Not So “Microblog Monday” – Teaching Consequences Without Fear

I started this blog as a way to connect with like minded parents who might be raising their kids without religion. I know I mostly don’t touch on it. The reason for that is mostly because that aspect of our parenting has very little effect on us or our day or our relationship with our kid. The absence of religious teaching in our parenting, is just that, an absence.

The fact that we don’t include religious teachings into our parenting, doesn’t change how to we parent much. We will instill the concepts of right and wrong; cause and effect; and rewards and consequences.

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We still teach her manners and using please and thank you, not interrupting adults, and using “nice words”. And none of these have to be done with religious upbringing.

I don’t blog about our lack of religious upbringing because it doesn’t effect how our family functions. I still go to work, Kim still stays home with Punky. Punky still has rules and chores. We still sit at the table as a family at dinner time and discuss how our day was. We still dance around the living room or have picnics at the coffee table while watching a movie.

The point of this blog wasn’t to rant and rave about how religious upbringing is bad or the reasons why we don’t do it, but to simply show, that raising your kid without religion, doesn’t change the fundamentals or parenting dynamics. Our way isn’t any better or any worse than those who choose to parent with religion being the focus. It’s just different.

I bring this up, because our family is a lot of different things. But labels don’t define us. A “None” family. A two mom family. A free thinking family. A family of choices. A family of technology. A family of questions. A family who eats fast food. A time out family. A family who has no limit on screen time. A cry it out family. A family with mental illness. A family without labels or boxed in expectations.

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I bring all of this up, because generally when I tell people that we are parenting without religion, the number one question I get is: “How does your daughter learn there are consequences for her actions without the fear of consequences?” And to that I simply say, “Why does there need to be an essence of fear?” I feared my dad growing up. I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a house of fear. I want my daughter to know that she can come to me with anything. Any questions, any problem, any choice. Any reasonable and respectful argument. Anything.

So, to make it about fear … to me, religion is equated with fear. Which is pretty much why I personally don’t want her raised in a religious household. Fear of “the consequences” are scary when you are a kid growing up with religion. Hell is a scary concept. Especially for a kid. Fear of rejection. From a loving God, but if you do wrong things, you are rejected. Unless you are forgiven, which you can ask for forgiveness for everything, so then your ‘sin’ doesn’t matter anymore. So those bad things you did, it’s ok, and you can keep doing them and keep asking for forgiveness.

Where is the consequence or lesson being taught there? The circle is maddening and it is (for me) simply a way to instill control on children at a young age and to keep people in a box. To make sure they do what their told, when they are told, and don’t ask any questions about anything, because it ‘just is’; ‘just have faith’; ‘you don’t believe enough’. All of which, in my mind growing up, equated to “You aren’t good enough if you don’t just believe in what we are telling you is right and true.” “You aren’t a good person if you don’t believe in this, if you question it, you question God and that makes you a terrible person and you are going to Hell. Repent now.” These are not the self esteem boosters I want for my kid.

Morals and ethics are not taught by religious leaders. That’s the job of a parent. Parents teach their children what is right and wrong in the world. What’s dangerous and what’s safe. Parents, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof teach their children what society finds acceptable, what boundaries are in place (laws and social norms) and where those boundaries can be crossed or JUMPED (gender roles, pfft) over.

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As a kid who grew up with a Christian background, I remember a time when my Sunday School teacher told the class, “Be wary of those who don’t believe in God. Those are not friends to keep.” And I raised my hand, I was about 12 or so, and asked, “But how do we spread the word or tell them about God, if we can’t be friends with them? Doesn’t it push them away from God to shun them from our friendship?” The teacher had no answer and didn’t answer it. She simply gave me look that made me instantly realize I shouldn’t question what she says. And I didn’t question again.

That’s the thing with religious teaching. There’s no questions. There’s blind faith. There’s no answers. There’s no thinking for yourself, only believe what’s being told to you or you are doing it wrong and you MAY end up in Hell. Scary shit for a kid, right? I know it was for me.

