Opening Words from Sun. November 2 by Jacob Kenner

I have lots of thoughts on parenting freethinking kids, as do others in the room. The most important idea I have is that allowing kids to make up their own minds is really the only ethical choice. Anyone who says that atheists don’t have faith, has clearly never known any atheist parents. For me, at least, parenting is an act of faith. Faith in myself, that I can adequately care for other human beings, faith that I can help them make good choices, faith that I’m making the right choices, and faith that ultimately, the humanity and decency that my child possesses within him or herself will shine through. I like to believe that I make right choices. Still, there are so many possible ways to make right choices, that I cannot assume I always have the best answers for others. We parents should always take a long view of the bigger picture to have faith that the behavior we model and see reflected today will serve our kids and their world, well into the future.

I think that parents of freethinkers have a harder road to walk, or path to hike, or trail to blaze, than parents who are bound to a faith tradition and community. We don’t have a set of dictated right and wrong rules to work from, a vindictive god and hell to threaten and coerce us, nor a magical heaven to entice good behavior and good works. We don’t have a pre-made community with all the same rules and beliefs to help enforce our standards. All we have is the here and now, our own reason, and, for those of us lucky enough to be here, a like minded community supporting thoughtful choice.

We inherently make parenting more difficult for ourselves through our core values. We believe, and teach our kids, that every person has value, and deserves to be heard and respected. We value and, at least at our house, readily engage in, questioning. We teach our kids to advocate for themselves and for others. We teach honesty and open discussion of hard questions. These are the values and actions that I want my kids to internalize, because I truly believe, and have faith, that they are the hope for a better future. These are the foundational skills for negotiating peace and repairing hurt. However, these aren’t the easiest qualities to deal with in a classroom full of impulsive 7 and 8 year olds with strong senses of self and of justice. Not even with just our own kids are these the easiest qualities to deal with when we’re tired, don’t want to buy something, or are trying to help them understand why other people aren’t parenting the same way we are, and consequently, others’ kids don’t act the same nor believe the same things.

This is when we need to carefully step back, breathe, and peer out into the distant future, seeing these currently annoying negotiations for unnecessary items such as electronics or sweets as the precursors to the future of civilization. These are the times to employ our values: listening when we don’t really want to hear the opinions, offering up our best thought-provoking questions, and crafting negotiation that rewards critical thinking skills, while still reaching toward the outcomes we may think are optimal. Sometimes the hardest part is weathering the criticism of other adults who have different value systems, and whose kids often give the appearance of being better behaved than our own. Those kids follow instructions without question, they don’t talk back, they don’t talk openly about things the general public considers private; they no longer have a desire to inquire. We have to remember that inquiry, no matter how exhausting it can be, will lead our children to learn and change.

In this Society, we are so lucky to have found our faith community of choice, other freethinkers, to rationally discuss parenting strategies, issues we’ve had, frustrations, and successes. People are here to help navigate the jungle of our parenting path, without applying a machete to our personal beliefs or to our children’s desires to question. This supports building a respect for others and self esteem without an overabundance of ego. We empower all our kids to advocate for themselves in a culture that has a bias against them, equipping them to be rational, reflective, critical thinkers who develop compassionate and kind strategies for living. Together we build our own desired paths, toward the coming of age for our children, and toward the ongoing coming of age for ourselves.

So remember to breathe, reflect, be constructive, and yet have some faith that given the right education, support and nurturing environment, our kids will become forces for positive change in the future. You can start, or continue, this process by coming to Parent Talk for commiseration, participating in the Ethical Education Committee, or just being available for our kids when they need to turn to one of you for assistance in making their own choices.