Sunday, August 18, 2013

Teaching Kids Without Christianity

My husband and I are trying to get foster kids.  And as we get closer and closer to finishing up licensing, I'm starting to freak out.  What do I teach them?  I grew up in an extremely conservative religion.  Having grown up Mormon, the only real way I know how to answer kids' tough questions is with "NO".  Drinking, smoking, premarital sex, drugs, staying out late, not fitting into gender boxes.  All answered NO with a heavy dose of God's wrath throw in for good measure.
   Which makes me think.  Teaching a kid through the eye of Christianity seems to be fairly cut and dry.  "No, you can't do this.  Jesus says so."  There's no room for individual interpretation, or personal consideration.  Joseph Smith said no to tobacco.  Mormon culture says no to caffeine.  Masturbation is from the devil.  None of these answers really help kids, because following this counsel requires no thought.  At best, you teach your children to become automatons; blindly following whatever the Prophet (or Preacher or Deacon) says.  At worst, they turn 180 degrees, and specifically do everything you said not to.
   For example, my sister and I.  We are 13 months apart.  Grew up in the same environment, had the same experiences (possibly minus sexual abuse-her memories of childhood are foggy).  In high school, I didn't drink,smoke, party, stay out late, or anything like that. I was a nerd, to put it bluntly.  She skipped school, got high, drank, and just about everything else we were counseled not to.  If asked why I didn't, I would have answered "because I was told not to."  Not because I thought of the options and decided that my introverted lifestyle was the best for me.  But because I was told not to and I was scared of the reaction if I did.  I was scared to death of eternal damnation.  Did I want to go to the popular parties and have a hot boyfriend?  Heck, yes!  But I didn't. I holed up in my house using food to quiet my raging emotions and hormones.
   Correction.  I wish I had been taught that I can make a decision for myself.  I wish my mum would have said "Well, you have a family history of addiction and substance abuse.  Yes, alcohol can make people feel better, and more at ease.  It's a very social thing, and there will be lots of people using it.  Why don't you make a list of pros and cons and figure out an answer for yourself?  I will support and love you no matter what you choose."  I wonder how much of my life would be different if I had had conversations like that with my mum.
   Though we agree on most things, one thing my husband and I are very divided on the topics of premarital sex and abortion.  I'm for premarital sex, with the caveat that it's between two people that love and respect each other.  He's very "after marriage".  Currently, I think it might be good for the kiddos to know that we disagree on this. It will let them think about how they feel and allow them to figure out what they want to do.     Foster kids are different from natural-born kids, because they come into a family with preconceived ideas that may be different from ours.  They have been raised differently (sometimes disfunctionally), and it would be wrong to expect them to share Christian values or hold them to that.  I want to encourage kids to become thinking adults.  I don't want them to react out of fear of damning or shaming them to making "the right choice".  Because what's right for me may not be right for the kiddos.
   Maybe that's my point. Foster kids are people, too, and deserve the same respect and autonomy as any adult.  I don't want robot children that do my bidding.  I want debate and discussion.  I want mild chaos.  I want to be able to teach, not indoctrinate children.

8 comments:

  1. Great post. I am going through an ethic crisis because I was taught things were wrong just cuz too. Now that I know longer accept that, I don't know what is right and wrong. I still believe in a higher power, but I'm not sure he defines us like we think. Your examples were good.

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  2. Thanks! And exactly. I'm having a hard time figuring out what's wrong, because it's so subjective. I guess I need to figure out what is good for me, and as long as I'm not hurting myself or others, be open to mistakes or disagreements. It's just hard to dissuade myself of the notion that there is ONE RIGHT WAY.

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  3. Kids are the most stressful balancing act I have ever ever experienced. There is such a fine line between robot children and too much autonomy and my 7yr old daughter traces that line constantly. I find that she works best within clearly defined boundaries for instance 'you can go play with that little girl but you have to stay where I can see you.' or 'I understand that you were mad but is it ever appropriate to hit? Was this one of those times?'.

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  4. I'll have to remember that. Anything else? Because the more I think about it, the scarier kids sound and the less sure I am that I want them. :S

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    1. Oh dear lady, there is so much more and it is the scariest thing in the whole world, but I swear it's also the most amazing thing in the entire universe. I like every approach I've read Libby Anne use so I suggest you ask her if there were specific resources that she's found. I've been so lucky that I grew up in a home that I want to do my very best to emulate, but it's hard to give advice when all I'm mostly doing is what my mom and dad did.

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  5. Coming from an abusive background, parenting has definitely been a scary thing, and I feel like I am constantly evaluating myself to make sure that I am not repeating the verbal and emotional aspects of my upbringing with my own children.

    When it comes to rules and boundaries, I have found with my own children that showing respect for them as people, answering their questions honestly (adjusting for maturity levels of course), and basing rules around whether or not it is going to hurt someone else either emotionally or physically has been very successful. If I say no to something and they ask why, I give them my reason, and if I don't have a concrete reason I let them know that my no is my instinctual reaction and that I will figure out why I'm saying no and explain it to them once I can verbalize my rationale. I don't have to say no very often, because their "training" isn't to follow rules, but to think about how their actions affect others. When they do require discipline, time outs and loss of a privilege or favorite toy for a time is what works for us. Consistency and follow-through is crucial with kids, not only in giving a time out when you've warned that one is coming if they continue a certain behavior, but also giving toys or privilege back when you said you were going to.

    Foster children are a whole different thing, of course, since they frequently come from neglectful or abusive backgrounds. I would imagine that firm boundaries that you can explain to them as well as showing real interest in their opinions and feelings would be successful.

    Kids know that we are flawed, and every parent makes mistakes. If you are willing to admit to your mistakes and really listen to what your kids have to say, it creates an environment of trust, and in my opinion, having your kids trust you and being able to trust them back creates an awesome family environment.

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    1. That's what I'm afraid of. Because abuse is pretty much the only parenting technique I know. That's a good idea, telling kids your intuition is saying something, and you'll let them know later. I've never thought of that.

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