I refuse to subject my child to that kind of teaching or upbringing. coloringWith that said, I do have people who tell me “She has the right to believe if she wants to.” And to that, they are absolutely correct. She does have that right and I won’t be the one to take it away from her. My hope is that we can do our best to facilitate and foster an environment in which she can ask questions, think for herself, and really come to a conclusion on her own. One way or the other in which she believes, I will support her. I will love her just the same.

However, right now, she’s too little to understand the things being taught and she doesn’t know any better than to simply believe – without question. She doesn’t know she can question. she doesn’t know what questions she should ask. Until she is old enough to understand, facilitate and make those questions heard and thought through, she will not be subject or introduced to things that are religious in nature.

Her cousins are Jewish. We don’t really talk about it, it’s not something that comes up. But if she had questions, I would make a point to sit down with my sister in law and we could discuss what being Jewish means and how that effects Punky’s world view. Her grandparents are all (primarily) Christian. I have no problem with her being exposed to “Gram’s friend Jesus” on a necklace, or telling her that some people believe that their loved ones go to a place in the sky when they die. Some people do in fact believe that and I want her to respect other people’s beliefs and views. But, I also want her to question why people believe that, where that belief comes from and if she does in fact also believe in that.

When she’s old enough to make up her own mind, she will be free to do so. She will be able to explore the possibilities of belief and what that means to her. Growing up with an absence of religion, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have the choice to seek it out and be respected for her own growing belief systems. But I do want her to examine, question, and think about what she believes in. I want her to be able to stand up and confidently say what she believes and be about to articulate it intelligently – not “That’s what the Bible says” or “My Mom told me it is so, so it must be”. As it stands, at this age, she is not able to do that to the extent in which I would like her to.

So instead we teach her about family, about tolerance, about love, and respect. For everyone. And at the core, that’s what religious teachings do too, we just do it without a man in the sky or a guy on a cross, without a fiery damnation or a cycling guilt and forgiveness.

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Another Half Birthday Has Come and Gone

When I was a kid, I always thought it would be so neat to have a half birthday. Like, then I could celebrate twice! That’s not something that happened for me, but when Punky was born, I was determined to have half birthday for our special ONE. We only have one after all, why not make it as special as possible. Yea, she’s a bit sassy, a tiny bit spoiled, but she’s the sweetest three and a half year old I know.

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Half birthdays don’t come with presents (unless you are me and my best friend, then small trinkets) but she does get a cupcake, we sing the song and she gets a special dinner she picks out. She’s gotten better at eating the cupcakes since the first half birthday!

This year I asked her a series of 20 questions. She wasn’t really paying attention, because she had better things to do than pay attention to me, but she answered them:

  1. Who is your favorite person in the whole world? Gram
  2. What is your favorite color? Pink and Green and Purple
  3. What’s your favorite TV Show? Daniel Tiger
  4. What’s your favorite thing to wear? Everything except for a cat
  5. What song do you love the most? Ballet music and Jumping music
  6. What’s your favorite food? Applesauce and cheeseburgers and chicken
  7. Who is your best friend? Everyone, including Mama and You.
  8. What do you want to be when you grow up? Changer Girl
  9. What’s your favorite word? Three
  10. What are you really good at? I’m really good at playing and coloring
  11. What’s your favorite toy? Minnie and Mickey toys
  12. Where do you want to go on vacation? Searching for animals.
  13. What do you dream about? I can’t tell you.
  14. What do you like to do with your family? Play!
  15. What makes you happy? Watermelons
  16. What makes you sad? The corner makes me sad and not having fun
  17. What do you want to learn about? Computers
  18. When I was little I used to? Play with computers
  19. What’s your favorite day? 90-30
  20. What is your biggest wish? The biggest present for my birthday is for Bubba (her godfather) to come

And for those of you who aren’t following me on Facebook, here is the photoshoot we took for her half birthday at a nearby garden village in town.

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She loves fountains. She loves water. She loves to put her hands in the water of the fountains.

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She’s sassy and she’s inquisitive. She’s creative and she has an imagination like no other child I’ve seen her age. The things she comes up with are so crazy!

