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How Raising Freethinkers Is Helping Me Raise Humanist Kids

At the end of our annual summer trip to visit family in northwest Indiana, my mother drove me and my sons to the Chicago O’Hare airport, and, as she had every trip before this one, acted as our tour guide during the entire ride. She detailed the histories and functions of the steel mills as we passed Lake Michigan’s southern shore. Then, as we made our way north through downtown, she shared what she knew about Chicago’s many skyscrapers and neighborhoods. She spoke almost without pause for an hour, and I grew agitated in the passenger seat. I wanted silence – an opportunity for the kids to look out at the Windy City and experience the kind of awe I’d experienced the first time I walked through New York City, struck with wonder as I gazed up at its buildings and made my way through the throngs of tourists and inhabitants.


“Please, stop tour guiding,” I begged as we cruised up Lakeshore Drive. “Let them just look and wonder. Let a question arise in their minds.”

After a few refreshing minutes of silence, my oldest son said, “I wonder why the first skyscraper was built,” and I breathed a sigh of relief.

It’s precisely this kind of wondrous moment upon which the book “Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief” (co-authored by Dale McGowan, Molleen Matsumura, Amanda Metskas, and Jan Devor) teaches secular parents to capitalize. Focusing on “the moment of the question” as the foundation for all free-thought parenting, the approach holds fast to the idea that, in contrast to most Western religious belief systems, there are no un-askable questions and no unthinkable thoughts. “I want the idea that questions can be feared because of the answers they might produce to baffle my kids,” writes co-author Dale McGowen.

When my kids asked me how deep the lake that borders our city is, I followed “Raising Freethinkers’” instructions to reflect the wonder back to the child as a starting point for instilling critical thinking skills, so I didn’t immediately provide them with a measurement. I let them consider the answer for a while as they peered over the edge of a kayak into the water’s depths.

“How deep do you think it might be?” I began, and they replied that they couldn’t see the bottom so it must be really deep.

“What makes you think that?” I asked, and they said that in the shallow water they could see the bottom of the lake.

“If there are only little fish in the shallow water, what do you think might live in the deep water?” I asked, and, thus, the conversation continued with opportunities to add information about freshwater ecosystems and threats to its environmental health.

When it comes to informing my kids about religion, I’m more inclined to swiftly provide the “right” answers than I am to invite wonder and curiosity. Though my goal is to give them accurate details about the major religions practiced in the world coupled with a healthy dose of skepticism without imposing my own cynicism, it hasn’t always been an easy balance to strike. Especially when my mother, in my absence, explains rainbows as “God’s promise to never flood the earth again” and thunder as “angels bowling in heaven.”

My kids chuckled at these magical explanations, describing to me, unprompted, the science of rainbows and thunderstorms which made their grandmother’s explanation seem silly to them, but my internal alarms were raised. As an atheist humanist who gave Christianity a thorough and sincere chance at securing me among its ranks, I’ve long since positioned myself firmly in the nonbeliever camp. I aim to raise my children to critically consider the world around them by inviting them to ask the kinds of questions that religion had expressly banned in my own childhood.

Instead of allowing the rising internal panic to grip me or giving in to the urge to trivialize or mock my mother’s explanation, I applied “Raising Freethinkers’” wonder-and-curiosity method to my kids’ comments about the rainbow and thunder. We talked not only about how these atmospheric features occur scientifically, but also about the reasons people believe stories that science deems untrue.

A few weeks later my oldest son came to me and said, “Mom, I think I figured out why people believe in heaven.”

“Why do you think?” I asked.

“Because it feels good for people who are alive to think that death isn’t the end. That way, it’s less sad to lose people you love,” he said.

Here he’d moved beyond a polarizing clash of beliefs to get at the real issue, the existential, human heart of it. This was exactly the kind of thoughtful critical thinking I had hoped our conversation would invite.

With endless information available at our fingertips, I’ve worried about the welfare of childhood wonder and, by extension, curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. My kids, now seven and eight years old, know that I can instantly look up the answer to many of their questions by typing them into my Google search bar. Sometimes I oblige them and provide prompt answers, but lately I’ve been more reticent.

