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Sugar ≠ Hyperactive Children

Don’t you hate when your children get hopped up on Kool-Aid and cookies, act out in front of their grandparents, and ransack your purse for sugar money?

Well actually, sugar does not make kids hyperactive. Yet another example of failed folk wisdom.

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Freethinking Parenting

Seth recently expressed some opinions about freethought parenting. It’s a topic worthy of it’s own post, so I’ll respond here.

Any parent who thinks they are going to raise their own kids without forcing their own biases on the little tykes is just fooling themselves. In fact, letting your kids choose for themselves is even more damaging than imposing your belief system on them. My kids may grow up to resent my religion. They may rebel against me. But even then, at least they’ll have a direction in life – a point of reference. I’m doing them a favor.

Better than some so-called open-minded parents who essentially feed the kids to the wolves and tell them to sort out their own beliefs – in spite of the fact that the kid is freaking FIVE YEARS OLD and hasn’t got the first idea of how to form a belief system. Kids come into the world naturally looking to mom and dad to give them some direction. Refusing to provide that direction isn’t just bad parenting, it’s irresponsible and mean.

Parents need to grow a spine and realize that parenting isn’t some cosmopolitan personal vanity project. It isn’t about whether you appear to be fair, or whether you look “open-minded,” or whether you’re “the cool dad,” or whether you’re meeting some self-help book’s guidelines. It’s about raising kids. And it really isn’t about you.

Who cares if you end up looking like some close-minded zealot? The point is whether the kids turned out all right. Loss of “hipness” is a small price to pay for well-raised kids.

Yikes, Seth. Where to begin?

I think you’ve created quite a strawman for yourself of a aimless, convictionless, spineless parent who avoids taking a firm stand for fear that the child will disagree or dislike the parent. That may be true of some parents, but luckily that’s not what freethinking parenting is all about. Freethinking parents won’t necessarily end up on Supernanny because they fail to set boundaries for their children.

Reading Parenting Beyond Belief would help give you a better idea of what being a freethinking parent can and should be. Barring that, reading through the archives of the book’s blog can give you a flavor as well.

I don’t see that children need to stake out a metaphysical position about the reality of the resurrection, for example. I have seen no evidence that allowing them to keep religion an open question for later when they’re older is going to harm them.

Of course children are going to be heavily influenced by their parents. That’s the nature of childhood. Parents who are aware of their influence can try to avoid imposing their own beliefs as much as possible on issues that don’t concern the immediate health and safety of the child. Throwing up our hands in surrender just because some amount of biasing is inevitable is something like deciding that we’re going to be angry at our child sometimes so why fight it? Fostering free thought and questioning is important enough that an effort should be made to reduce how much we impose our beliefs on our children.

Freethinking parents still have rules designed to keep a child safe, healthy, and happy. I have a very strong bias against letting my small children play in the street and I’m not afraid to impose that bias on them. I also expect them to play nicely together. When the time comes, I will have some strong opinions about dating and sex. In other words, being a freethinking parent doesn’t look all that different than any other parent most of the time.

The differences in parenting styles start to creep in when we teach our children about how to address questions that they have. Freethinking parents are more concerned with teaching children how to think rather than what to think. I want to give my girls the tools they need to learn and decide for themselves rather than spoon-feed them my regurgitated opinions.

I might offer them my thoughts, but I usually follow that up by asking “What do you think?” I then follow up their answers with questions of my own, directing them and helping them to see where their thinking may be faulty. In other words, I offer my thoughts up as points of discussion and questioning, not the final word which ends discussion.

Far from being wishy-washy parenting, this is a firm stand that says “Question authority—even my own.” This is not for the faint of heart. It’s not easy to allow your authority and rules to be questioned, and it’s a fine line to tread before this descends into chaos. Freethinking parents still need to have the final say, but they entertain discussion and might even change their mind if the child has a valid point.

Freethinking parents try to help their children explore their world in ways that are appropriate for their age and capabilities. They teach them how to interrogate their world. They prepare them to be independent adults who aren’t dependent on the dictates of authority figures to help them decide what is reasonable and true. They train their children to develop and trust their inner sense of reason. This is not spineless parenting in absentia.

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The Business of Being Born

A friend recently turned us on to The Business of Being Born, a movie about home childbirth. Netflix got the movie to our mailbox today. We had already watched it online, but accidentally left it in the top of our queue.

I decided to take advantage of the accident to show my four-year-old some women giving birth. I selected a scene of two different women giving birth in their homes, avoiding the more disturbing photographs from less enlightened times of twilight sleep births where women were often restrained to their beds in a drug-induced delirium (morphine to reduce pain and scopolamine to induce amnesia). My wife was a little pensive, worrying that we might scar our little girl for life with the strangeness and evident pain of childbirth. I put my faith in children who handle mature subjects quite well, thank you very much, if the adults in their lives give a little guidance and aren’t visibly embarrassed or afraid.

After she watched two nude women with newborns coming out of their nether regions, I asked what she thought about them giving birth. She simply responded “Good”, asked a couple of questions, talked about when she would give birth when she’s older (because she’s too small to carry a baby in her belly, she said), then went on playing.

The movie itself is informative but one-sided. It featured only a couple clips of skeptical doctors. The best aspect of the movie is that it shows several women giving birth in their homes with competent, well-trained midwives making sure that their needs are met and watching for the small percentage of births requiring medical intervention. Most of the births themselves seemed anti-climatic, like it was the most natural thing in the world to give birth in your living room—which is the point I suppose. The director had planned on a home birth but had a breach presentation so she had to have an emergency cesarean section, but the rest of the women filmed required no hospitalization. This film raised my awareness and acceptance of this childbirth option.

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Overheard at Home

My daughters were deciding who got to play with which one of two dolls that they got for Christmas. The two dolls are identical except for their complexion.

Oldest daughter: No, I want the light-skinned one. I think she’s prettier.


I swear that I’m not teaching her to be racist. I blame the TV.

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Sunday School for Atheists

I realize that community is important. Mormonism has always provided me and my family a ready-made community—a quirky, somewhat dysfunctional community, but no human community is flawless after all. Leaving Mormonism has meant leaving that community behind (in spirit at least since I attend Sunday services to support my family).

A recent Time article, Sunday School for Atheists, highlights the growing trend of atheistic parents banding together to support each other in teaching and living their values. The most consistently held values among the diverse atheist population seem to be free and critical thinking. Parents find it challenging to cultivate these values in the midst of a culture that instead values faith in traditional ideas at the expense of personal exploration and determination. This would probably be a non-issue in a largely non-religious culture.

As a parent, I worry that community (or the lack thereof) might be the determining factor in my children’s choices regarding their belief systems. Human beings are social animals. Going it alone is difficult for most. People like to fit in to a group, if possible. Thinking like your peers is a good way to fit in, so stray thoughts and doubts may be subconsciously pruned when they seem too aberrant from cultural norms. I don’t want that for my girls, but I do want them to have a community.

So I’m in the market for a community that supports human development without restricting free thought, exploration, and expression of what it means to be human. I intend to visit the local Unitarian Universalist congregation after New Years when my family’s LDS ward will presumably change its meeting schedule. The UU congregation seems like a good place to start my search.

In the meantime, I like what I heard in these videos that I found through their website (from the UU FAQ website). The first is a bit cheesy, but it gives me a flavor.

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