Children will shape their view of the world, at least initially, from their parents. While knowing I can’t shield my children completely from my opinion, I strive to let my children figure out things on their own.
Warning: the text below discusses parenting, God, and politics (briefly). I also tried to work in vaccination, breastfeeding, and circumcision, but couldn’t make it work. As always, I am not telling you how to parent your kid; I am barely qualified to parent my own. And I am certainly not qualified to talk about your relationship with the divine. If you would like to tell me about your God, I’m happy to listen over a beer but not so much over the Internet.
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I am a non-believer. I do not have faith toward any deity.1 On the spectrum of theistic probability, I am a six: I find theistic gods as probable as I find the existence of fairies, and I live my life on the assumption that they do not exist. However, I live in a home with six- and three-year old daughters who do believe in fairies.
Children are predisposed to believe what the adults in their lives, especially their parents, tell them—this helps them not get eaten.2 Things your parents tell you stick, and this is largely the reason that children tend to have the same political leanings and religion as their parents.3 I do not take this responsibility lightly. My children will shape their view of the world, at least initially, from what my wife and I tell them. But I do not want the girls to simply mirror my opinions back to me. While knowing I can’t shield my children completely from my opinion, I strive to let my children figure out things on their own.
That’s not to say I don’t want some things to stick.4 I hope to help them to be good people, to treat others with respect and empathy. I also want them to realize that they, like their father, are imperfect individuals who will get things wrong much (if not most) of the time. The best I can do is model those things through my own behavior and actions (especially the getting things wrong part). I am here to love them and try and answer their questions when they come up.
So far, I’ve had a fairly easy go of it. Questions about how the universe works are typically met with questions:
“Is there a ghost in my classroom?” → “Well, how would you find out?”
“Can ants talk?” → “Want to go ask some?”
“Daddy, what is God?” → “Well, what do you think?”5
I’m not against my children living in a world of magic, as long as it is their own magic. One day, the six-year-old came home from school and asked to say a prayer before dinner (some classmates say grace before lunch) and we, of course, said yes. When we asked her to describe what a prayer is, she responded, “Well, you make a promise to be good”. So we all went around the table saying promises.
We are also not beyond the common overnight deceptions. One Halloween when the six-year-old was three or so, we said that if she left out her candy, the Halloween Fairy would come and trade it for a present. The next day, when the candy was replaced with a colored pencil set, my child was not filled with magic and wonder, but regret. The candy was gone and she wouldn’t get it back; she had made a sacrifice to the Gods and they rained their wrath upon her. Hyperbole aside, I was taken aback by her reaction to this modest deception. The next year she asked if the Halloween Fairy would be coming was relieved that the answer was “No.” It made me realize that my participation in my child’s magical thoughts is best as a passenger, not a driver.
In the back yard, there is now a fairy garden (the six-year-old has made peace with the fairy-folk). Little plants, cardboard houses, and small treasures are left out for any magical creatures that may stop by. I haven’t asked either of our daughters what they expect to happen, but they are content to dig around in the dirt while I lie in the shade. They are teaching themselves how to tell stories and they don’t need me butting in. They get to decide how much magic they let into their world.
I know the questions are only going to get harder; I won’t be able to hide behind my Socratic shield forever. One day, my children will ask about my faith (or lack thereof) expecting an honest answer, and I will give it to them. It is my hope that when they do, they take what I say as just one additional bit of data to incorporate into their own personal theories of life, the universe, and everything.
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- Except the demigod Joss Whedon. ↩
- This power can also be used for less important things like telling your children that you have set a timer when you have not in fact set a timer. ↩
- Barring any sort of Alex P. Keaton scenario. ↩
- Like Han shot first. ↩
- A recent answer, “Men and boys get Gods, and and women and girls get Goddesses. They fight the cyclopes, but not the one from X-Men.” ↩
Photo by faustissima