Harnessing the real potential of their wonder requires their own internal contemplation and quiet moments spent simply witnessing the world and thinking about how it works. I’m trying to make more room for that process. My role as a parent, I’ve determined in part by reading “Raising Freethinkers,” is not to just recite correct answers or impose preferred beliefs, but rather to invite questions and provide the opportunity to think autonomously.

Not every moment of wonder is as easy to navigate as explaining a rainbow, but the approach for fostering wonder into curiosity and, later, layering that curiosity with “art, science, and the joy of questioning itself,” as the authors put it, is consistent in the free-thought approach. “Raising Freethinkers” insists on a commitment to the word “free,” which means that no question is off limits for fear of its answer, even – or especially – ones with potentially difficult or uncomfortable answers, like questions about bodies, sexuality, and religion.

To help parents formulate responses and follow-up questions to moments of wonder, dialogue scenarios, family activities, and age- and topic-specific Q & A scenarios are provided throughout the book. Topics covered include helping kids understand the risks of sexual activity and develop mutual respect in intimate relationships without letting notions of sin and shame attach feelings of guilt to pleasure; managing the social consequences of being a secular family in religion-dominant settings; creating and contemplating a meaningful and ethical life outside of religion; attaining religious literacy without indoctrination; and creating traditions by celebrating life’s milestones and nature’s rhythms.

“Raising Freethinkers” has helped prepare me for the many scenarios my kids will face as they begin to define their own beliefs, including respectfully navigating social and institutional spaces where their beliefs may clash with the beliefs of the majority, creating meaningful community as a secular family, and handling questions about life and death. In this philosophical approach to parenting and living, there’s “no rock that can’t be upended if you think there might be something under it. And, of course, there always, always might.”

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If there's anything better than dressing your kids up in adorable holiday outfits, it's gotta be matching them.

We rounded up seven of our favorite looks for this season. 🎁

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Ask a group of 10 mamas to define or describe mom guilt and you will likely get 10 different responses. We all associate feelings of guilt with different parenting situations that are as unique as we are. It ranges from feeling guilty about snapping at your children when you're run down, feeding them sugary snacks or leaving for an overnight work trip.

We feel guilt for big and small things, for things we did and didn't do and everything in between.

As a coach helping new moms adjust to motherhood, it's a big topic and one that repeatedly comes up. While it's not always labeled as mom guilt, those feelings of overwhelm, balancing what we're focusing our time on, or feeling bad that we haven't had a date night or a girls' night out in months, it usually circles back to guilt.

Guilt, when not addressed, can be quite a consuming feeling. It can become a bad habit, one that grows over time until soon you second-guess everything that you do for fear of feeling guilty afterward.

While I could certainly share my own experiences with guilt, I know they may not encompass the wide spectrum of mom guilt. So I asked some of my friends, colleagues and fellow moms to help me share stories of mom guilt, and I was surprised at some of the answers.

Here's what they had to say:

When do you experience mom guilt?

1. When I'm trying to blend work and life

"I have a job that has a lot of flexibility so I am around a lot more than other full-time jobs but a lot of the time I never feel like I am fully present. I am always taking phone calls and worrying about clients. It's hard to push that out of mind and focus fully on the kids."

2. When I lose my temper

"I lose my temper with my daughter all the time, and it's usually because I'm tired. When I don't parent with grace and instead react out of anger or frustration, I feel terrible, especially because it probably could have been prevented if I had gone to bed earlier the night before."

3. When I have to travel for work

"Two weeks ago I was out of town for a work conference and found out our 1-year-old had fallen down the stairs the night before and was taken to the hospital via ambulance. He was completely fine (just had an ear infection), but I felt guilty that I wasn't there.

"I kept thinking if I had been there I would have been an extra pair of hands and my husband wouldn't have been so stressed trying to get everyone ready for bed. I felt guilty that my husband had to go through that terrifying experience alone. I felt guilty that I couldn't be there for several more days to hold my baby and have physical proof he was okay."

4. When I had a hard time with breastfeeding

"I was unable to exclusively breastfeed my babies past four months. My milk supply couldn't keep up, and truthfully, I wasn't willing to be attached to my pump and eat all kinds of supplements to try to increase my milk. So we just started using formula. With my first born, I cried over this many times. I was disappointed and felt guilty that I wasn't giving her breast milk. But eventually I came to appreciate the conveniences of formula, and my guilt subsided.

