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Late last year I was reading news stories about extreme child abuse in Christian communities after the parents of Hana Williams were found guilty and sent to prison for her murder, and this book called To Train A Child kept coming up in the discussions as a resource that urges Christian parents to beat the ever loving shit out of their kids so they'll grow up to be "good". It's a pretty fucked up idea, even if there weren't even more murdered children (Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz) linked to the teachings.

I read quotes from the book and thought wow, everything in this book is the EXACT OPPOSITE of how I want to raise my children.

So I read a book about atheist parenting. Apparently there are many books that are the opposite of To Train A Child because its advice is so detrimental to development, but this one was suggested as the furthest away.

Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion

Don't get me wrong, I'm still a Christian. But I'm one who believes in a loving God who gave us our own brains for a reason, and I want both my kids to use those tiny brains to make the world a better place. And I do not agree with using God, Santa, the Elf on the Shelf, or any other unquestionable authoritarian to make my kid eat her broccoli. From an authority standpoint, atheists and I have the same God... we want our kids to follow rules because it's how we humans get along in society. Atheists believe this world is all we've got. I believe God is somewhere, but pretty hands-off, not waiting to strike us sinners down. We have to make our own decisions and ask our own questions about what's the right thing to do. I want my kids ot be good at those questions.

So I skipped some parts of the book about how to live in the world as an atheist, find a community since you can't join a church, comfort your son when he gets kicked out of boy scouts, etc, but I still found a lot of good advice about general parenting.

Fundamentalists crazies believe that the only way to get good kids is to make them afraid to be bad because there are great powers above them who will rain down punishments. So what happens when you remove that fear entirely? It turns out you find different motivations to be good. Better ones, in fact. People are really meant to be motivated from within - we're more likely to follow through on something if it's not driven by a carrot/stick, reward/punishment system, because we find internal reasons. Kids are more likely to read books if you show them books they like than if you offer them stickers for every book they read - when the stickers run out, they stop reading.

Fundamentalists crazies say we're born as horribly flawed sinners and The Bible has to show us the way to not be awful. Atheists and humanists say our survival instincts include the ability to get along. If someone is an ax murderer, we assume something is fundamentally wrong with them. We don't ask them "didn't you go to sunday school?" They can't get up during their trial and say "Whoh... then ten what? We're not supposed to kill eachother? I HAD NO IDEA!"

I learned about Theory of Mind - the term used to describe our ability to relate to one another. It starts when we're babies. The book said around 6-8 months, babies will look at us, look at something interesting, look back at us, to see if their fellow humans are following their gaze. Sure enough, little Olive did this to our Christmas tree, as if to say "mom are you SEEING this? share it with me!"

There are times when you have to exert some authority. A two-year-old isn't old enough to understand the science of why you shouldn't drink the stuff under the kitchen sink. But giving your kids permission to question you doesn't have to undermine that authority. The important thing is that they learn that you aren't abusing their trust, so when you do say "Just trust me, the bleach will make you sick" they'll listen up. Something that I think makes kids go crazy when they come from strict households is that they're not given any spectrum of "right" behavior - they're either obedient, or not. Fidgeting in a restaurant is just as bad as running out into the street. They lose their ability to evaluate real consequences because everything is an absolute. If you let your kids question your decisions and give them better reasons for your rules, they learn to evaluate their actions for themselves.

So even though Josie is only three I try to be honest with her. If I'm tired, I tell her it's time to go to bed because I'm tired, not just because it's bedtime. We're explaining which foods are healthy growing foods which has really been an adventure because wow, talk about a spectrum... it's her favorite thing to get clarification on. Broccoli is definitely growing food, cookies definitely aren't, what about water? cheese? tater tots? Hawaiian sweet roles? See all the fun we'd miss out on if we just told our kid "you have to eat what's on your plate because I'm your mom and I said so."

In my hippie parenting class at church I described a situation that frustrated me, Josie had been coloring and then all the sudden felt like throwing all her crayons on the floor. With one swipe of her arm she cleared the table into a scattered mess. I told her to clean it up NOW, she giggled and ran away. I was furious and grabbed her arm and forced her in there - something I'm not proud of, I'm never proud when I take advantage of the fact that I'm bigger than her. I also know it won't always work, and I don't want her thinking she should also use her size to pick on smaller humans (like her sister!)

I hadn't realized it, but my friends pointed out that I'd quickly fallen into that human trap of thinking only of myself. I assumed Josie was trying to spite me. The truth was more likely that she threw the crayons down because she's three and kids love to crash things. I wonder what would have happened if I said "That was a cool noise! I have an idea - if we pick these crayons up we can go outside and throw sticks off the porch!"

