Thursday, June 9, 2011

On Freethought Parenting

I was going to blog about my latest canning experience (applesauce, and it was AWESOME) but have decided to write about something else on my mind today: freethought parenting. One of my priorities as a parent is raising my children in a manner that they never grow into someone's sheep. I want them to question everything! To this end, I try not to make rules for them that seem arbitrary. If I can't give them a good reason for doing or not doing something, I don't think I should expect them to follow my rule.

Of course, like with most parenting goals, this is more easily said than done. I would be lying if I said I didn't occasionally and loudly say "because I said so" after the umpteenth question on a particular subject. I grew up in an authoritarian household and there were some things we simply were not allowed to question, period. I don't want that for my kids, but it's very hard to get out of that mind set. It's not that I don't want my children to be respectful, because I do, but I don't want them to respect authority that is not derived through reason and fairness.

Dale McGowan's book Raising Freethinkers has been a valuable resource in my parenting quest. I love this passage in Chapter One:

I want the idea that questions can be feared because of the answers they might produce to baffle my kids. I want them to find hilariously silly the idea that certain lines of thought cannot even be pursued, lest they be caught. That requires a certain amount of parental self-discipline. It requires the ability, for example, to not paint the far wall with soup when the 5-year-old asks if monkeys have vaginas, or why black people have big lips, or who will put her blankie on her grave when she dies- all three of which have come up at our dinner table. It requires a firm conviction that there is no rock that can't be upended if you think there might be something under it. And of course, there always, always might.

It's not difficult to encourage a ravenous curiosity in young children, the questions come so naturally to them! But do they outgrow it, or do we as parents and our society stifle it? What made it suddenly "uncool" to enjoy reading when Bonnie was in third grade at the local public school, or to know the answers when the teacher asked the class a question? (Insert plug for homeschooling here.)

To go back to the concept of respect, I try to teach our kids to differentiate between respect for individuals (highly valued) and respect for ideas (totally subjective.) Even though there were some things exempt from this scrutiny in my house growing up, my mom did have the general idea with the rule that we were not allowed to call each other stupid, but we could call some actions and ideas stupid. I carry that rule on with my kids, though I prefer they use adjectives other than stupid (because it's a stupid word.)

We've adopted the following general family rules, framed on our wall and borrowed from McGowan's book. They were open to discussion before ratification and may change through the years as our family grows and changes.

So, where does religion fit into raising freethinking children? My kids are learning about religion in a world context. Our homeschool is secular, but we might just spend more time talking about religion than other homeschooling families, because I don't believe you can adequately teach history or current events without religious education. My hope is that Bonnie is learning to respect everyone's rights to choose his or her own religious beliefs, but I certainly wouldn't expect her to respect religion itself, unless she came to that conclusion through her own critical thinking processes. I would no sooner tell Bonnie what to believe than I would tell her how to feel. As a freethinking parent, my job is to teach my children how to think and not what to think, and I take my job very seriously!

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