My oldest daughter’s best friend, who comes from a strict Christian home, came over for a play date last week. The girl’s parents are in China on a “give a Bible to every Chinese kid” mission or some such arrogant nonsense. But I digress. I wanted the girls to get a chance to play under my supervision, so her sitter brought her over.
The next day, my daughter declared, “I can spell G-O-D and I believe in him!” This always happens after a visit with this friend. My husband and I calmly explained that, while it’s ok to make her own choices, we believe she is too young to decide for sure if she believes there is a god. We explained that as she gets older and learns more about the world, she might change her mind.
It’s so hard for an atheist parent to hear exclamations of belief from a child. I have to keep a cool head and remember that she’s only 6, she loves her friend, and she is mimicking her behavior. The best approach I can take is to set a good example for her because she likes to mimic me as well. I must give her space to explore her own thoughts. I didn’t have that as a child and I want to make sure she does. I want to steer her in the direction of science, logic, and reason, but she needs to come to her conclusions on her own. I hope that she’ll naturally choose reason over religion, and I think she will. It’s just so tough to hear her say she believes.
If you’re going through this with your child, hang in there. Remember they’re still young, and their minds are developing. Guide them, but don’t try to force them to believe as you do. The best you can do is show them the path and hope they take it after they’ve weighed all the evidence.
I’ve mentioned before that education was not important to my family. In fact, only one other family member has any kind of degree and she was in her 50′s when she went back to school. I am a first generation college graduate and this is a source of pride for me. My husband was in school when we met, and he encouraged me to go back to school to finish my degree. I was skeptical that I’d be able to do it with two kids and a graphic design business, but I found a degree plan at the University of Oklahoma that worked for me and stuck with it. Almost all of my undergraduate degree was online, and the last two years were 100% online through OU’s College of Liberal Studies.
You may think you don’t have time to get it done. You may think you don’t have what it takes, but getting a degree and doing it online was one of the best decisions I ever made. Please don’t think you can’t do it. I managed to use the Pell Grant and subsidized loans to make it out of school with relatively little debt. You can do it too. It’s worth it.
I know this sounds odd, but as a Christian, I thought god would solve all my problems. I thought he “called” me to be a singer, so I deluded myself into thinking I could make a living that way. Some people can, but I never could and should have realized that. I thought I would be in god’s service forever, so I never bothered to better myself for the world. It was a bad thing to be considered worldly, and I wanted to appear godly.
When I deconverted, I realize how important it is to know things about the world. I realized the importance of being able to think critically, to communicate, and to write well (though my proofreading skills might say otherwise!). I’m so glad I learned to value education. Even though a lot of it is just playing the game, that little piece of paper opens up more opportunity for success than pretty much anything else.
I figured, what’s the use in being a freethinker if I don’t know how to think to the best of my ability? So I nurtured this new love for knowledge and now I can’t get enough. I’m going back for my master’s this summer!
One thing I’ve mentioned before is my concern that freethinking children growing up in Oklahoma might experience bullying or exclusion because they question faith. I’ve recently started having conversations with my oldest daughter abut different family types – adopted kids, blended families, families with two mommies or two daddies. I have specific reasons for wanting her to understand different family types, which I will elaborate on at another time. It’s just important to my husband and I that she understand that not all families have a mommy, daddy, and two girls, and that not all children “were in the mommy’s tummy” and that sort of thing.
So we were having one of these discussions yesterday, talking about how sometimes two mommies or two daddies fall in love and want to adopt children to love and care for. My daughter said, “Mommy, I know who I want to marry. I want to marry a girl, and I want to find a baby to love.” It was very sweet, and I explained that she has lots of time to decide who she wants to marry and whether or not to raise children. I told her now is the time to have fun and be a little girl, which she seemed very relieved about.
But this conversation brought up a fear in me. I’m afraid for her. We’ve talked about this before and she’s mentioned she “loves girls” and things of that nature. I realize she’s only 6, but I also realize there may be something to this. Some kids realize they are homosexual or bisexual at a very young age without actually knowing what it is. Honestly, whether she is gay, bi, transgender, or whatever, that’s not what worries me. I love her and she’s my child and that’s that. What worries me is what she will face while growing up in a conservative town and state. What worries me is that she’ll grow up in a place where people think love is only possible between and man and a woman, and anything else is sinful. I have experienced some pain due to “coming out” as an atheist, but nothing like what I imaging many gay people experience when telling people who they are. I worry I won’t know what to tell her.
So my approach is this: to love her. Loving her unconditionally will show her she is worthy of love. It will show her that there are people in this world for whom sexuality, gender, or skin color do not factor into a person’s potential to be loved. No matter who she is, who she was born to be, she will be loved. I know bullying and peer pressure will happen at some point because of something, whether she’s gay, not gay, a band geek, or the popular kid, but showing her she is worthy of love, affection, and success is probably the best thing I can do to build her confidence and help her combat it in the future.
