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This Passover and Easter, Many Parents are Raising Kids Without Religion

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

As you know, we’re coming to the end–and the pinnacle–of Holy Week. Much of the world celebrates Passover and Easter–but not everyone. Deborah Mitchell, author of Growing Up Godless: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids without Religion, is part of a rising demographic that is not teaching her kids about any tradition. She prefers science over what she cannot see or prove. Is that okay with you? Or maybe that is you. (On the other end of the spectrum, here’s a great article on How to Teach Your Kids About Religion.)

It’s an issue that a lot of parents just don’t want to discuss. But not Deborah. She has a lot to say about raising kids without religion. Her book is informative, thoughtful and answers as many questions as it raises. I just had to talk to her to find out more. Check out her views below.

KK: What does it mean to grow up godless?
DM: It means that you’re not trying to convince your children (or yourself) of myths and concepts that don’t make sense to you. For example, kids want to know how the soul goes to heaven. What exactly is a soul and how is it transported to heaven? It means that you’re not teaching your kids to be fearful of an intangible deity in the sky, a God who can hear every thought and see every action. (God is the original Big Brother!) It means that you are teaching your children, instead, to answer to their own conscience. It means that kids won’t look to a prize at the end of their lives; they’ll find the gifts along the way, in every ordinary day, in every ordinary person. These realizations make us live with a lot more awareness and the feeling that we are in control of our destiny.

KK: What percentage of parents are forgoing religion now?
DM: It’s difficult to measure. Do we include those parents who reject religion but still believe in some sort of god-force? Do we include those parents who identify as Christians but reject church? What about secular Jews and mixed-belief families? There are also people who, due to a negative perception of atheism and pressure from society, disassociate themselves from the atheist movement.

Regardless, it’s clear that parents who want to raise their kids outside of traditional religion and belief is a growing demographic. We need to advance the awareness that not everyone believes in God, and we definitely don’t want religion forced on our kids. On the other hand, it’s also important for our children to know about the world’s various religions and to have respect for other belief systems.

KK: Why are more people passing on religion now?
DM: There are several factors at play. One thing I realized when I started writing about this topic was that parents have been quietly forgoing religion for years. A lot of moms and dads with grown children told me they had raised their kids without god (and they turned out just fine!). Some parents don’t like that religion has become so political, that it judges and preaches intolerance. I think people have responded to the rise of the religious right by speaking up and saying, “You don’t speak for me.” They are starting to come out of the closet now because they’re tired of being bullied. Another factor is that parents are choosing intellectual honesty over unwavering faith. People have questions about God, and they can find answers that make sense. Now, instead of blindly following what the church teaches, people are choosing “boutique spirituality,” skepticism, humanism and atheism. Finally, as parents become aware that religion is not important in raising happy, healthy, moral kids, they feel comfortable “leaving it behind.”
KK: What other ways can we teach our kids morals and good ways to live life?
DM: Morality doesn’t come from religion. It doesn’t come from a distant God who doesn’t communicate with us. It’s a social construct that we learn first and best from our parents. We must teach our children self-awareness, reflection and empathy. They have to understand that their actions and words can harm others, physically and emotionally. When your child hits you, tell her it hurts and show her the mark it leaves on your arm. Use words to explain your feelings. Show her appropriate ways to ask for attention. Children naturally want to please us.

As humans, we have a responsibility not to hurt others and to help when we can. Let your children see you helping; ask them to join you in helping your community through volunteerism. Positive acts and words will inspire others to respond in a similar way. This is how we make the world a better place for everyone.

KK: Why do you care if kids or teachers talk about their church at school?
DM:
Unless students are part of a world religion class, there really isn’t a need to discuss church business at school. It places undue pressure on students of different faiths and views. There is a special place and day for worship and prayer. There is also a special place for learning. We don’t bring chemistry and English classes into church on Sundays, so it just seems fair that we shouldn’t bring religion into the classroom.

KK: How do you explain that the universe came from nothing? If there is no God, how do you explain to children how we got here?
DM: 
I’ve always told my kids, “I don’t know” a lot. And I don’t know and won’t make up answers. I told them what I know about the origins of life, according to the body of knowledge we have right now. One day, they may know much more than I do, or they may have different answers.

Science is not always right, but it admits to its errors and its uncertainties, and makes adjustments. It can be updated, recalculated and rewritten. Religion doesn’t have that same sort of flexibility because, if religion says it’s wrong, it may no longer exists.

