My older son was 7 lbs, 8.8 oz, and when the doctor laid him on me, he was still covered in goop. It was kinda gross, to be honest, but he looked right at me, his eyes wide, and I will never ever forget it.
My younger son was 10 lbs, 8.9 oz, and after being stuck in transit, so to speak, he wasn't breathing when he was born. He was blue, and he was still, and he wasn't crying. My spouse tried very hard to distract me, but as the seconds droned on, I was panicking. I was holding my own breath, as the doctor patted him on the back and said, "Breathe. C'mon, breathe," over and over. It seemed like forever, but looking back, I know it was only moments before he gave a little cough, cried loudly, and started to pink up. A nurse rubbed his limbs, and as soon as he was a good color, handed him to me. He too looked up at me, and just like his brother, it's a moment that's crystalized in my mind. That moment that our eyes first connected.
My children aren't perfect. Far from it. We're working on empathy and respect and responsibility, like any parents. But I can't imagine ever looking at my child and thinking, "You are broken, wicked, and depraved."
This is, in my opinion, the singular strength of secular parenting, the benefit that outpaces every other benefit.
I recently read this transcript of comments on a Christian radio show:
When my daughter, Amy, was still less than two years old, I started teaching practical theology to her. I used to put her on my lap — in fact … I think she was still less than a year old. I used to have her on my lap, and she’d be all cute and cuddly, you know? She’d be coo-ing up at me. I’d look down at her and I’d say: “You know what? You’re a wicked sinner. Yes, you are. Yes, you are. You’re a wicked sinner.” I was just trying to make sure she understood, from the beginning, her depraved nature.
To say I was taken aback is an understatement. Who think this is okay to say to a child? I'm at a loss for words.
There's this idea of self-fulfilling prophecies, and I know you're all familiar. You say something, then it comes true, not because it was meant to, but because you've convinced yourself that it does and may even take conscious or subconscious steps to make it come true.
When you tell your children that they are broken and depraved, you run the risk of creating an adult who feels and behaves as though they are broken and depraved. If you tell them from before the time that they can even talk themselves that they are broken and depraved, how can you expect them to be whole human beings?
This is emotional abuse, and it's an underpinning of religious teachings for children across a wide spectrum of denominations.
Among the things that make me glad to be an atheist, parenting is near the top. I never have to look at my children and see them as worth less than they are worth. I never have to convince myself that they are dirty, that they need to be saved. I can focus wholly on guiding them into being functional adults without the baggage that comes along with a sin nature. I can teach them to trust themselves.
Moments like this remind me that I am glad to have shaken off the yoke of religion.