Sunday, April 13, 2008
Reader Mail - Atheist parenting questions
I'm finally getting caught up on all the e-mail that came in while I had the flu. For some reason, there were quite a few questions about secular parenting. I was pleasantly surprised by the tone of all the queries. Since these were asked out of, what I feel, was a genuine interest, I'm posting them here so others can weigh in (and foster a discussion). Like the last post, I've pulled out the questions and left the irrelevant bits out.
Cableskater asks... How do you discipline your possums? Do atheists believe in spanking?
I am not aware of any specific atheist pronouncements on disciplining children. Atheism doesn't address parenting or discipline - it ONLY addresses your position on the existence of a deity. That said, however, I don't think I've ever ran into an atheist parent who believes in physical or corporal punishment. This may be due to the fact that most atheists don't feel that they have dominion over their children (as the Bible would suggest). Or, it could be that, in my experience, atheist parents are generally non-violent. Personally, I don't believe in spanking because I think violence begets violence. If I strike my child in anger, or for punishment, then I'm sending a message that it's okay to take out your anger on someone smaller than you. It also makes no logical sense, to me, to spank a child. I believe that the punishment should fit the "crime". There should be logical consequences and spanking isn't logical. Additionally, I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by encouraging my children to fear me (or Pdaddy).
This doesn't mean that my children have free reign to misbehave. They don't. When they make a bad choice, there are repercussions. I see discipline as a way of preparing children for life. If they slack off on their chores, then they may not be included in an ice cream run or an activity...just as, if they were employed and didn't finish a task, they would have to miss out on fun activities until they caught up. If they don't get their chores done, or start using disrespectful language, then it wouldn't be uncommon for them to lose the distractions like the television or games or iPods. I've also taken a stand on certain shows that display a disrepectful attitude or rude language. I don't consider it censorship so much as I feel that a young child may possibly be oblivious to the fact that those behaviors or words aren't very nice. Until they reach an age where they understand the words/behaviors are rude, and can therefore abstain from using them in our family, the influences aren't welcome in the home.
One thing I didn't expect, when I started parenting by the above strategy, was how well it would work when it came time for the older kids to exercise restraint and recognize appropriate behavior. I've had phone calls from other parents saying that my kids expressed hesitancy to watch something (or play a game) that they knew Pdaddy and I would not approve of. This gives me great confidence in their ability to be honest to themselves and exercise self-control. And, as these things happen, I express to them how I am proud of their maturity. Pre-teens and teens want to be considered mature, so this is a better reward than any material reward.
StarsahoyKathy asks... Do you worry about your children finding spouses who are compatible or accepting of atheism?
Not often, but I can't say it's a question that hasn't entered my mind once or twice. I realize that the odds suggest they are more likely to meet a theist than an atheist. But, I've put that concern aside for the time being. You just never know what the future holds or who your children will date/marry. So, because that's no within my control, I try not to worry about it. And, honestly, just knowing P1 and P2...I don't see them falling for someone or marrying someone who was a devout theist. P3 and P4 are way too young to even speculate about. Still...I'm not married to an atheist. Pdaddy is an agnostic/non-practicing Catholic. If my children found a theist or deist who was okay with their agnosticism or atheism, then I don't see the big deal. Pdaddy and I recognize that religion is only one of many, many, many things a couple should consider when it comes to compatibility.
Biggy D asks...I have a five year old daughter. Our family doesn't know we are atheists and my princess has a big mouth. Any suggestions on how to keep her from telling everyone about us?
I would suggest that you take her out for McDonalds or another treat and casually bring the conversation around to privacy. Atheism is nothing to be ashamed of, and that should be stressed: but, since she's not old enough to understand the conflict, and it's not her duty to explain your position to others, I think it's wise to give them some pre-rehearsed answers should the topic come up. P3 is five, too. If you ask her about my atheist, or our family's secular leanings, she will tell you it's none of your business and to ask mommy or daddy. I really think that's an effective strategy. Relatives, or friends, who would ask a child when they should be asking you deserve to be put in their place by a five year old. Would anyone walk up to a five year old and ask them to talk about their parents' politics? Of course not. So, why should our five year olds have to divulge our philosophical positions. It betrays a certain amount of cowardice on the part of the inquisitor if they're pumping kids for info.
Posted by Atheist in a mini van. at 2:58 AM