"The child supplies the power, but the parents have to do the steering." Benjamin Spock (1903-1998)
Parenting is hard work. I have many concerns as a parent and as an atheist parent in the bible belt, USA. What do I teach my child? What should I tell my child or not tell him? What can I do to protect my child from indoctrination? What should be my focus?
So many questions. Not very many easy-to-spot answers.
I was raised in a home that I most certainly would not want for my child. I had very few role models from whom to learn good parenting skills. So, I pretty much have to teach myself, gleaning from outside influences and evidence and using my own judgement to determine the best route for my child and myself.
I've read from several sources that have influenced my own parenting philosophy. I highly recommend Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, and Jan Devor. I've also studied Diana Baumrind's research on parenting styles and the aspects of parenting. I've adopted Thomas W. Phelan's 1-2-3 Magic discipline management program for my son. (I recommend this to any parent of young children; it works!) There are several other sources of insight that I have discovered, but these three stand out to me most and have been my main tools in my parenting experience thus far.
Parenting is a huge deal to me because I want to get it right....after all, I only have one chance to not screw up my son's childhood. So, based on what I have studied and experienced, what do I want to teach my son? What is truly important? Skepticism? Compassion? Manners? Being true to oneself? Stability? There are hundreds of things I could teach my son, and should; but what is the focus?
To answer that best, I have to consider my ultimate goal as a parent: to prepare my son to be completely independent. At first, this was going to bed, brushing teeth, potty-training, and eating healthily. Later, it will be driving, practicing points of etiquette, helping him register to vote for the first time if he chooses, changing a flat tire, or balancing his first checkbook. Some of these things are easy: my son broke himself of the bottle when he was 10 months old, and later he may never need my help learning to budget his earnings. But many of these steps toward total independence are migraine-inducing dilemmas, as any parent will agree.
But what of values? Is it fair to impose values on your child? If so, which ones? I have rolled this inside my head again and again, and I don't have an objective answer. All I can go by is my instinct, and that is often highly subjective. This is my philosophy....it is a flexible, evolving philosophy of values I deem most important to impart, rather than impose, on my child. These values are as follows:
Curiosity is questioning. It encompasses wonder and skepticism. It embraces discovery and innovation. This is the heart of life....the pool of understanding, self-actualization, and experience springs from the fountain of curiosity.
Empathy is the golden rule. All religions have described some derivitive of the golden rule, and this tells me that the golden rule, instead of being from a deity, is a universal reflection of humanity at its finest. This is subjective, of course, but I cannot help except feel that this value is one of the most important for my son to learn.
Responsibility is purpose. Once a person feels responsibility, he has developed a purpose for himself. What is my responsibility, thus my purpose? Conversely, what is not my responsibility, thus not my purpose. "I feel responsible for my environment; this is a purpose that I accept for myself. Recycling improves my environment. Therefore, recycling is my responsibility." Also, "I cannot allow myself to be responsible for this person's mistakes. It is not my purpose to fix this person's life for them, though I did try. I will not be a doormat for this person any longer. Therefore, this person is [no longer] my responsibility."
Tact is manners, etiquette, diplomacy, protocol and finesse. The benefits of tact are evident...those that interact with others bearing tact in mind tend to have an easier time in their personal lives and in business/academics. I feel that this is different from empathy; case in point, when having an argument with a loved one, one can express empathy without tact. "I feel sorry for you because you are cold" sounds empathetic, but it won't get you far. However, "I cannot help but feel compassion for you because I feel that you can't bring yourself to care about this" says the same thing, with a bit more of an approachable, less accusing mannerism. This is a mild point. However, as meaningless as "sir" and "ma'am" can seem oftentimes, any businessman will tell you that you'll get further if you use this etiquette. Empathy is understanding; tact is behavior.
I have considered other values that I find equally important, but as I consider them I see that they fall into the same categories as these four values. Integrity is, for instance, a special blend of empathy, responsibility, and tact. Stability is a responsibility. Being true to yourself is responsibility to yourself, after employing curiosity as to who you feel you are and what you stand for. Love is empathy and responsibility. So on and so forth.
A simple philosophy, yes. But, in each lesson I teach my son, I consider what I am teaching my son and why I think it's so important. And I am beginning to use these words (curiosity, empathy, responsibility, and tact) around my son. One day, I hope he will engage and interact with me about these values, and others, even if he disagrees with me.
This is not a doctrine, or a dogmatic view I hold. Just a starting point...which I feel is better than truly just "winging it".