Now, she’s written a complete guide to atheist parenting. It’s called Growing Up Godless and it’s full of nearly 100 short essays on tackling the various obstacles atheist parents face in a predominantly religious world.
In the excerpt below, Mitchell talks about how to discipline your children when they’re not raised to believe God is watching over them:
How do you discipline children after you take God out of the equation? One parent told me that, when he took his two kids to church, he expected the church to teach his son and daughter morals and discipline, especially when it came to sex. It’s just easier to push these parental responsibilities off onto an institution that already has a structure in place to teach morality and discipline. The parent then becomes an agent of the church, reinforcing its teachings at home. But that is merely shrugging off our duties as parents by allowing religion to step in and indoctrinate our children.
There is no doubt that it is easier to team up with God, the guy many children have been taught to fear. God can see and do anything, including give eternal life and take it away. Yet these are just threats: An invisible deity is watching you, and if you’re not “good,” you will go to hell as a result. You will live in pain. Forever.
When we teach morals and discipline to our own children without religion, it takes a lot more effort, but we help our kids strengthen their own moral structure. Rather than telling children, “This is not how God expects you to behave,” we tell them, “This is not how I expect you to behave — and you should expect more from yourself, too.” As parents, we have to talk — a lot. We have to listen — a lot. We have to problem-solve and decide when to look the other way and let things slide, when to let things go with just a talk and when to impose some sort of punishment. It’s not easy. I have made a lot of mistakes. None of us are perfect parents. What redeems us is that we love our children and are trying our best; when we let them down or fall short, we get back up and try to do better.
What is discipline? It’s simply guiding children toward more appropriate behaviors. It has nothing to do with teaching or judging feelings — only actions. Unlike religion, we want to avoid personal attacks or judgments of character: Children are not dirty; they are not sinful; they were not born bad or evil.
Yet kids are born with certain tendencies, and their disposition has nothing to do with us as moms and dads. Some kids are easier to parent, and some are more difficult. Some understand the need for rules, while others see rules as a challenge, as a curb on their freedom. Keep on trying, knowing that your job as a parent means that you hang in there and encourage your kids to become the best they can be. Before you know it, they’ll be eighteen and headed off on their own.
Hold tightly, but not too tightly. Have a lot of patience. Ask yourself: Would I want to be disciplined for that? Spilling a drink is no big deal. Spilling a drink after you asked your child not to bring it to his room is, obviously, a different issue. When we ask our kids to do something, give them a little time before they must “hop to it,” but not so much time that they seem to have ignored us. We have to teach kids to be internally motivated not just to do the right thing, but to do things at the right times.
Here are a few other suggestions:
- For young children (up to two years old), diversion and distraction are the best ways to redirect them. Lecturing or discipline at that age isn’t very helpful.
- Point out the consequences of their actions. Hitting hurts me — see the red mark? Throwing balls inside the house breaks my favorite figurine from Aunt Helen.
- I don’t believe in spanking, but I know some feel strongly that it is a good tool for children younger than ten, as long as it is not done out of anger and is only administered to the bottom.
- Avoid character attacks. (For example, “You’re lazy.”) Instead, offer reasons why cleaning up is important. “We have to keep our rooms neat so that we can find items when we need them.” Or “We have to rinse and place our dishes in the dishwasher so that we don’t invite bugs to live in our house.”
Written By: Hemant Mehta
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