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She’s silly, loving, and easy to laugh. She loves to play and she gets bored easily, but she’s independent enough to find something to do to entertain herself. To say I have a unicorn of a child, I probably do. She’s not perfect, but she’s mine!

HAPPY HALF BIRTHDAY to my PUNKY MONSTER.

Trapped Inside My Racing Mind

Dear Punky,

Mommy is so in love with you. So in love with your smile and your laugh. With your imagination and your creativity. Mommy is so in love with being your mom. So thankful to have that chance. But, while I sit here and think about all the things I am so thankful for and so happy to have, a weight lays heavy on my heart.

I will never be the mom who participates in school functions that involves ‘fitting in’ with other moms. I won’t be the mom who chaperones your dances (I’m sure you will be thankful for that). I won’t be the mom who is actively involved in a play date group. My mind doesn’t allow me to feel comfortable in any of those settings. I hope that when you get older, it will not weigh on your heart as heavy as it weighs on mine.

As you get ready to turn 3 and a half, AND A HALF (where did the time go), I wonder what I have done to facilitate friendships for you – or have I contributed in isolating you. I try. I hope you know that I try. I intend to do so many things with you.

Even a trip to the park makes me uncomfortable. Makes me tired. Makes my hands sweat and my mind blur out of focus.

Will that strange mom I don’t know try to talk to me? Did I encourage her to come over with some look or something? What is so interesting about me that she has to come over here and talk to me? What do I possibly have in common with that woman? What does my face look like right now? Oh my god, I know I must be the most awkward person on the planet. This woman thinks I’m weird. Oh look, I’m the weirdo who came with her kid to the park by herself and doesn’t make any attempt to talk to adults, just her kid. That mom says you are adorable, of course you are. Did that come out snotty? Shit, I didn’t mean it to. “Your little girl is brave!” Is she secretly judging my parenting, letting my three year old climb this gigantic damn tower. A tower that the sign clearly says is made for 5 and up! Is she waiting for me to fail. Am I waiting for me to fail? Do I look fat in the shirt, I probably shouldn’t have worn this color, the pattern is too much. Maybe I can go sit on this bench over here, oh, now the whole park can see all my rolls. You’re the kid with the fat mom, awkward mom.

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All these thoughts go through my head, in a matter of mere minutes in the park. I want to enjoy my time with you. I hide behind the camera instead, so that I don’t have to engage with random people. Oh, but look, now I’m the mom on the cell phone, not paying attention to her kid. The park is exhausting.  So when you ask me to take you, I want to say yes, and in most cases I say, “Yes, baby, we can go later.” Because I have every intention of getting off my couch and out of my laptop and taking you outside to play with other kids. But, my dear one, Mommy buries her head deeper into her own thing, so she doesn’t have to think about what will happen when we step outside the door and greet the day you are sure to have a blast in. SO we don’t end up going.

Let’s don’t forget the ride to the park.

Are you buckled in right? Is the carseat proper? Oh jeez, don’t post that picture, someone will surely have something to say about the way she’s sitting in there. It’s probably wrong. Look both ways as we drive across the street, what if someone side swipes us? What if she unbuckles herself back there? Those M&M’s you just had to have at the store and just couldn’t wait til we got home to open, I opened it. But then all I could think about is – it could choke her and then I won’t be able to get back there fast enough. Then I will have a wreck and I will kill my kid. Knowing my luck, I’ll be the one to live. I can’t live without this kid. And if we don’t crash, what if I leave her in the back, no baby don’t stop talking back there, I zone out sometimes and I don’t want to forget you back there. Sing me a song, tell me a story, and though I don’t sound like I’m listening, I am. Oh I am. It is reminding me that you are back there – because there are so many times that I have looked in the back seat and expected you back there and you aren’t. It only takes one slip of the mind. No matter how precious you are to me.

