On Raising a Freethinker

Aaron and I were both raised by Christian families, and went to church regularly up through high school. We’ve since deconverted, and we both identify as atheist. We’re also very “live and let live” sort of people — sure, we shake our heads at what we deem to be ignorance or stupidity or just poor decision-making, and I’d be lying if I said we aren’t judgmental, but we make a point not to let it affect our daily interactions with people.

But we’re both grown adults. We had plenty of time to figure ourselves out before we became parents. We went through our youth of believing what we were taught, and our young adulthood of not knowing or caring what we believed anymore, and finally matured together into discovering what each of us do and don’t believe.

So, it’s more than a little daunting to consider that we’ll need to help guide our son (now three years old) through the process of figuring out who he is, how he fits in, how Life works, what’s right and wrong and what can’t be classified as either until you understand the situation. Instead of educating him in a religious environment (i.e. Sunday School), we have the opportunity to educate him in an non-religious way about social mores, values, standards, responsibility, consequences, kindness, right and wrong. We also have the opportunity to help him figure these things out for himself, which is a much more effective way to internalize such things than just being told by someone else.

It’s kind of like when he was teeny-tiny, and we talked through what we were doing — changing his diaper, making dinner, putting on his clothes — even though he didn’t understand language yet. Eventually, from hearing everything repeated so often, he put things together. Now that he’s old enough to comprehend being happy or sad, nice or mean, we try to talk things out with him. We don’t kick or hit because that hurts people, and that makes people sad and angry. We gave our leftovers to that man on the corner because he was hungry, and having food made him happy.

Even now, he recognizes when I’m getting frustrated with him, and gives me a big hug and an apology. Just today, he asked how I would feel if he threw a drink coaster on the floor — when I told him I would be angry and frustrated, he decided not to throw it on the floor, because me being frustrated would make him sad.

I think we’re on the right track — but I also think that Connor is already an empathetic and intelligent little boy, just by virtue of his innate Connor-ness, not necessarily because of our parenting. We just need to keep guiding him in the right direction.

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