Nanny's Religious Beliefs

Archived Q&A and Reviews

The perfect nanny's religious bedtime stories

Oct 2007

I am blessed to have found the perfect babysitter to watch over my children at night. I am a single mom with little support from my husband. My kids are in very good hands as I must work nights now. The thing is my daughter is now getting a lot of religious teachings by hearing bedtime stories about Jesus and saying her prayers. I think my Nanny assumes all chidren do this even though we are not Christians. Now my daughter wants to believe even though she knows I am an athiest. How do I handle this situation? I do not want to lose my nanny or offend her. My kids have gone through so much by missing their Dad and seeing me work at nights. I also do not want to raise my daughter as a Christian. From my own religious background I know that my Nanny is very evangelical which means she believes that she needs to bear witness to my daughter so that she can come to Jesus and go to Heaven. I feel like I always have these issues with being an atheist in the closet! I was raised a Southern Baptist by a Catholic and a Buddhist BTW!
Atheist Mom

I should precede this by saying that I am a Christian myself, but I don't believe in pressing others to accept Christianity, especially not children. It is your right to shield your daughter from an influence that you perceive as misguiding. But it does sound as if your nanny has tapped into a need that your daughter has to explore spirituality; children can have big spiritual/philosophical questions that deserve serious response, though I would not argue for a religious response necessarily. I would get a supply of children's reading material that deals with some of the spiritual questions from the perspective of different cultures and secular philosophy. Ask your nanny to stick with that. If you feel comfortable with the idea, perhaps you could also think of a bedtime ritual that would better suit your own beliefs -- explain to your nanny that you are not a Christian and do not want to introduce your child to Christian practice, but that you do appreciate her care for your daughter and your daughter's desire for some kind of spiritual expression. You may not be fully comfortable with that as an atheist, but your daughter will have to make her own explorations and decisions, as you did. Keeping the question open and allowing for some conversation seems more productive than shutting it down. A ritual in which the daughter could name the people she cares for and loves, and/or the causes in the world (or her little world) that she would like to see forwarded, without reference to Jesus or a father god, might be an alternative. This could be a good moment to explore your own values with your daughter. But I think you have to be quite clear to the nanny that while you appreciate her loving care, you need to be responsible now for your daughter's spiritual upbringing. still on the path

I am a Christian who was raised in an evangelical family. My brother is a missionary. You need to tell your nanny about your feelings on the issue. I feel like it is wrong of her to be doing this behind your back. How you handle the situation with your daughter is up to you. I also want to raise my children according to my own beliefs and let them decide for themselves when they are older. I understand your concern. I'm sure that your nanny doesn't mean any harm and feels like she is doing the right thing, but it strikes me as being a very intrusive and inappropriate way to behave. Have a very serious discussion with her, let her know how much you appreciate her, but that you disagree with her actions. I don't know how much about it I would say to my daughter. You don't want to instill bitterness in her against either you or her nanny, both of whom I am sure care very much for her. Good luck! anon

I went through this. In our case it was a daycare provider. Since she loved our son like he was her own, I kept him there as I thought that was the most important thing. I also believed (and still do) that he would take his cues about religion and spirituality from his family.

However, when he got older it got much harder and she crossed a line a few times (my son's father made a decision and she communicated to my son ''I hope Jesus changes his heart'', totally inappropriate). We had to pull my son out of there in a hurry. I wanted my son to keep contact with her, but when they spoke she kept getting very emotional and referring to Jesus intervening in our decisions. We had to end contact. It was very difficult and confusing for a 9 year old boy, and I think he still (at 13) feels the pain of that sudden separation. Also, it is only now that I am realizing the extent of her attempt to indoctrinate him. He told me recently that he once asked her who Darwin was and her response ''a very bad man.'' Yikes.

Now we are both members of the local Unitarian/Universalist congregation. I'm a long time UU but probably would not have gone back to church had I not felt that my son needed to actively process his own religious/spiritual beliefs. This is partly to sort out those confusing early teachings.

Bottom line: I think this harmed my son and I have a lot of guilt about it. You should at least make some guidelines clear. In our case, we thought we had, but it turned out our wishes were not respected. To her, ''saving'' our son was more important than respecting our parenting decisions. You may want to evaluate whether there is a risk of that in your situation. Anon

Now that you have a child, if you would prefer to raise her to share your own beliefs, you can't stay in the closet any more. Sorry, but that's just the truth. (Also, it's worth noting that ''atheist'' denotes an absence of belief. You should decide what you DO believe in so that you can explain that to your child. Are you a humanist? A pagan? Or actually an agnostic?)