Sweet girl, I know you get sad when I go to work, I get sad too. Believe me – it takes every ounce of my energy to push myself out the door every morning. A battle, a war inside my mind. And I love this job. Don’t you know, this job is the best thing that could have ever happened to Mommy. But I still war with myself about leaving and driving there and being gone and not seeing all the things you are doing here. I would rather be sitting on our couch, watching you build a fort or serenade with a new made up song. But mostly, I would just like to zone out and not be in a car on my way to work, away from you.

What happens if someone tailgates me too close in the morning traffic? What if I sneeze too hard and close my eyes, veer to too much to the right and cause a wreck? What happens to you when I die? What happens to your mama? If I don’t make it to work, we don’t have the money for the new house we live in. If I don’t make it to work, you don’t get food in your belly. If I don’t make it home, who will tuck you in at night? If I don’t go to work, I can’t get you presents and fun stuff. But why go to work, it doesn’t pay enough to get you into preschool, where you could socialize, where you could be with other kids and not be sitting at home, bored and stir crazy. But to work I must go.

My mind is not that of a calm and peaceful stream. Instead it is a raging rapid of thoughts and worries. irrational thoughts. It should probably only get worse as you get older and though I am so thankful for all the things you bring to my life, I’m sorry you got me for your mom. Because it won’t be easy. It will be frustrating. For both of us.

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We will butt heads, we are similar in that way. Stubborn, strong willed, whatever you want to call it. My psychiatrist (that’s the fancy doctor who gives me medication for these thoughts that don’t quiet) just says I might be made to be irritable. Basically, this moodiness, this reactive nature I have is not going away, it’s not something we can medicate. It’s his clinical way of saying, your Mommy will always be a bitch. Always lash out and always react to the most ridiculous of things. So in some ways, I’m a lost cause, in that way. Something we just have to live with – work together with. My patience is thin, my nerves are short, my worries are plenty.

But I will always wrap you up in my arms when you are hurt. I will always tell you that your drawing is beautiful, even as you beat yourself up because you “messed it up” or “ruined it” because to me, all the things you do are beautiful. You are the beauty of my world. You bring the bright spots to my mind. I will always hug you and kiss you as I tell you that you can’t lock your Mommy out of your bedroom. Not because I don’t respect your need for space or “alone time” or even privacy at three years old; but because the only thing I can think about when I can’t get to you is that if you get hurt, I can’t be there at a moment’s notice to kiss it away, make sure you are alright.

When you jump off the side of the couch, I don’t scold you because it’s wrong, or that I don’t want to encourage your adventurous spirit. My heart catches in my throat every moment. And while you are having the time of your life, flying through the air, the end result for me is seeing you face first on the hardwood floor, bloody lips or worse.

I’m not the mom who will toss you up in the air and catch you. I’m not the mom who will encourage you to swim in the deep end. And for that, I apologize. Its selfish of Mommy, it’s not fair to you.

May you always keep your creative spirit. May you always keep your adventurous spirit, in spite of me.

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May you always know that I love you in the best ways I know how. May you always know that I want to keep you safe from harm, but I recognize I’m not able to do that. I also recognize you aren’t as breakable as my mind makes me think you are. You are a strong little girl. A smart little girl. Sometimes too smart.

So as you grow, let’s grow together, love. And hopefully, I won’t damage you. I won’t break you down to where I am. My hope is not to teach you to be afraid of the world. My hope is to help you venture out and see the world. My hope is not to teach you to mistrust everyone, to second guess a compliment or a friendship. I hope you don’t grow up to wonder what your friends really think of you when you aren’t around.

And maybe, just maybe, even when we fight and butt heads, because we will; oh we will, my love; you will know that I love you more than any person on this planet. In the whole universe. I keep you with me, you lighten my burdened mind and my worried spirit, even if it doesn’t appear that way.

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I’m a mom with agoraphobia with associated panic disorder and PTSD. It’s a part of who I am. It’s who I will always be. I’m the mom that is described in this letter and so much more that I can’t put into words. My mind doesn’t stop, my world doesn’t stop spinning, but my sweet sweet little girl keeps me grounded, here in the present and as light as my mind will allow me to be.