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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The Roles of Parents In A New Generation

I do realize that being a two mom family out in the open is something a bit new to our society. With the Supreme Court ruling in the US, while our families existed, there are some who are being recognized and for that, I am grateful. However, there are times that I am reminded the typical stereotype of a family cannot be changed overnight. LGBT families have existed for years, they are in history, hidden in the shadows and they are finally getting a chance to come out in the open.

Families like ours are redefining what it means to be a family, but it’s no different than single mothers, adoptive parents, divorced families, or families headed by grandparents or aunts and uncles. Family dynamics are not just black and white. Parents are not simply made up of a man and a woman, a mother and a father.

So, why then, do the first things out of people’s mouths consist of gender specific roles in family. When people see pictures of my family, especially my daughter, this is usually how the conversation goes:

Them: “Are you married?”

Me: “No, but we’ve been together for 10 years.”

Them: “Is she laying on Daddy’s shoulder, there?”

Me: “That’s my partner, yes, she’s laying on her mom’s shoulder.”

**Cue embarrassed look from the other person**

This makes me feel like shit. Why? Because I don’t come out the gate with my sexuality. My sexuality is not what makes me a person. It’s not what makes me a mother. It’s not what makes me who I am. My sexuality is not about anything that affects anyone else. My sexuality has nothing to do with sex, frankly, it has to do with who I love and who loves me. Who has loved me for 10 years and who I have walked through fire with for the last 10 years. And, that person happens to be another woman.

Why is it my fault that that this person assumes there’s a man in my house. I don’t fault them, I’m not offended by the question. I’m offended by the reaction. Don’t make me feel bad because you can’t think about your words before you say them. It’s not my fault that you have not yet figured out that there are different kinds of families.

What if I had been a single mother? What if my child was sitting on my sister’s lap? Or my brother’s? How is it that we have been so programmed in society to think of families in simply one way? The world is changing and I know change is scary – but let’s get with the times. Not for my sake but for theirs. I hope these people who meet me and realize I am not my label will think about their word choices next time they ask about someone’s family.

No two families are the same. My daughter doesn’t have a Daddy. She doesn’t realize that yet, but she will soon. I am not concerned about this because we will teach her about the different types of families and the different way that families are made. She will not feel any different or less important than anyone else she knows with a mom and a dad.

I’m waiting for the day when someone mentions something to her about her Daddy. What will she say, how will she respond. I’m certain this will spark questions for her and we will have answers for those tough questions. We are teaching our daughter to think about things and question things, she’s still too little to make her own choices and decisions, but she’s curious and she has inquiry behind those big brown eyes.

Gender doesn’t matter in this house and in the end, my daughter will be enlightened and more aware of her surroundings. She will not be caught off guard or embarrassed when she asks another child about their parents. She will not be confined to a rigid set of rules that define a family. For that, I am grateful. She really can be anything she wants to be.

So, Punky doesn’t have a Dad. I don’t have a Husband. Before you ask about someone’s situation or family, think about what you say. Change the wording to make it less specific to the ‘norm’, because in the end, what’s normal? Really? In the end, there is only family. Save yourself the embarrassment and uncomfortable silence by choosing your words more carefully. You don’t offend me when you ask these things, but it sure does make the conversation awkward when I have to correct you.