Raising Children as an Atheopagan
Raising kids as an Atheopagan has a few added challenges atop the many that parents undergo—but can have many joys to offset them and enrich the experience of parenting.
A key principle to keep in mind as you develop your family’s Atheopagan practices is that Atheopaganism is an opt-in path. You can offer opportunities to participate to your kids, but they are their own beings. It’s important not to “make” them perform religious rituals if they don’t want to do so. When they are old enough, they will make their own decisions about whether this is the right path for them.
That said, there are so many fun and meaningful traditions which can be woven into the culture of an Atheopagan family that most children will probably want to participate in some, at least, of them. Like casting wishes with a Yule log or opening an Atheopagan “advent” calendar, crafting a rain baby, or learning to meditate with an Atheopagan rosary. After hearing examples of food blessings before meals, children may want to do their own. Ours is a creative path and offers many opportunities for self-expression, and that aspect of it is something that will appeal to many children.
Another important consideration is for families to take excursions into nature, and to point out the many amazing organisms and processes that are going on in your landscape. Learn with your kids about local ecology and geology, about astronomy and the exciting things we are learning about the Universe. Teach them to take moments to appreciate beauty, not only visually but in scents and sounds and tastes and feelings. As the kids get older, go camping and river rafting. Explore the wild.
As your children grow, talk about the Four Pillars and the 13 Principles. Explain why you embrace them (presuming you do–otherwise, adapt as you see fit): to be a good person, to be happy, and to have a positive impact on the world.
Children go through phases of development, each of which has a different impact on parents and other adults. Babes-in-arms, for example, can be disruptive during rituals. They cry often and with little provocation, and nothing sets the teeth of most people on edge like the sound of a baby crying (which is natural–we’re built that way). Sometimes one parent will have to trade off taking care of the baby while other parent(s) participate*. The family Focus will need to be kept above where babies and toddlers can reach to avoid objects being taken and swallowed or chewed. Here is a Pagan parent’s recommendations about raising infants and toddlers.
During rituals, it is customary to let toddlers and primary-school-aged kids run about and do what kids do. Don’t try to force them to stand still or be quiet: those are not natural states for children and they will only choose them when they are ready. If they are interested in participating, let them!
When kids reach middle school age, the best way to encourage participation rather than disruption is to try to recruit them into a role or a task during the ritual. Of course, they are middle school students, and may want to not do whatever you suggest, no matter what it is. That’s okay. We’re Atheopagans, not authoritarians.
Teenagers can be a particular challenge. They’re wannabee-adults whose brains are far, far from fully developed. Yet this may be the time when embracing being a “witch” or a Pagan may be very appealing to a child. Again: don’t mandate, invite–this is the time when teenagers may be interested in participating in rituals, but on their own terms. They may want to do their ritual practice completely differently from you! Be sure to listen when you get a counterproposal–maybe that would be a great addition to your ritual that you never thought of. The teens can also be a great time to introduce children to Tarot cards.
Sometimes, you want an adults-only ritual. The only way to make that happen is to ensure there is a kids’ activity and adult supervision elsewhere while the adults’ ritual is going on. Take turns volunteering to supervise the young, and come up with a theme-appropriate craft, song, and/or “kids’ ritual” for them to do.
This page and this one have some great activities for Pagan families: particularly, it is important to get started early on crafts, singing and drumming so children will feel natural and unselfconscious in these activities as they get older. There are some very nice full moon ritual ideas to do with kids here. And don’t forget that you can create and tell your own mythological stories, set in your local landscape. You can use mine, as well, available for listening on the Atheopagan YouTube channel.
I also suggest the book Circle Round for stories, ideas about craft and ritual activities with kids, and two books—Ancient Ways and Wheel of the Year—by the late Pauline Campanelli for crafty/seasonal suggestions generally. While these books are theistic, they contain instructions for many activities which can easily be adapted to Atheopagan purposes.
Here is another page with a wonderful list of Pagan books for kids; most of them are consistent with Atheopagan values and reverence for Nature. And here is a great page with science books for children to teach them the wonders of the natural world.
By the time they are teenagers, they can enjoy books such as Always Coming Home by Ursula K. LeGuin, The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, and the marvelously humane, incisive and hilarious Discworld books of Sir Terry Pratchett. If they’re into nonfiction, check out the Atheopagan GoodReads shelf.
Atheopagan children deserve and will benefit from a rite of passage into adulthood. It is up to you when that should take place: at 15, or 16? Or when approaching 18? Or after having completed some kind of task or ordeal/adventure? Only you can make this significant decision. But believe me: odds are good that they will thank you for all of their lives for having formally acknowledged their passage into adulthood.
Of course, if they don’t want a rite of passage, don’t do it. But there are privileges and responsibilities that come with being an adult, and you may want to hold off on some of them–like letting them get a driver’s license–until after going through a formal process in which adults instruct them about how to be an adult.
The main thing, of course, is to keep communication lines open and maintain a sense that you are on the child’s side, value who they are as a person, and want the best for them. I have known Pagan families where the “teen rebellion” never really took place because the parents had made it very clear from the children’s earliest memories that they were truly loved, valued, and respected.
There is a place in most rituals for children of any age, whether that place is simply being indulged as they run around giggling or a role and responsibility if they are older. Always look for the opportunity for children’s participation, whether it’s as a flower bearer in a wedding procession or carrying a wand around in a circle to define a sacred space. Make ritual a natural and normal thing to do, and a way of solving problems and approaching challenges.
Let them know that the world of ritual and Atheopaganism is available to them if they want it, and let them come and go as they will.
Now, all of this being said: I’m not a parent (just the oldest of 7 children!) So I welcome additions to this post in the form of comments below. Ideas, practices, considerations, cautions, and accumulated wisdom are all welcome!
*Of course, during a naming ceremony, all parents and the baby will need to be there.