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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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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-Holes. She 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.
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.
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Friday, April 11th, 2014
Have you ever asked yourself, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’ Oh, good. Then we all have something in common. This new book, by a brilliant author, helps you answer this question. Finally. For real.
The book is called Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success. The author, G. Richard Shell, turns your world upside down to help you answer your questions and find meaning and purpose in whatever it is you are doing–or want to do. The paperback will be released this month.
First and foremost: You’re not too old to make your dreams come true right now. Shell spent his 20s unemployed and didn’t start his career until age 37. Today, he is a professor at Wharton, consultant to the Navy SEALS and creator of the Success Course.
You’ve got to read his great book and the Q&A with him below. He will tell you how to see success differently: He says, “The people who are able to unplug from professional life, spend time with the people they love, and gather new, inspiring ideas about what to do next with their lives, may be every bit as “successful” as those who stay on the “track” of an advancing career without asking themselves what they are really accomplishing.
He also gives tips on how to get started on a new path if that’s the direction you want to go. His advice applies to SAHMs just as much as high-profile lawyers. Read my Q&A with him below:
KK: Why do women tend to question themselves and what they’ll do with their lives right after they have kids?
RS: Of course, let’s first note that not all women feel this way. Many are absorbed with raising their children and have no regrets whatever that they have made the choice to focus on the family aspect of social life. But most of us take our perceptions of what it means to be “successful” from our surrounding culture and, for better or worse, our society does not publicly celebrate being a “mom” as much as it does being a celebrity, high-status professional or high-tech entrepreneur. When a woman who has been socialized to aspire to status-based success finds herself spending all her time changing diapers and going to the playground with her kids, she may naturally question if she is on the right path. She loves her children and is ready to sacrifice for them – but it feels like a “sacrifice” exactly because she is thinking about all the other women who appear to be racing ahead on the “fast track” to professional success while she is not. It is much harder for her to imagine the feelings of regret and frustration that high-status professional women sometimes feel about either not having a family at all – or allowing hired help to do the heavy lifting of caring for their kids day-to-day. You need to remember that, from the outside, most people look like they have life all figured out when, from the inside, they actually have significant doubts, bad days and feelings of inadequacy.
KK: How do we get back on track or on a new track of being successful after a break from office life?
RS: Just the way this question is asked contains an assumption I would like to challenge. The people who are able to unplug from professional life, spend time with the people they love, and gather new, inspiring ideas about what to do next with their lives, may be every bit as “successful” as those who stay on the “track” of an advancing career without asking themselves what they are really accomplishing. When people really sit down to think about what a successful life actually consists of, they often conclude that it feature three things: good health, meaningful work and love. If a break from the office routine can help you make progress toward one of more of those three targets, it is time well spent!
Assuming you are going back to work you find interesting and challenging, however, you may need to give yourself some time to make the transition back to the pace of an office job. That is really about energy – so you should be sure to get exercise, sleep and “down time” whenever possible so your battery does not run too low too fast in the first few months of a transition to the office routine. Also, it is very important to seek out some assignments that spark your imagination so you get your motivation locked in. Finally, you’ll need to make time engage with the people around you – not just the tasks. The better your social support system, the more likely you will be able to bounce back quickly when you have the inevitable setbacks and frustrations that come with office politics, people who do not deliver what they promised, and the biases that always seem to creep out to bite you just when you get your confidence back.
KK: How can moms figure out what they want to do?
RS: Moms are no different from anyone else when it comes to figuring out what they should do next. Think of people coming back to the civilian workforce from being in the military or someone who has just had a serious illness or accident that makes it necessary for them to change direction in life. They may face major transitions that feel as daunting as climbing Mt. Everest. But everyone who is urgently asking “What’s next for me?” needs to follow a very similar path in terms of their planning process. In many ways, these are just the people I wrote Springboard for – and the books lays out step-by-step guidance for thinking this question through.
You need to start by surveying your genuine capabilities – what do you do better than most people around you? Can you write, cook, engage with children or young people or organize social events? There are substantial careers in each of these areas of competence (indeed in every single area of competence you can imagine) – from helping people write their resumes to starting your own wedding or event planning service. Target work that uses your talents – at a realistic level for someone just starting out.
