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The Isolation of a Special Needs Parent Who Doesn't Believe in God

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The social consequences of our religious beliefs affect us in many ways. Religious freedom is considered so important that it is baked into our government and laws. A common religious worldview can also be a fantastic way to form friend groups and a support network. However, what people often don’t think about is that not everyone has a religion or believes in a god. My family falls into this category.

Contrary to some people’s assumptions, we’re generally positive, happy people (no more or less so than your average religious person, I imagine). The lack of religion isn’t any kind of big, gaping hole in our lives, and we find inspiration and spiritual fulfillment from many places: nature, curiosity, and the inherent good present in our everyday lives. However, sometimes society… well, isn’t quite sure what to do with us. It’s an exercise in constantly wondering: “Do I tell great uncle Howard we don’t believe in God when he says, ‘God bless you’?” One particular place in my life where my lack of religion has become an unexpected obstacle is in my role as a special needs parent.

When you don’t believe in a god or a higher power, it can be ostracizing in the special needs community. It’s difficult to find another parent or source of information that doesn’t stem from a faith-based standpoint. Frankly, some people can be downright nasty about it. I posted on Facebook not too long ago about a tough week we were having. One person commented, “God will help you… if you accept his help.”

For those of us who don’t believe in a higher power, it can feel isolating and lonely to know the only reason people think we will succeed is because we have “God on our side.” Following our heroic life-saving actions, we hear comments like, “See, your son survived. God does answer prayers!” While these remarks aren’t inherently bad, they can sometimes feel minimizing and negate our power as caregiver-parents.

Regardless of belief system, parents need all the support we can get. It makes me sad that I sometimes have to pretend to be religious to maintain important connections in my life. In fact, I wrote this article hesitantly because I am afraid of losing my support system. I may not have God in my heart, but that does not mean my heart is empty. I believe in kindness, charity, and sharing in the brilliance of the human spirit. I will teach my son to explore religion and culture and to make informed decisions about his own beliefs.

I hope this message will resonate with fellow parents who sometimes feel lost in a “sea of prayers.” Religious or not, we all want what’s best for our children and to feel accepted regardless of our individual belief systems. I wish everyone peace, love, and wisdom, as we keep trekking along in this wild journey we call life.

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Stock photo by splendens

Originally published: October 27, 2016
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