"I was surprised when my son was born and we made the switch to formula again that [the guilt] crept back up. I remember bottle-feeding my newborn and feeling like I had to tell everyone in the room that the bottle was breast milk. Why is that?! Why do we need to slip it into the conversation that we're giving our kid breast milk or justify why we're not? When I stopped producing enough, that was disappointing but to be honest, I didn't love breastfeeding and felt a little relieved that it was over, and that made me feel guilty too. Why didn't I love something I was literally designed to do? Did I give up too easily? And would I have loved it if I had had a normal supply? I wrestled with these questions a lot."

5. When I feel like I'm working too much

"Luckily, I do not have to do morning drop off (that's my husband's realm). Avoiding the daycare drop off has been huge in terms of avoiding mom guilt on a regular basis. I typically do not feel guilty while I'm at work because I get a fair amount of fulfillment from my work, which I think makes me a better mom at the end of the day.

"However, I feel very guilty when my work bleeds into what should be time with my family (evenings and weekends). This happened a lot last school year (new school districts and new preps = 55-60 hour work weeks). I felt very guilty having to tell my son I couldn't play or couldn't go to the zoo with him and his dad on a Sunday because I had to work."

How do you move past the guilt?

It happens to the best of us, and it happens pretty frequently. Feeling guilty over certain circumstances, behavior and decisions is a part of parenting. So how do you move past those feelings of mom guilt? What can you think or do instead?

These were some of my favorite tips:

1. Be grateful

"Instead of feeling bad about yourself for something you can't control, try to be grateful. For example, write out gratitude l that you can afford formula and that formula even exists."

2. Talk about it, normalize it

"Talk about your experience when it comes up in conversation to normalize it—for yourself and for any other moms who might be listening. If someone says something offensive or insensitive, give them the benefit of the doubt."

3. Keep busy

"Keeping busy at work or during work travel is the best way to distract yourself and keep your mind off of feeling guilty."

4. Forgive yourself

"Accidents will happen whether you are there all the time or not, no matter how careful you are. The same thing could have happened even if you hadn't been away and both parents had been looking out for the kids' safety. It's okay to let yourself off the hook.

"If you lose your patience with your little one and resort to harsh words or actions, make a point to apologize and ask for forgiveness as soon as possible. Talk about why you both got upset, and after you hug it out, your guilt will probably have melted away."

5. Set boundaries

"Try setting stronger work boundaries so you can be more present at home. Especially if you don't work a traditional 9-5 job, that flexibility can lead to never being fully present. Find the boundaries that work for you so you can focus on family or work and not both all of the time."

6. Ask yourself some questions

If you feel overcome with mom guilt, try asking yourself:

  • Is your child thriving and happy? (yes)
  • Do theyknow they have a mom who loves them? (yes)
  • Are they learning new lessons/skills at daycare that you maybe wouldn't have even thought to teach them? (yes)

Then, what a lucky kid!

Remember you are not alone

If I can teach you one thing about guilt, it's that whether you feel guilty or not, is completely up to you. You may say, "she made me feel so guilty when she said…" or "hearing her talk about the privilege she has in staying home with her kids made me feel so guilty."

But it's not true. She didn't make you feel guilty. You thought that what she does or how she mothers was better, and that thought created the guilty feeling. Or you felt like you are doing a disservice to your family.

Knowing that, being aware of that, is so powerful.

I hope that by reading these honest stories from other moms who are doing the best that they can, you realize that we all feel it. We all experience mom guilt.

Share your stories, talk about it, normalize it, or challenge yourself with some of those amazing questions about whether your kid is happy, healthy and knows he is loved.

I bet you can talk yourself down off that ledge or pick yourself up out of those feelings of guilt. We all get through them and we get better and stronger every time that we do. Don't avoid the situations that "make you feel guilty". Walk head-on into them knowing you're not alone and knowing you have the tools to get past it.

Many thanks to these amazing women who were willing to share their stories:

  • Brooke Lehenbauer - Stay-at-home mom & part-time family photographer, Mom to a girl and a boy (3 yo and 7 months)
  • Jackie - Sales/Account Management, Mom to 3 kiddos (5, 3 and 1)
  • Lauren Karas - High school teacher, Mom to 3 yo boy and one on the way!
  • MC - Realtor, Mom to 2 boys (4 1/2 and 2 yo)

Originally posted on The Mother Nurture.

