One of the most heart wrenching conversations of my life was when my daughter started understanding mortality:

"Daddy, does everyone die?"
"Yes baby, everyone dies."
Her eyes widen. "Are YOU going to die?"
"I'm going to die, but it will be a long time from now."
Tears filled her eyes. "Am I going to die!?!"

I didn't necessarily raise my kids atheist. I didn't come to terms with my own atheism for a long time. When they asked about things like what happens after you die, I said that grandma believes this, others believe believe that. This is what I believe...

My children are grown atheists now, but both continue to go through terrible bouts of existential angst. So much easier to "protect" them from reality with myth.

Has anyone else struggled with this one?

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It tears me up. I didn't push atheism on my kids. But I did explain my reasoning for rejecting religion, which pretty much left them without a myth to stand on... so to speak.

My folks were extremely religious, so my kids got a good dose of Christianity from them. When my daughter was really small, she asked me if there was a "dog Jesus" to take care of dead Both kids abandoned jesus about the same time they stopped believing in Santa. This kind of felt appropriate to me ;-)
Dog Jesus, the Son of Dog. Love it.
We both actually laughed our heads off visualizing a Jesus dog with a long beard, and a cow Jesus, and a chicken Jesus... I'll have to ask her if she remembers.
I guess the answer to existential angst is always that life's temporary nature helps us to appreciate it more. And that it doesn't make much sense to waste the opportunity to experience the wonder and joy of living by obssessing on a truth over which you have no control.

The bubbles and sand castle sound like good, age appropriate, ways to illustrate the point.

There is also a book called "The Fall of Freddie the Leaf" that I believe addresses the issue in a positive light.
Many thanks John D. My apologies too. I obviously have the issue of getting frustrated and over zealous too.

Thanks you for your suggestions. I'll have to ask my kids about the prayer stuff. While prayer has no affect on the external world, it can certainly be a coping technique. My kids are 19 and 22.

I hear ya on the personal existential angst as well. Having suffered that bottomless pit myself, I wish I could have saved them from it. I know that each of us is responsible for his/her own journey, and the kids have to experience all of the pain and pleasure for themselves.

Alcohol does help...lmao!
I think it's a struggle for all parents. My son, now 6 went through a period around 4-5 where he was very afraid of dying. I told him much the same as you, that none of us will die for a long time. Generally when he's calm we talk about life cycles and how all living beings are created from the same materials that made the universe and that when we die we become part of it all again. It's romantic and sort of new agey sounding, but my hope is that this provides some amount of comfort.

One evening he was quite hysterical, I was able to calm him eventually but after that I very much considered telling him that some people believe that when we die we live on in "heaven". So far he hasn't had another episode like that but if I thought it would give him comfort in the short term I'd probably try that.

My other son is 3.5 and tends to be very dramatic. This summer if he got hurt he would cry for a long time repeating "I dead", "I truly dead" over and over. I don't think he yet understands what that means, but I have a feeling we're heading to similar angst soon enough.
Like I said, my kids lost heaven when they lost Santa. We use lots of mythology to add magic to the lives of little ones. Maybe a magic place after you die is ok for very young children... You still have to have that heavy conversation with em at some point though.
My best friend passed away when we were 28. When my daughter was born 3 years later, we named her after my friend. She's heard stories about her and the experiences we shared, the reasons why she was my best friend and how much I still miss her. We simply answer our kids' worries about dying with that as an example: we live on in the hearts and memories of those who loved us. It does seem to help all of my kids. I suspect because it's something they see and hear about daily, not just when they're anxious about it.
I know that must have been frustrating. My mom and sister are both very "religious" or so they say they are. They sure don't live like they are. Anyways, I have threatened both of them with not seeing my daughter if they try to fill her head with the whole "you'll go to hell if you don't believe in god" crap. So they know not to talk about it around my house. My sister is in that cult campus crusaders for christ and I think she has a hard time keeping her beliefs to herself but I have told her she can believe what she wants to believe and I will believe what I want and we just won't discuss it.
Heaven does sound like a bore! Eternally giving glory to God!?! What an ego that guy must have!!!

I think for my kids... and me, the fantasy preference to life after death would be eternal life and youth in this place... you know... like a
A way to look at this from a scientific point of view is that we are all part of the universe and we are all energy. When we die, our energy just transfers from our body to the surrounding universe; sadly I don't think our consciousness goes with it. However, just knowing that our energy will be part of the universe forever may be enough.
Our energy remains as part of the universe, and our DNA too. We talk about part of our ancestors is with us all the time, and when I die part of me still gets to live on in my child, and that she carries part of her parents, grandparents, all her ancestors with her all the time, as she is made out of her ancestors.

We also quote from the Havamal, (as a cultural & poetic rather than religious text - I hope it's OK to put this)

Cattle die, kinsmen die,
Everyone is mortal
But I know one thing that will never die
The name of one who has done well

Cattle die, kinsmen die
You too will die one day
But I know of one thing that does not die
The glory of great deeds




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