Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Parenting Without Belief

Posted by Clamence/The Chaplain on August 17, 2009

I have learned a lot in life through negative example. This is especially true when it comes to parenting. I was raised in a household where corporal punishment was seen as scriptural and the only correct way to teach a child how to behave. At the time, the hitting — or “spanking,” for those who are used to the euphemistic label to make physical violence against a child sound a bit nicer — was something that caused severe anxiety, shame, pain, and fear. These are not positive emotions to reinforce in a child.

I went through slow changes in my views of physical violence as a means of teaching a child how to navigate the worlds of nature and culture. I first moved to the place that is occupied by many of my Christian friends, who say things like, “Well, spanking is okay as long as it is never done in anger and is only used in rare cases: teaching a child to avoid a hot stove, for instance.” Eventually, thanks in large part to my research-focused wife, I was able to see that, although physical violence may achieve the immediate desired effect, it causes numerous harmful side effects and teaches a negative message about violence.

Constantly doing the opposite of what Christians do can only take you so far. I know through stacks of research studies and my own parenting experiences that hitting is unnecessary to teach children how to interact with the world and others, but until now there have been no popular, mainstream parenting books aimed specifically to the non-believing demographic.

Until now…
I just got my hands on a book titled, Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief. It is usually a chore to get my hands on books like this. The local book store had to special order it, but the Christian section of the store is chock full of crass consumer goods that have to do with Jesus. (My favorites are the shiny chrome replicas of crucifixion nails. I can just imagine the conversation in a Christian home, “Dad, what’s that?” “Well, son, this is the type of nail the Romans hammered through Jesus. Only those nails would have probably been covered with sharp, jagged slivers of rust. Would you like to glorify the Lord by practicing in the garage?”) But enough about my pet peeve concerning the plethora of ignorance-reinforcing products and the dearth of reason-reinforcing materials for kids.

I’m only into chapter one, and I am impressed by the volume of resources they shoved into this book. Should be a good read, and I hope it provides me with many great ideas. If you are interested, the book can be purchased here: Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief.


18 Responses to “Parenting Without Belief”

  1. Brandt said

    Interesting topic. I was brought up on the “spanking” method, and I’ve always sort of assumed that it works as a disciplinary model, mainly because it seemed to work very well on me. If spanking caused any harmful side effects in me, I’m not aware of them. That’s not to say they aren’t there, but only that I haven’t noticed anything at all. But of course I was the kind of kid who learned real quick and was usually very good. I didn’ get too many spankings, to be honest.

    I guess I haven’t thought much about the whole issue because I’m single and don’t really think much about having children. I have no idea what I’d do as a parent. You mentioned that you went through slow changes in your mind, and I think that’s how it’ll probably be for me as well.

    Ha ha, great tangent about Christian bookstores! I’ve always had to laugh at all the shit they sell. Holy water was one of my favorites. I’ve never seen those crucifixion nails before; that sounds pretty horrible if you ask me.

    • The Chaplain said

      Here is the American Psychological Association’s statement on Corporal Punishment.

      • The Chaplain said

        The Nails are actually for sale right here: The Original Christmas Nail Ornament. REad the description of the nail. You just can’t make this stuff up like a novelist; The craziest shit in the world is said by real people and appears to be home grown.

      • Brandt said

        Hey, thanks for the link to that APA resolution. This topic is kind of a new world for me; I just haven’t really looked into these things much. Very interesting. I suppose in my own case, either my parents were very good at using corporal punishment effectively, or I was just “wired” to be a quick learner. I don’t know, maybe both.

        I can’t believe those Christmas nails are for real. Holy…fucking…shit!

  2. The Chaplain said

    P.S. One of the pros to the product is that it is “durable.” But I’ll bet it’s not as durable as the arm of Christ, am I right?!

  3. Jerry said

    Interesting post. I also learned by negative example. I don’t have children either, but hope that I could teach my kids that violence should be a last resort. It really didn’t bother me that much to get spanked when I was young, but I do remember seeing my sister spanked and how upsetting it was to watch. I would hope that parents could raise their children more humanely now without resorting to hitting and violence. I don’t know why the ultra-conservatives are so obsessed with spanking. I think it has something to do with these insecure dominant males who are terrified of losing control.

    The Christmas Nail ornament is fascinating. I guess good marketing trumps good theology. I must be confused because I thought Christmas had to do with the birth of Jesus and that Good Friday/Easter had to do with the crucifixion and resurrection. Why not the Good Friday Nail? Maybe because all the real $$$ are spent on Christmas? Someone once sent me some holy dirt in a jar. I couldn’t figure out what the heck to do with it, so I dumped it in the garden, no joke!