Just some random thoughts from a mommy who wants her girls to grow up in a world filled with love.
As freethinkers, we want our kids to be able to examine and weigh evidence and makes decisions based in truth. There are many healthy ways to encourage freethinking and skepticism in your children. Here are a few things I do with my girls.
Read. We read every day, usually multiple times a day. We read “girl” books, “boy” books, science books, and fiction. We read silly stories and serious ones. And we talk about the stories we read. We visit thrift stores to get books for cheap, then donate them back when we need fresh ones. Books give us a fresh perspective on a wide range of subjects.
Explore. We go outside and talk about what we see and hear. I’m not big on playing in the dirt unless it’s my garden, but my in-laws have sandbox time and they let the girls make mud pies. We get them out into the world and try to answer any questions they have. We ask them questions about what they see and hear and try to get them to come to their own conclusions. We look at close up pictures of insects and talk about why they might look they way they do. We want them to see how much there is to discover in the world.
Talk. We talk often, about anything and everything. I’ll tell them about outer space as we’re driving in the car, or we’ll talk about the buildings we see and how engineers design them. This constant dialogue helps my children understand just how much there is to know about the world. Right when they think they have it mastered, new things come up.
Immerse. We like our children to be exposed to different cultures. We talk about Native Americans and their rol in history. We discuss how things are done in other countries. We take them to eat sushi and make homemade miso soup. We talk about other languages. We look at art and do art together. We like them to know that there are people who do things different from our family. This includes Christians, and we talk about what it means to Christians when they pray, noting that “Mommy and Daddy do not pray. We figure out how to fix problems.” Both girls even went to a Christian preschool for a while. It’s important to understand the bible and it’s significane to people who live in our area.
Encourage. Teach your children to attempt to answer they’re own questions, even if they get it wrong. Why is the sky blue? Well, why do you think it’s blue? Once they answer, you can explain how Rayleigh scattering causes the sky to appear blue. Encouraging them to answer their own questions before you provide an answer will help them realize that they don’t have to be told the answer to everything. Sometimes they’ll get questions correct, and this build confidence. If they ask something you don’t know they answer to, you can look it up together. Asking and answering questions develops a hungry mind.
The main thing my husband and I do is try not to immediately answer a question without some sort of discussion or assistance in helping them figure out the answer on their own. Our children ask intelligent questions about anything and everything, and they’re thirsty for knowledge.
How do you encourage free thought in your children?
The mother called me to ask if my daughter could have another sleepover. At this point, I’d been avoiding her like the plague, hoping my excuses would drive her away. No such luck. I decided to get it all out in the open. I explained that that my daughter had become very concerned about god and spirituality – something I believe a 6-year-old is too young to deal with. I told the woman that it is difficult for us to encourage her to be a freethinker when she is exposed (at such a young and vulnerable age) to religious dogma. And then, the most amazing thing happened…
She said, “I understand. If you were telling my child that god doesn’t exist, I’d probably be very angry with you. I get where you’re coming from.”
Whoa. Totally unexpected. The rest of the conversation consisted of her asking questions about atheism – what I believe happens when we die, how did I “become an atheist,” and how I explain death to my children. It was mind-blowing. She then explained why she needs religion, and things began to make sense. The woman is broken. She struggles with co-dependency and depression, and her god makes her feel alive, and helps her cope with life. I get that. I’ve been there. I’ve just learned to deal with my struggles in a different way.
The whole experience went much better than I expected, and now she no longer asks if my child can sleep over. We agreed that if the girls see each other outside of school, that both of us will be present to address any religion issues that come up. It’s a good solution, and I’m so glad I told the truth. Who knows? Maybe this woman’s mind has been opened. She sees that I’m a good parent, a responsible person, and that I give of my time and money when I can. I hope she sees that atheists are good people. I hope I’m giving non-believers a good name.
I’ve graduated from college (YAY!) and I found out yesterday I’ve been accepted into the graduate program I’m interested in. I start this summer! I’m well on my way to teaching!
Also, I’ve added Feedburner to my site, so you can subscribe in a reader or via email! Do it!
Geez, I hope that title hasn’t been used before. But it’s the truth, and I wanted to say it. The nonsense stops with me. My kids will not be raised to accept mythology as truth. Honestly, I’m exhausted by those around me (both virtually and IRL) who fill kids’ minds with nonsense.
“Say your prayers!” “Thank god for your good life!” “Get your heart right with god!” “God has a plan!” All lies. All harmful. It teaches kids that they don’t have to take responsibility for their choices, that god will work things out for them. It teaches kids that some people aren’t good enough to receive god’s blessings, like children whose parents are deadbeats or those who are starving in the streets. This nonsense teaches kids that death is more important than life. I can’t stand it. It stops with me.
It kills me to let them go on believing that the tooth fairy is real, that Santa is real. But the difference (and it’s a big one) is that Santa and the tooth fairy don’t send you to hell when you do something they say is wrong. They don’t bless some people while ignoring others. They don’t allow pain and suffering to go on in the world. That’s how I justify it anyway.