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As parents we do the best we can to keep our kids safe while also letting them experience the world, and sometimes this involves assessing risks and deciding what is appropriate for our individual families.

Every parent makes different choices based on their family's values and needs, and there's no reason for mom shaming—or in this case dad shaming—as Pink recently reminded the world via Instagram.

Pink's defense began when her husband, motocross pro Carey Hart, posted a pic of himself on a motorbike with son Jameson, who is nearly two. Internet commenters criticized Hart's decision and his parenting, suggesting that he was putting Jameson in danger by having him on the bike.

In the photo, Hart and Jameson are sitting on the bike while it is still, but some Instagram users were still very critical of Hart's decision to have Jameson up on the bike with him. Some suggested he was endangering his son, and others stated he was wearing the wrong kind of helmet.

After the controversy, Pink posted a photo of Jameson eating chocolate on her own Instagram, joking, "Chocolate is good for babies, right? Help me Instagram, we can't possibly parent without you."

The joke set some commenters off, reigniting the online debate about Hart's parenting skills. "With your husband being in the spotlight so often with his complete lack of regard for proper care or concern at times with your kids, this comment isn't funny, albeit Jameson is adorable, one Instagram user wrote. "Your husband, I'm sorry, lacks the responsibility your kids need in his care."

Pink replied to the commenter, asking (fairly) how this person could feel like they could judge Hart as a father when they'd only seen him parenting through social media posts. "How often have you spent time with my husband?" Pink asked the commenter. "How often have you watched him parent?"

Through that comment, Pink reminded the world that what we see on social media is just one slice of our very complex and busy lives. It's impossible to really know the thought and care each individual puts into the choices they make for their children.

We make choices for our kids every day and they're going to be different from the choices of the parent next door or the next person in our Instagram feed. Our parenting choices are informed by our individual experiences, our beliefs, and everything else that makes us ourselves, everything that makes us unique.

No parent is perfect, but as parents we are perfectly positioned to choose what is appropriate for our individual children.

And we can also make the choice to respect those who parent differently than we do. No shaming necessary.

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The color experts at Pantone recently named the pinky-orange hue Living Coral as the color of the year for 2019, but the Editors of Nameberry have some other shades in mind for 2019. Like Pantone, though, they're predicting nature-inspired colors won't just be big at the paint store, but at the playground as well.

Yes, natural colors and jewels-inspired hues (along with animal names) are predicted to be big trends for baby names in the coming year.

Nameberry's editors have been tracking the 2018 trends to predict which names parents will be picking in 2019, and the palette is more muted than Pantone's for sure. According to Nameberry's editors, parents are shifting away from the intense hues (like Scarlett, Ruby and Poppy) toward more chill tones.

These are Nameberry's picks for color-inspired names for 2019:

  1. Ash
  2. Fawn
  3. Grey/Gray
  4. Ivory
  5. Lavender
  6. Lilac
  7. Mauve
  8. Moss
  9. Olive
  10. Sage

You don't have to look to the crayon box for baby name inspo to be on trend for next year—you could also look in your jewelry box. According to Nameberry, jewel and gem-inspired names are surging for both boys and girls and some can even be gender neutral.

Namberry is betting some precious babies will be getting these precious names next year:

  1. Amethyst
  2. Emerald
  3. Garnet
  4. Jasper
  5. Jet
  6. Onyx
  7. Opal
  8. Peridot
  9. Sapphire
  10. Topaz

It's not just colors and gems from nature that are trending, but animal-inspired names, too. On-trend parents might look to the forest for more name inspiration in 2019.

According to Nameberry, these animal-based names are set to trend in 2019:

  1. Bear
  2. Falcon
  3. Fox
  4. Hawk
  5. Koala
  6. Lion
  7. Lynx
  8. Otter
  9. Tiger
  10. Wolf

Some of the names Nameberry has predicted here (like Jasper, which was within the official top 200 baby names of 2017, according to the Social Security Administration,) are already fairly popular, while others (like Koala and Bear) are so statistically unpopular right now they aren't even charting on the SSA's baby name list.

Time will tell which of these nature-inspired names can take on Liam and Emma in the near future and whether Coral can go from being Pantone's 2019 pick to parents' pick in 2020.

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