KK: Do you teach your kids that religion is bad?
DM: No. I don’t teach my kids that religion is bad. I teach them that belief is a choice. Our family doesn’t find that there is any proof for the existence of God but others feel that there are reasons to believe and that’s okay. We can still find a lot of common ground with those who believe. We’re all on the same page, in reality, and we all can work together to make the world a better place, regardless of what we believe.

 

 

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‘I Heart My Little A-Holes’ Author Karen Alpert Writes a Non-Love Letter to Her Daughter

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Are your kids a-holes? Be serious for a second. Sure, you love them a lot. But sometimes, don’t they act like scumbags? Mine do. Just yesterday, I was coming home from a very long day at work. As I walked in the door, I caught my 8-year-old daughter unplugging my iPhone charger in the kitchen. And replacing it with her iPod charger that does not work.

I know you know. And so does author Karen Alpert who just released her first book, I Heart My Little A-HolesShe also runs the funny and candid website called Baby Sideburns, a popular site dedicated to tell the truth–the whole truth–about raising children.

Karen just wants us all to get real about parenting–and laugh our asses off. Exclusively for Parents readers, she wrote the following letter to her future 18-year-old daughter.

A Letter to My Daughter in the Future: Minus that sappy crap you see on Huff Post
by Karen Alpert 

‘To my daughter when she turns 18 (many many years from now):

Well, hey there, kiddo. Remember me, the mom you used to love but now probably hate with every bone in your teenage body? If you’re anything like the little shit I was at your age, you’re barely speaking to me right now, much less listening to my brilliant words of wisdom.

The way I see it I’ll be hitting menopause at about the same time you’re in the thick of puberty, so basically we’re F’ed, so I figured I better write you this letter now before we’re not speaking to each other. Then again, if I’m wrong and we’re like totally besties, I’ll just tell you this shit over a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and give you this letter so you’ll have it in writing too.

Before you move away from home (at which point I’ll be locked up in the bathroom, drowning my tears in a bottle of vodka), I wanted to make sure to pass along some words of advice to you. Here are a few things to do in your early adulthood before life sucks the life out of you:

1. Get shitfaced once in a while. Some of my best bonding moments were when I had one (translation: four) too many cocktails with my girlfriends. Just don’t do any of the following while you’re shitfaced: Walk home alone, drive drunk or sleep with a guy. Even if he’s like ridiculously hot. No, not because he might turn out to be fugly when you’re sober. Consider this shit: If he’s that attractive, guess what else might be attracted to him? Herpes, genital warts, and crabs. Going home with a hangover the next morning is doable. Going home with the Red Lobster menu crawling all over your hoo-ha not so much.

2. And while we’re on the subject of bonding, try to make a lot of great friends in your 20s. Here are a few things that happen when you’re a young adult: You go out a lot, you drink, and you hang out on people’s couches. As you get older these things happen less and less. Not that you can’t bond with a friend over a stinky diaper change. It just doesn’t quite bring you together the same way dropping your pants to pee in an alley does. Not that I’ve done that.

3. And speaking of dropping your pants, let’s talk about your career choice. Yeah, picking something you love is important, but here’s some shit the career counselors won’t tell you. You know how you say one day you want to get married and have babies and all that junk and give me little grandbabies I can cuddle and love and hand back to you when they take a shit? If you can, pick a job that’s going to be flexible with hours one day and let you work from home. There’s no such thing as a part-time investment banker. Or a part-time cardiac surgeon. They’re fabulous jobs, and yeah, I’d be proud as hell to say my daughter is doing a heart transplant, but I’d also be watching your kiddo all day, and I’m not sure how cool it would be for me to walk into your operating room and say, “Here, take your rug rat. He just made a doodie and I ain’t changing it.”

4. Notice how in that last paragraph I said one day you want to get married? I didn’t say you want to find a husband. Yeah, if you’re a lesbian, just tell us. Don’t beat around the bush. Wait, yes, beat around the bush, but tell us you’re beating around the bush. It’ll actually make us feel better, especially your dad, who has a gun ready for the first guy who asks for your hand in marriage.

5. Which is a great segue to dating. Whether you’re into men or women, you’re going to date a bunch of assholes along the way. They might break up with you in a text message or cheat on you with their ex who they broke up with in a text message. And they’ll probably make you cry and feel like crapola. Just know that they are not a waste of time. They are all there to teach you what you DON’T want in a partner.

6. Because one day your boobs will droop so low they touch your ankles, and your elbows will make you wonder whether you’re one-quarter elephant, and your eyesight will be so bad you’ll fail to notice your one-haired goatee until it gets tangled in your necklace, and that’s when you’ll want a partner who’s not going to throw up in their mouth a little when they see you naked. You want to end up with someone who thinks you’re more gorgeous than the day you first met.

