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Prayer at extended family meals

How do you handle prayers or the saying of grace at meals with extended family?

I have three sons who I am raising with the goal and purpose of teaching them how to be decent human beings. Giving them the tools they need to achieve that; respect, tolerance, love, a thirst for knowledge, etc.

However, my family and my ex's are both religious in that at family get togethers, they will request that we all say grace before the meal. Until now I have bowed my head along with them and just not participated in the prayer. But now that they are older, my children are asking why we do this if we don't pray.

Part of me feels like we are respecting them and their beliefs by at least bowing our heads. But then I wonder if I am sending my boys the wrong message by not standing up for what I beleive in, which would no prayer and thanking the preparer of the meal and those that worked hard to earn the money that paid for the food that made the meal.

Maybe I'm making too much of this... I can do that sometimes. But, thoughts?

erineliza311 4 Apr 11

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For family I will go so far as holding hands, but don’t bow head or say amen at the end. Holding hands with a family member is not traumatic, and the moment (hopefully, some do go on) spent while they mumble some innate nonsense is little price to pay for family harmony. And if someone wants to call me out for not bowing my head, ask them what they were doing looking around! ?


Save your farts for these moments. Pray in your own silent way.


I sit there with a smile, look around to see who else isn't bowing their head, and try not to laugh if I make eye contact.

Lol that sounds like me.


If they are bowing their heads and closing their eyes, then you can do anything you want. I suggest shadow puppets.


I think the simple answer, we respect other beliefs even though we don't practice or believe them. Athiests are tolerant, sadly many religious people are not, a sad fact we have to live with, and the cause of many wars.


I recently visited my rather conservative Christian sister in Virginia for her 50th birthday. I hadn't seen her in nearly 8 years. "Grace" was said at every meal. I just sat there looking at everyone while they prayed. It was her house, so those were her rules. I just didn't participate. Those are MY rules. Praying aside, it was a GREAT visit.


Your respecting them, not there beliefs. it's just easier than any other option.


I was at a charity banquet for an organization based in the Philippines. Long story, college involvement, research on Luzon, etc.. Anyway, at the banquet, a prayer was said. Filipinos, Americans, and Filipino-Americans bowing down to some make believe deity was the order of the scene. That’s the moment when you look around the hall, nodding at biology and mathematics professors, rolling eyes, and learning who the atheists are.

I'm so relieved I now have other atheists in my family! That's exactly what we do (and try not to giggle).


I think you answered your own question: you want your children to be respectful and tolerant. As such, if others have different customs / beliefs, you tolerate those customs and respect those people's right to believe as the choose (if not necessarily the actual beliefs). If that's what you've been teaching them, then that's what you can point to as why you do it.

That should be sufficient if all you're doing is bowing your head and closing your eyes and letting others pray. If you are taking turns offering prayers, or if you are concealing your unbelief in other ways, then that would be dishonest and problematic for what you're trying to teach them. But not teaching them to be asshats by refusing to allow people to offer prayers if they want to ... that is perfectly fine.


Their house their customs, my house my customs. I sit silently and wait at their house, they are welcome to pray silently at mine without people waiting on them.

It teaches that respect runs both ways. It is not just for people with a religious custom.

At restaurants it is either the one who pays or the majority will.


I respectfully stay quite and let them do their thing, but I don’t participate. I wouldn’t make an issue out of it, but if your kids ask again I would just tell them, that it is out of respect for the host of the event.


I don't bow my head or close my eyes. I just sit quietly and wait for them to finish their prayers.


What drives me bonkers is when religious people demand/expect us to just accept and respect what they believe, but they refuse to return the favor. It boils me. I don't bow my head at meal prayers period.


I remember my mother explaining things that were going to happen when we went over to her work friends homes. We were always told to be polite and go with the flow, now your head while someone says grace, be respectful, and if something happens that is strange or makes you feel bad, come and spend time with her. Nothing bad ever happened but early on we learned that we had to get along as these situations had to do with her job. We were raised catholic and went to a catholic school, the best she could afford, she wanted us to be educated. There was much that did not make sense and fortunately we moved to an Indian Reservation where we went to public school. Children need to learn how to get along in the world and they need guidance which you are giving them. The best you can do is try to teach them to think for themselves. Good luck you seem to be on the right track.