  4. Paulo said

    In the Latin American and African cultures I grew up in, it is normal to spank your child. Naturally, I received my share growing up, and I do not think it has had any residual bad side effects, but again like Brandt said, none that I am aware of.

    As someone who does not have children, I wonder, what methods do you (this question is open to anyone) use to discipline your children if you don’t spank them? And what do you do with the little brat if he just won’t listen?

  5. Paulo said

    PS: I think I could raise my voice to a child but I don’t think I could hit a child.

  6. Raising Freethinkers: A good book. Parenting Beyond Belief, another good parenting book by the same author.

    The research to date on spanking is pretty conclusive. It is primarily associated with negative outcomes (primarily). A meta-analysis of 88 corporal punishment studies compiled by Elizabeth Gershoff at Columbia University found that, among many other negative outcomes, spanking damages parent-child relationships and increases the likelihood of antisocial and aggressive behaviors by that person, including abuse of his/her own children.

    That’s not to say I have a high tolerance for whiny, out-of-control children. But I do think reasoning and communicating are better ways to handle “bratty” children than resorting to aggression. Positive reinforcement, affirming and encouraging positive behaviors, goes a long way. If that doesn’t work, there’s temporary witholding of privileges (but not rights) like having dessert or staying up late. The important part of this is the follow-through. If you tell a child, “No dessert for you if you continue whining”, mean it.

    My goal as a parent is to raise kids who are autonomous and self-disciplined. For me, parenting with reason means skipping the spankings.

  7. The Chaplain said

    The “I got spanked and turned out fine” argument is the most common one I hear when discussing the spanking issue. I sometimes have students choose to write papers on corporal punishment. Typically, it is the pro-spankers who write these papers as way of justifying their current status as devout Christians. I always feel bad when they chose this topic, because I know they are in for a world of pain as far as research goes. In order to construct their arguments, they have to go against stacks of research. You can create an argument that does that, but doing it without fallacies is tough. A lot of my views about social issues are shaped by my job. I used to have very different views about certain issues until I witnessed my students researching the topics, and I was able to see what the evidence and research showed.

    When it comes to corporal punishment, I look to the wisdom encapsulated in the pithy phrase of the (highly annoying) Dr. Phil: “You are raising adults, not children.” I couldn’t agree more. Children have long memories, and they see themselves through adult eyes later in life, even though they were children those times their loved ones struck them. In other words, when I look back with a crystal clear memory at some of the more memorable, anxiety-provoking and painful instances of being struck on the bare buttocks, I remember all of that shame and pain through the mind of an adult. Children should not be treated in ways that adults are not treated. I look at my own little children, who love me and trust me. They are helpless without me; I am the adult they ape (pun intended). Striking them only teaches that humans use violence when someone doesn’t do what they want. Since my son can’t go hitting his boss when he doesn’t like what he is doing, it makes more sense to model for him the proper behavior to deal with people in life. It is interesting that the times I have raised my voice to my kids, which I have not wanted to do (anger got in the way), it has required emotional-repair work. My kids have been very hurt by a raised voice and will cry as a result. Kids want to please their parents for the most part: when your wishes do clash, then it is time to teach valuable negotiation skills. Kids are usually brats for a reason; their are so many variables in place for human behavior. For instance, kids can be brats when they are tired. There is an adult equivalent for this, as I can be a grumpy gus when I am tired. However, I wouldn’t be hit as a result. Parents do very stupid things; they will take their exhausted kids some place where good behavior is necessary and then expect them to act properly. Then, they start whacking their kids when they don’t act right. Duh! The kids are tired! People always make a point of telling me how well-behaved my kids are, and I chalk it up to two things: teaching them how to navigate the world of their emotions successfully and taking them places only when they are well-fed and well-rested. Hitting a kid for acting according to human instincts is just plain stupid, IMO.

    The Bible is one of the worse books on earth to go to for advice about raising human children. I definitely wouldn’t look to the violence in the OT to make decisions for raising my kids. The lesson of Abraham and Issac makes my hair stand on end. You think you hear a voice telling you to cut your son’s throat on an altar? That’s how cults get started, not religions that touch the very face of a real God. I’d prefer to look to research and human discoveries about human behavior instead. Call me an arrogant atheist if you must, but I think I’m being pretty damned reasonable.

  8. Paulo said

    “The Bible is one of the worse books on earth to go to for advice about raising human children…”

    “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Proverbs 13:24

    “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” Proverbs 19:18

    “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.” Proverbs 23:13,14

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