I like to think I’m helping to raise a new generation of freethinkers. I’m not afraid to raise my kids this way, and I won’t be afraid to stand up when I know their freedoms are being compromised. I’m sure you’ll hear more on this later because the public school in our district is said to basically be a Christian school. Just wait. You won’t believe it. But, I digress. I know a lot of parents around my age who are raising their kids to be freethinkers. We’re saying the bunk stops here. The lies, the money-grubbing, fear-mongering, denying of the real truth…it all ends with my childhood. I commit to never giving up or giving in, and to always fight for what is right and verifiably true. Let’s do it. Let’s raise a new generation of kids who value our planet, and scientific exploration, and discovery, and equal rights for all. Let’s raise a generation of kids who care about the greater good. I commit. Do you?
My oldest daughter is now officially enrolled in pre-k in the public school system. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. She’s been in a Christian preschool since she was 8 months old, so I’ve had to be very careful about encouraging her free thought. I was always afraid that she’d run to school and tell her teacher, “Mommy says some people don’t believe in god!” Heh. That would be a fun conference.
But now that she’ll be out of that environment, I feel much more comfortable helping her find answers to her tough questions. She asks about death often, so we observe dead bugs and talk about roadkill and what happens when people die. She’s fascinated with the fact that life can end, and I think it’s fostering a love for living inside her. She is full of life and seems to enjoy ever second. She loves people wholeheartedly and loves to be kind to those who are unkind to her. I feel more confident that we can discuss the different religions with more freedom now that she isn’t required to go to chapel or read Bible stories.
I know it seems odd that an atheist or agnostic person would put their children in a Christian school, but I have reasons. First, the hours worked well for our family. Secondly, she really got a fantastic education. They offered yoga, music, reading and handwriting skill building, and more art than I have room to store. Thirdly, as a person who will grow up in a conservative and largely Christian area, it’s important for her to have knowledge of the Bible, it’s stories, and Christianity in general. Otherwise, she might feel ostracized or embarrassed as an older child. All in all, it’s been good for both of my girls.
She’s growing up and I know life is about to get super-fun. Her intelligent and curious mind is growing every day, and I’m so proud of the little freethinker she is becoming. I’m jealous that she gets this opportunity in life. I feel like I missed out on so much in my childhood because of my restrictive upbringing. I’m very much looking forward to watching her bloom!
What do people not understand about the separation of church and state? It protects not only the non-religious, but also the faithful. It keeps that faith sacred and meaningful. It keeps the various faiths from being overrun by another. It prevents the government from telling a Christian that they must worship Allah, and vice versa. Why must people continue to bring their god into the government? It’s so simple to leave it out, yet people continue to invoke the Christian god before meetings and as a way of solving the difficult problems.
Check out this post by Beau McElhattan on the City of Sand Springs council meetings. Beau wrote an email to the mayor. I think I will do the same. Here’s a video of the prayer “in Jesus’ name.”
Come on, Sand Springs, get god out of the government. Not everyone believes the way you do.
I like to think I’m playing my part in phasing religion out of American life. One of the biggest changes I can see between my parenting style and that of my (divorced) parents is the emphasis on making good choices. I was never encouraged to make good choices. I was never asked to weigh the alternatives and examine the information to decide what course of action to take. I was simply told that the Bible is the end-all and be-all of authority and what is contained in that book is the absolute truth.
Therefore when it came to making choices about having sex, drinking, or pretty much anything, I fled to the Bible to find my answer. This made me a fearful and anxious person. I was constantly afraid of sinning, lest I bring god’s wrath down upon my head. Even though I knew I was saved, I didn’t really feel anything – except fear.
But, I digress. My parents never explained how important choices are in life. They never encouraged me to go to college (How dare I broaden my mind!) and they never encouraged me to make choices because I thought the choice was the right one to make.
Now that I have kids of my own, I find myself asking them questions constantly. When my oldest asks, “Why?” I always ask her, “Well, what do you think?” She spouts off her thoughts and then I explain the whys and why-nots to her. And most importantly, the I-don’t-knows. It seemed like my parents were afraid to say that. “What makes rain?” I would ask. “Rain is just god’s tears,” my mom would say, “and thunder is god bowling.” Yep. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing. Just because the answer isn’t obvious doesn’t mean it needs to be explained by something someone made up.
Ask my 4-year-old what makes thunder and she’ll tell you how lightning cuts through the air, causing it to slap back together to make a loud boom. It’s beautiful, and it helps me feel good about my non-religious parenting. My girls will grow up being able to analyze information and make proper choices, and I will always encourage learning and curiosity in their precious minds. I can only hope that they realize the value of this and pass it on to their children. Maybe someday the real truth – the provable truth – will prevail in our society. Maybe someday the person who believes in the imaginary man in the sky will be the weird one instead of the other way around. We can only hope.