The world makes no promises, and the promises of people are unreliable. However, if all goes well, I’ll be a mother in seven months, and there are values that I want to give to my child. There are also values that I would like to protect my child from falling victim to. Although our current world can be a terrible place for all people, I do, with great sincerity, believe that it is on the brink of getting better. Helping to foster the next generation is a great honor and a humbling task.
1.Rejecting the Judgment Cult
One of the most important downfalls in life I hope to protect my child from is our judgment cult. When I say, “Judgment cult,” I do not mean merely America’s Judeo-Christian judgments and authoritarianism, but I also want to include the general unwelcome reception to new ideas, hard questions, and of making mistakes in general. This will be difficult on my part, as I was raised in a cult of judgment. Judgment is something that takes place in society, but, in my home, I want my child to be able to make honest mistakes and grow from them, to ask honest questions and learn from them, and to express even disconcerting ideas and build on them. I want my child to have a home that is a safe haven for mental and emotional growth, as peers and the rest of the world can provide an adequate amount of “judgment” for each person.
This is not to say that a child should be able to get away with making poor choices. A mistake is an honest misunderstanding or an accident. A bad choice is knowing that something is wrong but doing it anyway. Teaching my child to see the difference between these two things in his or her own actions will allow the child to treat others in a similar way.
2. To Keep My Child in Reality
This is important for all people. I want my child to understand the concept of basing opinions and actions on evidence rather than on hopes, fears, or beliefs. This is an extremely difficult task to take on in a post-fact society, where many are taught that beliefs and opinions are facts in themselves and the news media often deceives its followers. This task may unfortunately be made more difficult due to the religious influences of my own family and friends. It will involve modeling creative and analytical thinking and a passion for learning about the world.
Most of all, reality-based parenting will involve honesty, another difficult goal to strive for in a dishonest world. As I already work with children, I am already aware that they sometimes ask tough questions or even questions that adults don’t have ready answers to. It is easier to say that a dead pet, for instance, is in “Doggy Heaven,” than to teach about the reality of death and how it affects us as humans. Reality is not necessarily the happiest answer to all questions, but I firmly believe it is the answer that will best prepare a child for the world.
Without empathy, I’m unsure how humans will progress. I recall my mother teaching me about empathy. She never defined it as “empathy” and gave me examples of it. That was something I learned later. At any time I was mean to another child, would not share, threw tantrums, etc., my mother would ask me to imagine that I was the other person and someone was treating me poorly. She would elaborate with creative examples and what I might have felt, and I soon established the habit of thinking of how my actions and words affected others. This led to me being referred by my teachers as a “conscientious” or “thoughtful” child.
While there can be some problems with empathy when our actions are based on something other than reality, I delight in the idea of reality-based empathy and how it can lead a child to know that he or she is not, in fact, the center of the universe or the most important life contained within it.
Another difficult task will be to instill the idea that my child’s worth is intrinsic and does not begin or end with what is owned. Many children today have been led to define themselves by their possessions, be they clothes, electronics, toys, or cars. My parents did not help me much on this end. They taught me that materials were leverage–which is somewhat true–and that one should strive to own things and show them off. Luckily, my husband was not raised like this as much, and he can be my rock.
I want my child to know that who she is is not what she owns. What one owns can be stolen, lost, or destroyed. What one is should be made of stronger stuff: Education, talent, friendships, ability. I hope to teach my child to let go of material things, to give to those in need, and to focus on becoming a full person rather than gaining objects. After all, no one remembers what you owned. Not really. They remember what you did and what you said.
As an atheist, I don’t really have a book of right and wrong from which to teach a child. I find this to be more desirable, however, than teaching right and wrong from a flawed book. Goodness in the world should be based on evidence. I admire libertarian philosophy on this part, that the non-initiation of force should work in personal life. This does not mean that a child is defenseless or a pacifist, only that the child is not an aggressor. Values that I want to pass on to my child are to defend the freedom of thought and speech, to stand up to mob mentality by being a voice of reason, and to act on truth.
Some of these values could land us in trouble in our current setting, but it is far better to be on the side of right than anywhere else.
Fostering creativity in a child by allowing time for imaginary play, narrative writing, and thinking games. These things create an elastic mind that will not be bound inside of a box. To the best of my ability, I hope to find a way to help my child develop a talent for creative expression and to not fall into the trap of shunning either creativity or analytical thinking but to think of them as complements to one another.
7. Love and Compassion
With lessons on empathy should come ideas of love and compassion. It is not enough to teach love and compassion, but these must be exemplified. Who needs love? Who needs compassion? How do we express it? What does it have to do with common respect? Being a future secular parent, these are important questions and imply a need to straighten up myself. I do not always feel love and compassion towards everyone. There are many people in the world who anger me–people who commit violence or other force to get what they want, for example. I must be careful that my contempt for such actions and thoughts is not interpreted as hate or as a reason to harm others, but as an opportunity to spread truth, peace, and understanding.
8. Confidence and Pride
A judgment cult taught me that the supreme Creator of the universe hated pride and loved the humble, so I strove to be humble and modest. Among the many lessons I received in Christianity, I have pinpointed this one as one of the most destructive to my personal growth and success. When a person does good things, is intelligent, or shows talent, he should be allowed to confidently say so without a fear of angering God.
I hope to teach my child to take pride in his achievements and to let others know the good he does. If a child is exceptional, downplaying this fact would allow the child to fall into mediocrity when exceptionalism should be fostered. There may, at times, be a fine line to walk between bragging and taking credit, but I hope to teach my child the difference and to gain the confidence that comes when others tell him what a good job he does.
I sincerely wish to instill a good sense of humor and irony into my child. In a world of darkness, sometimes we all just need a laugh.