Sometimes we're tired, and not perfect, and don't want to assume good intent or remember that our kids are trying to get along in the world and we're just supposed to live by example for them. But we're called to be creative, as often as possible. We've got the brains for it, and if we do it right, our kids will have the brains for it too.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 17th, 2014 11:29 pm (UTC)
As an agnostic who was raised Baptist in a really casual way by my parents, less so by Sunday-school teachers, I think Christianity is good at teaching some morals..."do unto others...," for example, but being really dogmatic about it can lead to some conflicts if the kid starts to question their beliefs. I struggled with it a bit in my late teens/early 20s, b/c at first, not blindly "believing" didn't really seem to be an option. Granted, some Protestant branches (even Baptist) are way cooler with discussing religion and aren't all "our way is the only way." But as a kid, you don't necessarily know that. Probably the most awesome funeral service I've ever been to was for a former co-worker's step-father, where pastors from Baptist (a more moderate one) & M.B. churches spoke, along with a rabbi (I think the deceased was a deacon and involved in a local interfaith organization, which tends to be limited to "upper ranking" folks, in my experience). Religions coming together doesn't happen often enough, imo.

I think if I ever have any kids, about the only church I could perhaps see taking my children to would be Unitarian-Universalist, since they at least touch on other religions. My brother's kids are currently going to a private church-affiliated school and it concerns me (I don't know how much they focus on religion...they are elementary/early middle school-age), although my nephew picked India for a big class project and his teacher didn't discourage him at all (another teacher is even helping him after class with it), so maybe some religious-affiliated education is a bit broader these days, and not so Bible-heavy and one-sided.
Jan. 18th, 2014 12:28 am (UTC)
There's some great stuff out there on "emotional coaching" and how if you do it 30-40 percent of the time, your kid will come out pretty decent. just assume that crayon on the floor thing was part of the other 70 to 60 percent and continue on!
Jan. 18th, 2014 12:52 am (UTC)
I was a stepmom before I was a biological parent, and after a few years of reflection, I've come to understand that my cardinal mistake in that role was assuming everything my step kid did was out of spite. I cringe now when I think of it. I took everything so damn personally. Even as I knew he was a good (if manipulative and a bit spoiled) kid, I felt like he was defiant just for the sake of being defiant. Some of that was likely due to the external encouragement he was receiving not to listen to me, but a lot of it was due to the fact I handled it wrong. It wasn't until I had my own child that I started to realize kids just do what they do because they're kids. It's not that my daughter is so much better than her brother. The variable that changed? How I respond to her versus how I responded to him. Wish I could have a do-over for those formative years. I don't think the damage on him was permanent, but I doubt I'll ever stop regretting those early mistakes.

Edited at 2014-01-18 12:53 am (UTC)
Jan. 18th, 2014 03:32 am (UTC)
Ehh I had a moment like that crayon thing earlier this week. *sigh* It happens. Hopefully not too often...

If you let your kids question your decisions and give them better reasons for your rules, they learn to evaluate their actions for themselves.

A side effect of this is it makes you stop and think about what reasons. Where does it come from? Why do we do things the way we do? Is this really a reasonable thing to ask anyway? Do I even care about this rule? Even if the answer is "we don't chew with our mouths open because our particular society views that as rude" it's a more reflective way of doing things, and not just for the kids.
Jan. 20th, 2014 03:26 am (UTC)
I keep meaning to say this to you, and forgetting. But I LOVE your icon! I actually have the statue of Death with the top hat. It's my favorite. :)

Also, Facebook has been making me cringe lately because so many of my friends are circulating this photo meme which has like 28 rules for polite kids and one of the key features is that children should NEVER question adults, ever. And it makes me so sad and angry to read that. I know I'm not a perfect parent--I want my daughter to question me because it might be the only way for me to realize I'm doing the wrong thing. I have never told either my daughter or stepson, "Because I said so, that's why." I try to reason with them so that they understand what you wrote out here. That the best actions have reasons behind them, and the ability to evaluate actions and reasons is one that children are best taught by example.
Jan. 18th, 2014 04:52 pm (UTC)
. So what happens when you remove that fear entirely? It turns out you find different motivations to be good. Better ones, in fact.

As the agnostic child of fundamentalists, this was exactly my experience.

Not that you need my approval, but I really applaud how you're raising your daughters. :)
Jan. 30th, 2014 02:57 pm (UTC)
My parents were generally good about giving me the reasoning behind rules instead of "that makes Jesus sad", except when it came to dating and sex (something I intend to teach very differently if I have kids), and I really appreciated it. I grew up with a love of learning and reading and a curiousity that I don't see in people who were raised in a dogmatic manner. Especially with reading! My parents NEVER told me I couldn't read a book. Ever. And lo and behold, I still read for fun, even in grad school.

Who knew my parents were such good atheists? haha I'll have to get that book for any of my friends who have kids.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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