I always think of the Bart Simpson mealtime prayer: "Rub-a--dub-dub, thanks for the grub". I mean, really, I am grateful to the cooks.


I sit respectfully quiet and look around the room to see who else doesn't have their head down...


I just stand quietly or wait til they're done to start eating. Participating in the ritual doesn't teach tolerance or respect. It teaches them that your (possibly their's) beliefs and rituals are not as important as everyone else's..


Dunno. I've been in Thailand since 2010, and didn't fully dump all Christianity until last year.

Perhaps I'd tell my family members that we are agnostic, but that we'll respect their traditions and just meditate during their prayers.

I do that with Muslims and Buddhists here in Thailand anyway, attending their funerals and social events and simply meditating happily whenever there are prayers involved.


It's not just meals. Both charities I work with and the local government I worked for start all meetings with prayers. Almost certainly illegal at the government level, but not a fight I wanted to start when I knew I wasn't long for that backwater.

So, I just silently sat there when it was prayer time.

Ozman Level 7 Apr 12, 2018

Do as much as you feel needs to be done to convey your respect. That doesn't mean you have to bow your head and pray. A gathering such as this is not the place to fight that battle, unless they insist that you pray too.


It's customary at my family's get-togethers. My dad always leads a prayer. We don't do the hand holding, which is nice. I don't bow my head or close my eyes, but I'll just stare at something on the table.

A few years ago, we had a small class reunion. The next day, a dozen or so of us met for breakfast at a small diner. There was a couple at the end of the long table that I didn't really remember very well, and in between trips from the waitress bringing our food out, they said with big smiles: "you don't mind if we pray, do you?" Everyone said no problem. I didn't have my food yet, but as they prayed, I politely drank my coffee.

No one said anything, so it was all fine. But when they asked if their praying was OK, what I wanted to say was: "What for? What does praying over your food do? What magic do you think is happening? And why couldn't you do it in the car before you came in? And can't you just pray silently in your head? He hears your prayers even when you don't say them out loud, right? I think it's because you need people to see you doing it. So, you go ahead and put on your show, but don't expect me to be your audience. Do whatever you want, but I'm having this coffee."

I understand why ignorant people a long time ago thought that a crop's success or failure was either god's gift or punishment. But why is it necessary to pray when your omelette shows up?


I think you're doing the right thing. Just explain it to the kids.


Like other said: let your sons know it is a sign of respect, not a sign of belief.


You are only sending the wrong message if you never discuss it with your children outside of the situation. Praying and bowing your head to respect your host's traditions look the same, but what's going on inside is very different. Talking regularly with your children about how to live among the theists will make it less confusing for them. Having them present to observe your calm and rational conversations with theists about your differing opinnions will teach them how to openly discuss opposing views.

Personally, I followed my family's traditions. I do not feel like it is lying, siimply not sharing that part of myself with my family. This is similar to not sharing my sexual preferences or telling the story about that one time with the car and the cop. I DO take that time to reflect on all the things I am grateful for, which is what much of dinner prayer is.

My not sharing does not harm those in my family nor does it harm me for not sharing.
Would they judge me if they knew I was an athiest? Of course. Just like they might judge me for my sexual practices. But I'm not agonizing over not telling them about those tidbits b/c the only person who needs to know and be okay with them is myself and my partner(s).

If it harms you when you do not share it (cause you unease or worry), if you feel you are being dishonest with your family, then you should take action in some way and find a way to remedy this. Talk with your family, don't participate, or whatever solution you find works for you. That type of tolerance does not help you and will create a tension in you that others around you can feel.


It all depends on where these family get togethers take place. If it is in your home, you are free to set the mealtime rituals, but if it is someone else's home you get to respect their mealtime rituals.

When your children question it explain it to them as showing respect for the person even if you don't share the same beliefs.


I just sit silently and think thoughts of peace and appreciation. It shows respect for their beliefs without being confrontational and develops the habit of being appreciative in a secular way.

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