hate confrontation but, it seems kind of inevitable in this situation.

    Hopefully, since you have a relationship with this teacher already and are able to talk with her, approaching this subject will not be as hard as it would be with someone else.

  9. Kimberly

    This is tough because while it is essentially a “catholic” school, you had a specific conversation with the director about it.
    But I can say this, I had religion stuffed down my throat since I was born.
    Now at 31, I don’t believe in organized religion, but i do believe that there is a God.
    He will grow and learn and will make his own choice.

  10. Sperk*

    I’d speak to her without any children around. Maybe request a meeting with her AND the director (at the same time). I don’t think it’s strange that your son is thinking about death. It’s pretty normal.

    This is from Hospice:
    “What we say about death to our children, or when we say it, will depend on their ages and experiences. It will also depend on our own experiences, beliefs, feelings, and the situations we find ourselves in, for each situation we face is somewhat different.”

    I understand why you would be upset. The teacher may not know that the director told you there would be no doctrine taught.

    On a positive note–it’s an opportunity to talk to your son about death as he begins to create his own ideas about the topic.

    Good luck!

  11. Kimberly

    That is definitely a tough situation, but since it was with the teacher you felt most comfortable with I do hope it was easier for you. We aren’t a religious household either and I do get a bit on edge when it’s brought up.

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