Next, you need to think back and re-connect with your sources of self confidence. Go talk to people who believe in you. Think back to times when you have overcome obstacles and lived to fight another day. With your confidence renewed, set up interviews with people who are successful doing whatever you think might be fun or exciting to do yourself. People are often very, very generous in helping others think about how to get started in their professional area. Maybe you’ll need to go to school or get specialized training. Maybe you’ll need to apprentice to a skilled person for a time. The most important thing is to start doing things related to the area you are targeting. Once you are in motion, good things happen. You meet people who know other people. You gain experience. You can get a “lucky” break.
Basically, after that, it is a question of trial-and-error. You need to learn from what happens, adjust, and keep moving… Be humble. Be willing to learn. But be persistent.
KK: It’s fascinating that you started your career at 37. What advice do you have for those of us who think we’re too old to aspire toward a new dream?
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RS: The first half of Springboard is designed to help you get over the idea that you are “too old” or “too young” or “too ordinary” to have an interesting life. Indeed, as the saying goes, tomorrow is always the first day of the rest of your life. If you have a “beginner’s mind” about everything you do, then no job is too menial or too basic to get started in a new direction that excites you. The main thing is to pay attention to your inner sense of excitement and fun. I have been a restaurant waiter, a social worker, an improvisational actor, a house painter and a university professor. I love what I do now, but I am using a lot of what I have learned about at earlier stages of my life. And I would probably feel the same way if I reversed the order of my working life. There is a great book called How Starbucks Saved My Life by a guy who went from being a high-status professional to working at Starbucks serving coffee – and he actually got more out of his Starbucks job in terms of personal fulfillment and satisfaction than he did when he had a corner office in a high-rise office building. If you learn to think about life from the inside-out – applying your own true measures of what “success” really means to you, you’ll be amazed at the opportunities that come along compared with living a life in which you let others (or the media) define success for you.
Friday, April 4th, 2014
Jennifer Anne Moses made her dream come true: She just published her first teen novel, Tales from My Closet, with Scholastic. She’s psyched! It got her back into work mode after spending some time at home with her kids. It also got her back into her favorite passion: fashion!
Check out how this mom feels about her new writing life and making this dream come true:
“When my first child, Sam, was born, I quit my job as a magazine editor in order to stay home with him. Or at least that’s what I told people. After all, what better reason to leave what appeared to be a fast-track and even glamorous job than a newborn? But the truth was that I’d never wanted to be a magazine editor, or any kind of editor, or even have a regular career. Thus Sam became just the excuse I needed to stay home to do what I’d really wanted to do the entire time—write.
It wasn’t easy, of course, and I missed going to the office, and not just because staying home with one, and then three, children is a hell of a lot harder than meeting deadlines or sitting in on sometimes-fractious meetings. I missed workaday camaraderie, too–is there anything more isolating than being the exhausted mother of a colicky infant or tantruming toddler?—but mainly, I missed dressing up to go to work.
I’ve always loved clothes, and fashion, so while the freedom of wearing a daily uniform of jeans and a sweatshirt (in winter) and shorts and a t-shirt (in summer) had its upside, I found myself daydreaming about the day when I might resume the kind of life that would give me an opportunity to strut my stuff again.
It was terribly frustrating, trying to carve a little time out for my work while caring for little ones, but as they grew, the time I had to write grew too. And in between, and pretty much every day, all hell broke loose: dirty dishes, tummy aches, endless diapers, groceries, bills. In other words, the normal messiness of family life. I stayed on top of it as best I could and, in the meantime, comforted myself with the sure knowledge that a crew from House Beautiful wouldn’t be dropping over any time soon for a surprise shoot.
So when my young adult novel, Tales From My Closet, was born, I felt that I’d come full circle. It had been years since my very first job, at a fashion magazine in New York, where the first requirement for being hired was that you looked, well, fashionable, but now I’d created a cast of characters whose individuality revolves around their own, unique sense of style. These five teenagers took up residence in my brain and began to tell me all about themselves, their hopes and dreams, their fears and failures, and most of all, about what they loved to wear! Sometimes I think that it’s a good thing they’ll never meet me, because surely the first thing they’d do was haul me off to the mall for a complete wardrobe makeover. In the meantime, I’m gratified that real-live teenage girls are eating the book up–and that my own daughter, Rose, says that there’s hope for me in the fashion department after all.”