Does your nanny even KNOW that you and your daughter are not Christians? Are you afraid she'd quit if she did know? I think you simply need to be upfront with her, and if she is offended...well, as wonderful as she may be otherwise, she is not the right caregiver for your family. ''I am not a Christian and Susie is not being raised as a Christian. I do not mind you telling her Bible stories, as STORIES, but please do not ask her to say prayers, and if she has questions about God or Jesus, I would like you to let me know so that I can answer those myself.'' (Incidentally, saying ''I am not a Christian'' may be easier than ''I am an atheist.'' Try it. You'll get used to it. :-) )

You may also want to get a few children's books about different religions, myths, holidays and rituals. The nanny's religious influence will be better understood in the context of teaching tolerance and respect for all sorts of different religious beliefs. Your daughter will end up believing whatever she believes -- but she is a lot more likely to make the ''right'' decisions about that if she is exposed to a wider range than just the nanny's evangelical fervor and your own ''closet'' atheism. (For that matter, if your parents are still around, perhaps your daughter would enjoy visiting their respective church and temple with them and learning more about their very different spiritual practices.) Humanist Mom

I had the exact same experience with my nanny. I felt that on balance, a little religious ''indoctrination'' was a small price to pay, because she is a really wonderful person that our whole family developed a close relationship with. Her religion is part of who she is, and I really admire her as a person, so I accept that we are different in this way. And I think she would have been accepting of me, too, had I ever told her I'm an atheist. But I didn't. Actually, we never discussed religion at all. I feel that religious beliefs are personal, and I don't think a person's religious beliefs are a good reason to not like or not trust them. So, she may have thought that I was a Christian too.

My toddler son learned little songs about Jesus in Spanish, drove all over town in a car that had a Jesus is my Savior bumpersticker on it, and even went to church with her a few times. At the age of 4 he would say things like ''You don't have to worry about that, Mommy, because God is watching over you and He will take care of you.'' I thought it was sweet, so I'd just say that was sweet of him to say so.

Now that he is almost 7, we are able to talk more about religion and God and about what different people believe, and I know these kinds of discussions will continue throughout his childhood and adulthood. I am not at all concerned that his love for his religious nanny is going to determine his religious beliefs, and I don;t expect him to accept mine, either, at least not when he is 7! I think it is very comforting for children to have the concept of a loving and protecting God. I did, when I was little. I just came to not believe, later, and it will be up to him later to come to his own beliefs.

It is really kind of ironic: I moved here in part so I could raise my kids in a place where they would not feel oppressed, like I did, by the overwhelming influence and constant proselytizing from evangelical Christians, and I end up with an evangelical Christian helping me raise my son! Only in California! I'm OK with it

Your nanny's behavior is inappropriate in my opinion. Children are vulnerable to indoctrination that can last a lifetime, plus you have a right as a parent to determine influences on your child. I wonder what keeps you from simply explaining your views to your nanny? I know a couple of books to recommend. One is ''Leaving the Fold'' by Marlene Winell - a book about recovering from religion, and also ''Parenting Beyond Belief,'' a collection of essays about parenting without religion. I understand about being a closet athiest. It's silly but people in this country are pretty confused about god and spirituality and don't even know the meaning of the word athiest. I wish you the best. I'm sure you are a super mom. Fellow loving athiest mom

Your nanny is entirely out of line doing this kind of thing with your child, especially since it is done without your permission and explicit okay.

If the situation were reversed; if this was a deeply religious family and the nanny was discovered to be trying to disturb the faith of a young child, would anyone be counseling handling the situation with patience and broadmindedness?

It is not her place to be inculcating her beliefs to your child. You have a family value system, and it doesn't rely on believing in the singular truth of Christian teachings, so why are you allowing your young child to be proselytized? If you do want to teach your child the beliefs of many different peoples, certainly, do so.

But this woman is teaching him her values as the one and only truth, and if you remain silent and allow her to continue doing so, then this is the only truth you are teaching him. Unless you actually want to raise him as a Christian, why are you doing this to him? anon

To respond to the post that read:

''(Also, it's worth noting that ''atheist'' denotes an absence of belief. You should decide what you DO believe in so that you can explain that to your child. Are you a humanist? A pagan? Or actually an agnostic?''

The webster definition of Atheist ''one who believes that there is no deity'' There is no requirement to subscribe to any other belief. Anon

I would be concerned. The professional decision a nanny is supposed to make, is to leave spiritual discussions and sex/reproductive discussions up to the parents. I'm a professional nanny and that's what I do. I don't make a big deal about it either way. If I get asked questions, I give a very benign answer and direct a child to ask mommy. I even work for a family who doesn't believe in masturbation, and although I think they are indoctrinating her with shame about her private parts and her natural interest, she's also their child - so I do as they wish.

Now as for Christians... some are very cool and respectful. But have you heard the term neo-con? There is a fervency in some Christians, and they believe that conversion to their agenda is more important than professionalism or respecting boundaries or free will (which is interesting since their bible specifically states that everyone gets to make their own free will choice). I already feel she has a huge strike against her in crossing this boundary, but perhaps she made an assumption or just didn't know. With that in mind, I would have a talk with my nanny to be fair to her, asking for her compliance to not interfere spiritually and see if she completely respects this from now on. One whiff of her doing it again, though, and she'd be gone. But then I have strong feelings about proselytizing. anon