Sunday, January 20, 2008

Atheist parenting question

"What is (are) the hardest thing(s) about atheist parenting?" - Karen in

I think it probably varies from family-to-family. So, your mileage may vary...but, I would have to say that the hardest thing is not having a pat answer for those difficult questions. When you think about it, theists really wouldn't have to answer questions with real fact unless they wanted to take the time and find the fact. They can always say, "That's just how God made it." or "Because, that's how god wants it." or some variation of that answer. There are times when I envy that. Of course, I get over it fairly quickly and recognize that children deserve truthful answers (if possible and in terms they understand). Parenting isn't easy. Why would we expect the answers to a child's question(s) to be easy? As I've mentioned before, there's an easy solution to this "omg, omg...need a quick answer." dilemma. "That's a great question. Can I get back to you?" or "Let's discuss this later." I like this option for two reasons (and I'll compare it to the theist pat answer, as I see it):
1. Children learn that even adults need to do a little research and learn something, on occasion. I think theist parents (not all, but most) want to have that immediate answer to avoid looking ignorant or dismissive. In my opinion, based on the theist families I've observed, there's always a goal to make the parents look smarter than the child. I don't think that necessarily has to be.
2. It instills patience and thought. Saying, "God did it." is an immediate payoff and stops the conversation. Why would we want to do that to a child...especially one who is curious? Answers don't always come immediately. And, what I've found is, my children, on occasion, keep thinking about the issue until we have time to come back to it. Anything small steps in getting a child to think things through on a long term basis is worthwhile.
3. It's honest. I think you should respect children enough not to lie to them. Now, I do concede that lies in fun-and-games situations, like bluffing in Go Fish or not telling the whole truth about Santa Claus (or whatever) is not the same thing. I consider those situations to be comparable to sitting down for a tea party - obviously, the tea and cakes are play food and the dolls aren't really asking "one lump or two?" But, the child understands that this is make believe. I think theists carry this over a bit too eagerly into non-play situations. Telling a child that they'll see grandma again in heaven might be easy and fast and comforting, but... I'm not sure that is the right path. When I was a kid, my uncle died and I vaguely remember someone telling me that he "was at rest". Holy guacamole,... for the next two months, I would not nap! And, my parents didn't understand why I wouldn't nap and I'd fight sleep at night. Well, hello!?! A trusted authority just linked sleeping to death. Now... if someone had said, "Everything dies. And, because of that, we need to treasure our life. Carpe' Diem." or "Grandma died. But, when our bodies are hurt very badly or age...they don't work so well. She isn't hurting any more. She's not sad. She loved you so much and left you a legacy of stories and love. Let's talk about what your favorite things were with grandma."

Does that help?


Atheist Mummy to Be said...

I love how you dealt with death in your final example. Turning the negative into a positive is often a hard thing to do, especially in the face of a loss of a loved one. How graceful your response is!

Maggie Rosethorn said...

Great answers, Pmomma. You are right...sometimes the hardest thing to admit to a child is that you DON'T know everything. But, as they grow up, they respect your honest answer of "I don't know" more than "God did it", and they trust you enough to ask those questions.

Glad to see you feeling better!!

Gill fdq said...

Seeing someone put down in words the whole, bring up kids without this higher judge looking down upon us and how we bring up thoughtful considerate people that are functioning members of society. Without the threat that one day they will be standing in front of some dude who will establish whether they have been naughty or nice is a real joy
I have two teenage daughters who even this weekend, choose to sit here with us and our friends and their boy fiends chatting with us. I was always jealous of those that felt free to say. “Because I said so “
My need was always to answer any and every question and like you, try to enable the child to think and contemplate that there is a possibility that they could know more than I did. As a freethinking, aware person, they too could be happy with themselves and not in fear the lack of approval from us or anyone else. They know right from wrong. They know they will be loved whatever their choices.
In addition, the smiles as I recall they learnt that it was a good idea to ask and questions at bedtime as we both felt they deserved an answer

Gramomster said...

Your story about refusing to nap brought back a memory of my youngest sister. When their cat died, my mom, who has a long involvement with Hindu beliefs, including reincarnation, told her that the kitty would get a new body, and live another life. Mom came home to find my sister sitting over the kitty's grave, watching it expectantly. When Mom asked what she was doing, she replied, "Waiting for the kitten to dig out." LOL.
Kids are so literal!
So very glad you are back, and feeling better!

fdqpink said...

To add to what gill fdq wrote.
If anything the times we had to say " I don't know" were also the times we got to say "lets find out together"
Special times indeed. Ones that would not have been. If all we had to say was goddidit ...bugger off to bed.
Perhaps if I had done a degree in "family studies" I would have done it better.(or is that just me being a bitch).

Carlie said...

