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What is a parent?

My daughter Elaine posted an article on children going vegetarian on her blog yesterday. She reprinted a question to an advice columnist about a six-year-old wanting to go vegetarian. The advice columnist didn't have any problem with the diet in terms of health but cautioned the parent that her or his child was being influenced by others - and that the main influence had to be the parents'!

I know many christian parents feel their children need to be protected from the influence of others, too.

I have never felt that way myself. I never felt that I should be the main arbiter in all things. Yes, it was important to me that my children understand right and wrong, that essentially they have consciences, that they care about others. Otherwise I wanted them to learn to think for themselves more than anything else. I have strong feelings and beliefs about some things and I am sure those beliefs came across in our everyday lives. We often hear that it is better to "model" your belief than just to talk about it. Saying "don't smoke" and then drawing on a cigarette isn't a good way to teach children.

I know I am considered wimpy because of my willingness to let my children explore. I don't know to this day if it was the right path to follow. I suspect I could have been a better guide. But I don't think I was wrong to allow my children to hear others' voices. I could have provided a better, more cushioned space for them in their explorations - I don't think I did that - but fundamentally I do not believe in shielding children from the beliefs of others.

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
dangerouslysane
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
I often ask myself the same questions. But while I allowed my daughter to be exposed to other people's ideas, she always knew my opinion about those ideas. We watched TV together, as well, and I would question commercials--getting into a casual discussion about what was being presented, because I wanted to train her to take a critical look at what was being broadcast.

Same thing with religion. While she was raised in a fairly secular household, it was clearly not a Christian one. Most of our friends happen to be Christian (Catholic and Protestant), but we also had Jewish friends, and, of course, Jewish family.

I taught her to be respectful of other people's religions, but to expect her Jewish religion to be respected by others.

Stuff like that.

Kid grew up to be critical-minded, extremely intelligent (which she was born with anyway), has awesome friends, and is a free-thinker with an adventuresome spirit and intellectual curiosity to burn.

Of course, I don't get to see her as much as I'd like, but I think I set loose an amazing person on the world. She's also honorable, which makes me proud of her.

Could I have done a better job as a parent? Probably. Could I have had a better kid? No.

Did we keep our children from going out and getting their necks broken before their 18th birthdays? Did we provide them with the best love and guidance as parents that we were able to? Yes. That's why we're still glad to see them.

The fact that you still ponder these questions tells me that you did the right thing.

Or maybe I'm just biased because they're our kids and you're my friend. *g*
(Anonymous)
Feb. 19th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
My kids knew my beliefs, too, but I didn't press them on them. I am not sure they knew I didn't believe in a god. Amazingly, I even left that little tidbit up to them, and my younger daughter joined a Baptist youth group in her teens. She was even baptized and I was there at the ceremony. I had tears in my eyes - not because she found god but because the ceremony was moving (even to me, the atheist - but then again I sing lots of religious works because they are beautiful and they move me). I also connected with Mary's feelings in this ceremony. It meant a lot to her. My other daughter Elaine was also crying a bit - she said later it was because she thought it was so awful that Mary had gotten sucked into this.

That little thing didn't take anyway. When Mary, honestly, asked the questions she had about this religion she was rebuffed and ridiculed by the teen leader. She wasn't supposed to question anything. So she left the church - but it hurt. Mary still believes in a god, for some reason, but does not attend any church. Actually that's a lot like my mother.

Elaine went through a period when she was experimenting with "objectivism". She read everything Ayn Rand wrote and she spent hours in chat rooms talking with others about it. What tore that for her was the animal thing - the other objectivists did not believe in the inherent rights of animals. When I look back at that period what's funny is that although Ayn Rand's beliefs are just about polar opposite to mine I was happy to find that Elaine was becoming her own person.

Anyway, they are both fundamentally good people and yes, that is what matters most to me and always has.
judith
Feb. 19th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
crap
I didn't log in. That was me, obviously, in that reply.
dangerouslysane
Feb. 22nd, 2009 03:35 am (UTC)
Wow! Maybe the fact that you had more than one child made a difference, too--Mary grew up with certain expectations about how people respond to critical questions, and the teen leader of the youth group fell short.

Elaine got interested in objectivism, but it fell short when the other objectivists' values about other living creatures conflicted with what she'd been taught at home. Her expectations of a humane attitude were not rewarded.

But I think it was interesting that Elaine's reaction to Mary's baptism reflected that she didn't expect her sister to go for such religiosity--she was surprised, because her sister was raised by the same parent as she.

Either way, though, I think you did an excellent job as a parent. I don't think that people really get how unnerving that job can be, until it's quite late.
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