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Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
For Autism Awareness Month this April, I want to take a second and recommend a beautiful memoir called Know the Night by Maria Mutch. Her son has Down and also autism. She has a lot of heartful advice for all of us:
KK: How common is a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism? MM: The presence of autism in people with Down syndrome has really just started to be recognized in the last dozen years or so. The thinking used to be that a person with Down syndrome somehow could not also be autistic. Now there’s a better understanding of autism and its incidence alongside other major diagnoses. My son Gabriel’s autism diagnosis didn’t happen until the age of six because it was difficult to tease apart his characteristics. When his diagnosis was finally made, I went through all the typical emotions, including being angry; in the end, however, the diagnosis proved to be a relief because there was less mystery surrounding what was happening to him.
KK: Why did you write this memoir about your son and his special needs with a backdrop and parallel story of a historical narrative?
MM: I wrote about the polar explorer and aviator, Richard Byrd, and the time he spent alone in a hut in Antarctica in 1934, in part because I came across his book, Alone, and loved it. During the two year period when Gabriel developed his sleeping disorder, I was pretty much at loose ends and found that in reading Byrd’s book there was something like solace. The story had some parallels with our own, if only figuratively, and there was the presence of night in Byrd’s book as well, as he was in Antarctica during the part of the polar year when the sun doesn’t rise. The other very important reason for writing about Byrd was because I noticed, in the unique stories of isolation of both Gabriel and Byrd, a universal narrative about fearing being alone and longing to connect. I could enlarge the story of Gabriel and me by talking about Byrd, and then go beyond that. We all know what it is to feel isolated, regardless of our life circumstances.
KK: How do you think music—especially jazz—has been therapeutic for you, your son, and for your whole family?
MM: Discovering that Gabriel enjoyed jazz was a marvelous thing. It gave us the opportunity to connect with him and see another side of him, and it gave us a language, in a way, when he had lost all of his spoken words and signs. Gabriel does not have the auditory sensitivity that is common to children on the spectrum, and so we were able to maximize his tolerance. Listening to live jazz, in particular, gives us another way of getting Gabriel out in his community in a way that seems really meaningful. Jazz musicians tend to be very accepting of him in the audience and he has often rewarded them with some nice rocking or clapping (although, as he is now a more grown-up teenager, his response is more tempered than it used to be). This experience also taught me to love jazz—I had certainly been a listener prior to Gabriel’s introduction to it, but listening with him taught me to listen more closely and to tolerate some of the more dissonant forms. His willingness to sit with some pretty complex music showed us that his response to the world is also deeper and more complex than some people would guess.
KK: It’s April and Autism Awareness Month, do you have any advice for other families dealing with a dual diagnosis that includes autism?
MM: The first thing that comes to mind is that they are not alone. Getting a second major diagnosis can feel overwhelming because just when you think you’ve read your last book about the original diagnosis, you discover there is this whole other world you have to attend to; and meanwhile you still have to care for your child, possibly other family members, and also care for yourself. So my advice is to start very, very small, and also to recognize the need for fun—something that I think people with ASD can be robbed of in the name of therapies and developmental charts.
KK: Anything else you’d like to say about your book?
MM: I was on a search for answers but quickly discovered that answers are not the point, only better questions. The search for meaning is central to life, and maybe one of the benefits of having someone like Gabriel in our family is that he gives us plenty of opportunity to philosophize and to ask questions. He deepens our experience; hopefully, in some fashion, we are able to do the same for him.
KK: Mother’s Day is coming. Tell us what’s special about your son please in your own words!
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MM: Part of the answer to this is contained in my previous response; another part of it is that he is a wildly powerful person. I have seen him, almost routinely, change people, including those who were reluctant to interact with him or work with him; he turns people into friends and advocates. The children who befriended him in elementary school where he was fully included in the typical classroom are still benefiting from having known him and he from knowing them. Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, it feels like a sacred day to me. Gabriel changed me most of all by making me a mother.