7. And one last thing. Even if you’re not talking to me right now, know that you can always tell me anything. ANYTHING. I’ve probably been there myself, even if I never told you about it. I might want to kick the shit out of you and lock you in a room forever, but I won’t actually do it. I will always be there for you (with a bottle of something hard if you’re twenty-one or a pint of something chocolatey if you’re not). I love you.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXO

Love,
Mommy (Of course I realize by now you’re probably calling me Mom. Or Shithead.)

For more funny stories, you’ve got to flip through this quick and organized little book, I Heart My Little A-Holes. Oddly, it will make you appreciate the sh!theads you have at home.

What career is your child destined for? Click to find out.

Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail

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Kit Chase’s New Book, Her Etsy Shop and Free Printable Paper Dolls!

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Kit Chase! One of the sweetest Etsy artists ever writes about her new children’s book that Publisher’s Weekly loves and also about her awesome Etsy shop. She even created exclusive paper dolls for all of us to print at home at the end of this post. (See a special offer as well.)

“My husband, Adam, and I own and operate the Etsy shop, Trafalgar’s Square, where we sell my hand-painted designs as prints, wall decals, and, soon-to-be-released greeting cards. Adam does all the operating (printing, packaging, shipping and communication), and I get the fun job of coming up with new designs and illustrations. My work on Etsy caught the attention of both my agent and editor—both of whom reached out to me separately through the site—and ultimately led to my first picture book contract.

Oliver’s Tree is my first picture book (it will be in stores March 20 of this year!). When I first started work on the story idea, we had two little girls with a third baby girl getting ready to join the party. We had just moved from a teeny, cramped apartment into a little house with an enormous yard and a tree. What a tree! With gnarled, low-hanging branches and big, shady leaves, that tree became the children’s favorite friend. As I watched my girls trying to climb it “all by themselfs,” it reminded me of my own childhood of thwarted tree-climbing attempts. Standing on tip-toe at the foot of the tree, hugging the trunk, and waiting expectantly for something magical to happen that would send me high up into the branches.  Or just waiting there with arms stretched, looking expectantly up. And waiting. Or, the inevitable, actual tree-climbing attempt, that ended with me sliding down the rough bark on scraping hands and knees. That tree brought it all back to me. So, when it came time to write a children’s story, it of course had to be about three friends, and what better play-thing for them to have than a tree?

With three little girls all under 7 (and as I write this, yet another baby girl on the way—maybe we should start a water polo team?), and writing and illustrating books, all on top of dreaming up new illustrations for the shop, things have a tendency to range on the side of um…shall we say crazy-fun? Most of the time, it feels like we’re running something like Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Tea Party in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s upside down house. The wee hours of the morning are my greatest ally. Laundry is my nemesis. I do a lot of brainstorming for my books and illustrations while watching my children play and interact with one another, and I do most of my sketching in the car when we go on family outings. Not exactly a traditional lifestyle, but it’s definitely stimulating. And jolly.     
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s: Save the spotless-house-look for Pinterest and photo shoots. As a parent, you’re in the middle of the biggest creative process of your life, creating and shaping a real, live person and helping them reach their potential. Real life is pretty messy, and as any artist will tell you, creating a work of art is never a pretty sight. But the end result of creating art or children makes the creative chaos so worth it. Besides, you can always tidy up once your little art project is asleep.”
Parents.com readers get an exclusive discount code for 15 percent off entire purchase from trafalgarssquare.etsy.com   Enter coupon code PARENTS at checkout to receive the discount.  The code expires April 21, 2014.
 
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Five Co-Workers That Drive You Nuts–And How to Win Them Through Surrender

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Sounds weird, right? You have a co-worker who drives you nuts. But instead of trying to win a battle with that person–whether it’s in the open or not–just give up. Surrender. By knowing the toxic types, you can let them do their thing without letting their behavior interrupt your day or upset you.

I became a big fan of Judith Orloff, M.D., after I saw her TED talk on surrender. When I saw her new book comes out in April, I was psyched. The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life is a great read for anyone interested in the topic. And check out this glowing recommendation from Marianne Williamson: “One of the most important changes we can make is to shift from seeing surrender as sign of defeat, to seeing it as a land of victory inside ourselves. In The Ecstasy of Surrender, Dr. Judith Orloff offers beautiful guidance and insight into making the switch.”

Below, Orloff encourages us to get along with our co-workers at work by identifying their personality type and just giving in and letting go of the issues we have with them. Here are five difficult people and communication strategies for each one.

