Bringing up baby atheistson August 7, 2012 at 2:26 am
Just to start, I don’t have children nor do I intend to have any. I have two furry varmint-like cats and have always had pets, but the parenting thing never got to me. Maybe because I’m the youngest child and wanted all the attention, or maybe because I tended to pop Barbie heads off rather than play mom with them. I don’t know, but I do know that at least at present I’m too self-absorbed in my various interests to bring a child into this world. Hence the cats and I’m ok with that. Nevertheless, I am always impressed at the energy and time given by those who choose to parent. Here are some thoughts I have on parenting from my viewpoint as an outsider that may be of interest to those with rugrats of their own.
I’m sure we have all thought at least briefly on how best can those with children bring them up without “the faith” in a religious society? Those of us who become atheists as adults know how much pressure and stigma is placed upon us for our lack of belief, so it is hard to imagine what a child must feel. Or so I would presume looking at the situation from my viewpoint. It would be something akin to the children in my generation who were eyed oddly at parent teacher night because they had two daddies.
Here is the neat thing though: even though I remember those kids being treated like wounded veterans by the teachers and other adults, none of the other kids in the class cared! Or at least none of them cared unless their parents made a big stink about it. Then inevitably the brainwashed kid would come to school trying to pick a fight, the kid with two dads basically said “So what?” and his friends backed him up, then the brainwashed kid huffed off but didn’t care about the issue by recess. As long as the child brought up in the “unconventional” home was aware that his family life was just one of many and he was happy within that setting, the bullshit just rolled off his back. Seeking to “protect” a kid from such conversations only takes away their ability to problem-solve such issues later in life.
Can everyone raise such confident well-adjusted kids? I like to think so, but I do think coming from a non-traditional family life often makes this confidence come easier because of the frequent and early exposure to prejudice. When we are below the age of 8 or 9 we think we are invincible, unicorns are real (not just invisible pink ones), and our parents can solve any problem. This is the prime age to bolster a child’s sense of self and critical thinking skills. If children are allowed to feel comfortable talking about their own thoughts and religious doubts at home they will have no qualm defending themselves in the real world when the time comes.
Despite popular opinion, kids are smarter than many think and stronger than they seem. If you are open and honest with them about your thoughts on religion and don’t brutally attack those of different belief than you, they will learn to keep an open perspective and hold their own in religious debates. Likewise if you force dogma, even of an atheist kind, upon them and give no reason to your hatred of others, they will grow up to either rebel against you or be small-minded bigots. Encourage their questions and answer them to the best of your ability. Nothing is gained by withholding the truth and hard-earned life lessons from your child simply because you think they are too young for reality. Quite often they are more adjusted to those things than you are.
I know I’m likely speaking to the choir, but if this article can cause even one parent to rethink a rushed answer they give their child or incite them to make time to sit down and just talk then it is worth it. It is these little interactions that make your child stronger every day and more able to be conscientious freethinkers when they grow up. My Catholic mom knows this (to her vague regret) and is still proud of the child she brought up even though I have left her faith.
Be a good parent: help a child learn how to think, not what to think.