Note: I wrote about this before, but it has been heavily rewritten as I have thought about it further
The easy answer is no. While I do not have children at the moment, it is a distinct possibility in the future, and I have always thought that I want to be completely honest with my kids, if I ever have any.
I don’t think that this is a tough question when it comes to teenagers. I remember how my mother never told me anything about herself and her teenage years, and this created distance and mistrust between us. However, when it comes to small children, there are two lies that I was told as a child which I find myself wanting to perpetuate: Santa, and heaven.
This sounds like a terrible idea for a freethinking, atheist potential parent to consider. I remember when I found out that Santa was not real the hurt did not come from finding out that the magic I believed in wasn’t there. I felt fooled, I felt stupid, I felt like adults had laughingly played this elaborate prank on me and I fell for it and it make me sick to think about it. A friend of mine told me that when her little brother found out there was no Santa, he looked his mother dead in the eye and said “you know, I never really believed in Santa. The only reason I believed is because you told me he was real, and you told me that you would never lie to me”. The idea that I would ever fray my child’s trust like that terrifies me.
But then I remember how much fun believing in Santa was. I remember the anticipation of going down the stairs on Christmas morning and finding presents that had magically appeared under the tree. I remember being older and fully aware that there was no Santa, but asking my mother to hide the presents and act like I still did, just to recreate a fraction of that thrill. As I am older I look back on that time and, remembering how much fun believing in magic was, even for a short time, I feel a little sick about robbing that experience from my kids.
I also vividly remember trying to cope with my Grandfather’s death when I was six, and peppering my mother with questions about heaven and what happened when you die. I remember the pit of emptiness in my stomach trying to fathom such a loss. It was enormous, it was overwhelming, trying to grasp the concept that people could just not be there anymore. When she told me that he was happy, he was somewhere else but that we would see him again, and he could see us, and that he listened if we prayed to him, it was the only thing that got me through that day. I don’t know how I would have coped with it if heaven had not been there to soften the blow.
This leaves me incredibly conflicted. I feel like a hypocrite for considering using these lies, but at the same time I can’t find it in me to reject them completely at this time.
I would love to hear from some atheist parents out there who have grappled with these decisions.