This is one of my biggest issues, since I was raised fundamentalist and don't really have any personal parenting examples otherwise. It's why I've been so glad to find sites like yours, and just the everyday vignettes are just as much help as the explicit "here's how we deal with x" posts. Thanks.

Doug Indeap said...

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and advice. Among its virtues, I like: 1. You are teaching and modeling intellectual honesty and critical thinking--two values that will stand our kids and all of us in good stead.

2. You are choosing to be known by your children by letting them into your thought process, acknowledging uncertainty, and revealing how you deal with it.

In doing so, I think you help your kids feel more comfortable with you and with themselves. In comparing themselves with others (particularly parents) and getting a sense of themselves, kids sometimes feel they come up short as they necessarily compare their insides (i.e., their knowledge of themselves, inner thoughts, warts, worries, and all) with others' outsides (i.e., the pretty, powerful, or perfect faces that people try to project to the world). By letting your kids see a bit of your inner self, you help them develop a better sense of themselves as well.

ZugTheMegasaurus said...

I was pretty surprised to hear the little story about fearing sleep after that sort of explanation about death; I thought I was the only one! My grandfather died when I was 9, and my family gave the usual "death is like going to sleep" explanation. In my head, if it was that way, then surely the inverse must also be true. I'm 21 now and still suffer from severe somniphobia/clinophobia.

So anyone reading this: that's not a good answer to give a kid (especially because I don't think it's particularly true). Death is like death, not anything else we experience.

daughter 1 of fdq's ! said...

i thought i might join in with the family posting thing lol . aim the eldest daughter of fdqink and gill fdq.

i love the fact that i have always had open answers from my parents about a whole host of things and how they have never been ashamed about not knowing an answer and have found out as quickly as possible.

i feel that this openess that my parents have brought me and my sister up in has shapped us both into the people we are today.

without the family dissusions at bedtime i doubt the intrests in the subjects i am doing at 6th form (biology,philosophy and sociology) would have formed so strongly nor my future plans to go to uni to study 2 of these subject.. not too sure which ones yet..


Tara, the Unabashed Atheist said...

Psoosummomma, I'm new here but I heard about your illness. I am glad you are feeling better!

I've been an atheist since the age of 12 (almost 24 years now - ah hem). I have a nearly 16 year old son who has chosen to be an atheist. He chose after considering the various religions of his other family members and, like me, realized that he simply doesn't believe. (I always made it clear to him that the choice was his and his alone and that I would love and accept him regardless of his choice).

While I did let him believe in Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, I found that honesty really was the best way of raising him. While his cousins were hearing that someone was sick because it was "god's will", or another person had died because "god had called them to heaven", my son was learning that smoking causes cancer which caused death of his grandfather. My son learned that a drunk-driver nearly killed his aunt. My son was learning that it wasn't GOD pulling the strings - but the very real and preventable actions of HUMANS.

On the other hand, when he did something good, or when I did something good, he knew we were doing it because we were GOOD people who wanted to share love and affection - not because we were trying to curry favor with god or because god said we HAD to do these things.

My son learned truth, honesty, and personal responsibility. What can be better than that?

wineymomma said...

Honestly-I love to give the children the "Because I said" so answer. It engenders much eye-rolling and often a giggle over something they don't want to do.

Seriously I usually tell them that and then follow up with the real reason so they know I'm not serious about the first.

After school started this year a little friend of Lullibell's passed away quickly and with no warning. Talk about confused. L actually said to me that old people are usually the ones that die in our lives NOT the little ones.

She doesn't often buy the God called them home reasoning and truthfully I don't want her to. So we talked about how sometimes we are born with problems in our bodies that doctors don't often find in time to keep the person from dying. And how important it is to live today, right now and enjoy it. She wrote a little note to include in the friend box that the school put together for the girl's family and seemed satisfied with that but every now and then she will come up with another question or tell me she is feeling a little sad about her friend and we find another way to talk about how it is ok to feel what she is feeling

Sorry about the ramble but I just don't thinks it's fair to the children to "blame" everything on God as both sides of the debate are prone to do!


Ashi said...

I agree with you Pmomma and with maggie too.
Good Parenting blogs on various parenting issues. Please read it and share your views.

Adrienne said...

Just last week my 6-year old was asking about death; a kid in her class had his mother die suddenly one day before school so they brought all the counselors in, etc.

I told her that no one really knows what happens when we die, but that (being dead) won't hurt. I told her to 'remember' back to before she was born: she wasn't alive, but it didn't hurt, and she wasn't sad, and she didn't miss us.

I also said that what is really sad about death is the people who are left behind, who will miss the person who is gone, and are left with a hole in their lives. But I also said that the people we love, even when they're dead, will live forever in our hearts and our memories, so they'll always be with us.