October 30, 2014

Atheist Mama: Five Things I Will Never Tell My Children

Recently, I ran across a post  titled "Four Things I Will Not Tell My Children". You can follow the hyperlink to check it out.

The four things that the author will never tell her children are:
  1. You can be anything you want to be.
  2. Believe in yourself.
  3. Follow your heart.
  4. You deserve to be happy.
The blogger covered each of these from a Christian perspective, but it got me thinking: What are the things that I, as an atheist who is a mother, would never tell my children?

Here's the list that I came up with. Five things I will never tell my children.

1. You can be anything you want to be.

Oh shoot son! We agree!

I won't ever tell my children that they can be anything they want to be, because I enjoy crushing their dreams, and I like to flavor my best dishes with their tears.

Okay, maybe not. The truth is, this statement isn't true. You can't be anything you want to be.

Each of us has a unique set of talents, skills, aptitudes, and experiences, and every career or life choice out there requires an equally unique set of the same. There will be some things you want to do that you simply won't be able to.

What will I tell my children instead? That it's important to take stock of yourself and determine what you can get better at by working hard and what you can't. Self-improvement is always great, but it's limited. Far better to be honest about this, I feel, than to blindly shoot off cliches.

Instead, we can look at what they dream about and figure out how to get there. Want to be an astronaut? Cool! Let's figure out what that takes. Want to be a CEO? Awesome. Let's work out what you would need to do. Want to be a dancer? Really neat! Let's look into it.

That way, we learn the difference between our limitations--which I feel it's healthy to be aware of--and areas we can grow in.

2. Don't talk to strangers.

There's a difference between understanding how to be safe and making your children live in a culture of fear.

The simple fact is, if children are going to be hurt, abused, or even abducted, it's usually by someone they know--and yet, we are far more interested in protecting them from "stranger danger." It makes us feel safe, like no one in our circle could possibly hurt them. It makes us feel like we are in control.

I want my children to feel comfortable connecting with the community around them. I want them to feel comfortable having conversations, or asking for help. These are things that I, personally, am not comfortable, and I don't want to pass those same fears on.

Instead of blanket bans, we'll work on remaining safe with practical strategies. Talking is okay, but anything else we should run by mom or dad.

3. You are entitled to be happy.

But wait, Kayla Sue, isn't that kind of like the "You deserve to be happy" up above?

Kind of, but not entirely.

Deserve means you've done something to earn it; entitled means you believe that you should have it just by virtue of existing.

I believe all humans deserve to be happy. You do. You're human. You're a thinking, feeling, existing being. But you should be willing to put in the work that it takes to get there.

Happiness is something that comes from inside; that's why you deserve it. Implying that you are entitled to it suggests that you are looking for happiness to be given to you from the outside, something that I believe is impossible.

4. Jesus loves you.

Well, no duh, Kayla Sue, you're an atheist.

But it still bears mentioning. The concept of the love of Jesus was fraught with guilt for me as a child, teen and younger adult. Here was this divine, magnificent, and wonderful being, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, perfection incarnate, and he chose to die for me--it was quite a burden.

Rather than finding it freeing, I found it difficult to deal with, because I was human and flawed. After accepting my salvation, I felt like I needed to be able to uphold as much of Jesus's teachings as possible. It was really the least I could do, if you think about it.

And yet, I wasn't able to. I made mistakes. I tripped, I fell. I knew that Jesus would forgive me, again and again, but I felt like I had failed him all the same.

What will we say instead? That you should love yourself. It's a simple switch, but a profound one, I think.

5. You are broken, flawed, weak and in need of salvation.

This is a thought I will never convey to my children.

Most Christian parents probably don't even consider the havoc this could potentially wreak on their children's psyches, but just stop and consider it for a moment.

You are literally telling your children that they are broken, flawed and weak--because of SOMEONE ELSE'S mistake. A mistake made thousands of generations ago.

How does a child ever feel truly capable? How do children struggling with a mental illness, like I did, ever feel whole?

Leaving religion, and that damaging concept of myself, behind me was the most freeing experience of my entire life. It's amazing to be able to view myself as a complete person, worthy and capable, from the outset. Just by virtue of existing, of living and striving to do better.

So no, I will never tell my children that they are broken or flawed or otherwise inherently weak.



Parenting is an evolution.

We all begin with an end in mind (I assume) and work our way towards it. Sometimes it requires us to stop, revisit, examine, and rechart the course.

One of the beauties of secular parenting, at least in my opinion, is that we are openly encouraged to do this. We don't have to have all of the answers; we can figure it out as we go along. We are able to make changes, to shift and move and alter our path as we go along. There's no expectation that our parenting will look a certain way. There's no arbitrary guidebook of handy life wisdom to contend with.

And it's pretty durned amazing, I think.

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