1. The Narcissist
These types have an inflated sense of self-importance and entitlement, crave attention and require endless praise. Some are obnoxious ego-maniacs, others can be charming. Both types know how to belittle you and make you serve them. First, let go of the belief that you can win them over with loyalty and love. Narcissists value control and power over love, and they lack empathy. Next, don’t make your self-worth dependent on them. Seek out supportive coworkers and colleagues instead. Finally, to get your goals met with narcissists, frame your request in ways they can hear–such as showing them how your request will be beneficial to them. Ego stroking and flattery also work.
2. The Passive-Aggressive Coworker
These types express anger while they’re smiling or showing exaggerated concern. They always maintain their cool, even if through clenched teeth. Start by trusting your gut reactions and the feeling that their behavior feels hurtful. Say to yourself, “I deserve to be treated better and with more respect.” If the person is someone you can speak directly with–a team member as opposed to a boss–address the behavior specifically and directly. You could say, for example, “I would greatly appreciate it if you remembered our meeting time. My time’s very valuable, as is yours.” If the person doesn’t or won’t change, you can decide whether to accept their behavior or not.
3. The Gossip
Gossipy busybodies delight in talking about others behind their backs, putting them down and spreading harmful rumors. They also love to draw others into their toxic conversations. Start by letting go of your need to please everyone or control what they say. Then be direct. Say, “Your comments are inconsiderate and hurtful. How would you like people talking about you like that?” You can also refuse to participate by simply changing the subject. Don’t share intimate information with gossip mongers. And finally, don’t take gossip personally. Realize that gossips aren’t happy or secure. Do what you can to rise to a higher place, and ignore them.
4. The Anger Addict
Rage-a-holics deal with conflict by accusing, attacking, humiliating or criticizing. Let go of your reactivity. Take a few short breaths to relax your body. Count to 10. Pause before you speak. If they’re spewing verbal venom at you, imagine that you’re transparent and their words are going right through you. To disarm an anger addict, acknowledge their position, and then politely say you have a slightly different approach you’d like to share. Request a small, doable change that can meet your need. Then clarify how it will benefit the relationship. Finally, empathize. Ask yourself what pain or inadequacy might be making this person act so angry.
5. The Guilt Tripper
These workplace types are world-class blamers, martyrs and drama queens. They know how to make you feel terrible about something by pressing your insecurity buttons. Start by surrendering the notion that you have to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, so if the guilt tripper is scolding you, you can simply apologize or take responsibility, and that will shut them down. If you need to, find a safe place to cry. Tears will cleanse the stress and help you heal. Also, know your guilt buttons. If there’s something you feel bad about, you can work on being compassionate with yourself so you’ll feel stronger when this difficult coworker tries to push that particular button. Finally, set limits with the guilt tripper. Tell them you can see their point of view, but that it hurts your feelings when they say those things, and you’d be grateful if they stopped saying it.
How do you deal with people who drive you nuts? Do you struggle or just walk away and go on about your day?

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Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America
Work-Life Balance in America

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ADHD Does Not Exist–Right?

Friday, February 21st, 2014

The title of this new book screams for attention: ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s so sensational that it turned me off at first. But once I dig into the author, Richard Saul, M.D.‘s arguments, I see he’s completely serious and legit.

As a behavioral neurologist who is certified in pediatrics, Saul has been seeing children and adults who think they have ADHD for 50 years. He believes that they do not have this disease. Instead, they have symptoms that can be treated. It’s a huge mistake to pop pills like Adderoll and Ritalin. People want a magic solution to get their kids–or themselves–to sit down and shut up. But these drugs are stimulants, and Saul says they lead to dangerous addictions.

He urges health care professionals and patients to dig deeper. One adult man complained that he could not turn off his television, computer and games, and he was going crazy. He was sure he had ADHD. Saul discovered he was only sleeping 4 to 5 hours a night and diagnosed him with sleep deprivation. Saul prescribed black out shades, a noise machine and a program that turns off all devices at midnight. The patient’s health dramatically improved.

The real conditions and disorders he diagnoses include vision and hearing problems, substance abuse, mood disorder, giftedness (kids need more challenge sometimes!), seizure disorders OCD, Tourette’s and Aspberger’s. He digs in and treats what is really wrong.

ADHD Does Not Exists is a wake-up call to get patients and professions off the Adderall and Ritalin. Saul acknowledges that attention and hyperactivity do exist. But there are so many better ways to tackle them than what we mostly see used today.

What do you think? Is ADHD a real disease or a catch-all excuse to put people on pills?

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