You know how you might not hear a song for a long time, and then suddenly hear it three times in one week? Or you learn a new word and then you read or hear it all the time? This is how I came to the topic for this week’s post.
First, it started by watching the State of the Union address last week, and the President’s closing words were these:
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
Notwithstanding my own personal (non) beliefs, from a purely separation of church and state standpoint, this refrain (and others like it) always makes my legs twitch. I do not believe statements like these belong in government.
Then, in my January 30, 2012, edition of Time magazine, I was reading the “10 Questions” interview with former President Jimmy Carter, who was asked and answered the following question:
Should voters care about the faith of candidates? I think moral values would be a better way, but I don’t see how you can separate faith from moral values. I also don’t maintain that you have to be a Christian to exhibit those characteristics in private life or public office. (emphasis mine)
When I read this, I gave Mr. Carter the (enormous) benefit of the doubt, thinking that maybe he had just never met any atheists before. But we’re out here.
And then, finally, yesterday I was reading the Boston Sunday Globe editorial article entitled “In godless we don’t trust”, written by Gareth Cook (the online version of the article is two pages, so make sure you click through to read both). In his article, Mr. Cook cites a 2002 poll statistic “that 47 percent of Americans believe that a belief in God is ‘necessary’ for moral behavior”, and that a 2007 poll found that only 45% of Americans would be willing to vote for a hypothetical atheist. As the article points out, the general reasoning for this is distrust, or, in other words “a general sense that an atheist may not be as trustworthy as a person of faith.” The article goes on to quote Will Gervais, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, who said “Our participants [in his investigation into the psychology of anti-atheism] seem to think that without a belief in God, atheists lack a moral compass. . . . One of the main drivers is the feeling that people can only be good if they think God is watching them.”
Wow. Did I really just read that correctly?
As an atheist, these assumptions enrage me at my core. Despite the fact that I do not believe in a god of any form, I consider myself to be a “moral” person. My morals are simple: try not to hurt other people or the planet, tell the truth, don’t break the law, help others less fortunate than myself, and don’t take things that aren’t mine. I try to live this way because of my desire to treat other human beings the way I wish to be treated, not because someone might be watching me (which I don’t believe). I try to live this way because of the “golden rule” philosophy that my parents taught us when we were growing up. I try to live this way out of a deep respect for our planet that we all must share, in increasingly close quarters. I try to live this way because I believe life is finite, and certainly far too short, so it is important to make it the best we can, while we’re here—not because of some elusive promise in or of another life.
This is how I strive to live, every day. Without a god.
Yet, despite an allegiance to some religion or faith, there are countless elected officials living well outside of their religiously guided moral codes. Granted, it’s a Wikipedia list (and some are appointed rather than elected officials), but even still, this list of “federal politicians convicted of crimes” is highly suggestive that, to the extent that religious background is a factor at the polls, this non-secular vetting process of the current U.S. majority is highly flawed. These are just the convicted crimes—which, for me, is a legitimate yardstick for measuring morality overall. It certainly does not encompass the gamut of unprosecuted criminal behavior, much less lawful yet seriously immoral behavior that undoubtedly takes place. And though it would be cliche (and an inordinate waste of my time and space) to spell out the laundry list, let’s not forget the politicians who have had extra-marital affairs, including one current presidential candidate. I do believe I’m correct in asserting that each one of them was a faithful person who believed in a god that frowns upon such infidelities. Still trust them?
As an atheist parent, though (and again, I don’t speak for my husband), hearing these statistics jars me at a deeper level. Much as I try to live my own life morally, I also am now responsible for imparting these values to my daughter, both through example and by talking about them with her. I’ve been able to do this without framing it in the context of a set of rules established by any “higher being” or because someone might be “watching” her. And despite her young age of just 4 years old, she appears to understand why it is important to act certain ways or why certain behaviors are just not right.
But in addition to helping to shape her into a moral, reasoned and empathetic person, I am simultaneously trying to impress upon her that she can do or be anything that she wants to when she grows up. What a let down it would be (though more for her than for me) if she wanted to someday pursue an elected position in politics, but was summarily eliminated from the running simply because of a lack of faith or belief in a god (assuming that’s ultimately how she turns out–maybe she will end up on another path, and that’s certainly up to her).
I do not fault, judge or criticize anyone who chooses to frame moral values in the context of a faith or religion. Each family must do what is best for them. And if it is another means to an end—that is, a legitimately morally centered person, not someone hiding behind a false coat of religious armor—then I can’t really argue with that. But what I do criticize are those individuals who wrongly believe that morals must be and can only be developed within the context of a god. It’s completely arbitrary and belies the truth that I see in many atheists I personally know. I hope that this eventually becomes the truth that the rest of the world comes to realize.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
A few months ago I was at my nephews’ birthday party (turning 1 and 3). As I was approaching the bin of kid-friendly drinks to grab a juice box for M, a parent whom I’d never met before (and in all likelihood I will probably never see again unless it’s at next year’s party, and even then I won’t remember her) reached in to the bin next to me and said something along the lines of “oh, this is a special treat – we never have these in our house”. I thought it was kinda funny, considering I wasn’t making a judgment call either way — hey, it’s a party! Of course the drinks should be fun!
I’ve heard other parents say things like this too, like at the bakery when a mom with kids in tow will look at me and say “oh, we don’t do this everyday!”, like she feels the need to explain why they’re in line for a cookie. Yet, I’m standing in this very same line with M for a special treat that she and I will indulge in from time to time. I hope it doesn’t look like I’m in line every day! Or I’ve had friends–people whom I’ve known for many, many years, and who, I hope, know that I know they have great judgement–say things like “oh, we don’t usually buy these things (cookies, easy-to-make-on-a-playdate-foods, etc.), but since you were coming over….”
Comments like these strike me as funny. It’s like parenting on the defensive. And I’m guessing it’s happening because it’s meant to ward off judgement or declare your overall values and lifestyle proactively in the critic-filled sphere of life called parenting, lo there be any misconceptions. Yet, I don’t think I’ve heard too many adults say “I normally don’t have three beers like this!” when I’m hanging out at a backyard BBQ, or “I really don’t eat cake like this every day!” when I’m out to lunch with a friend. As adults, it seems like we mostly just enjoy the spoils of whatever moment we’re in, all with a “take me as I am” attitude. It seems curious that it wasn’t usually happening that way with what the kids were doing. Smugly, I thought I was different from “them”.
But then I heard myself saying these same kinds of things just two nights ago when I was letting M have a small handful of mini-marshmallows and watch some kid-friendly TV in another room for a few minutes during the Patriots’ football game (hooray for a big win!) while two of our friends were over. Why did I do this?, I asked myself later. I really don’t think that our neighbors cared whether M was washing down more than her fair share of goldfish crackers with some juice, when we had all just indulged in quite a spread of football fete foods like cheese stuffed jalapenos (graciously made by our awesome neighbors!) and of course a few beers. And weren’t we all just sitting around for three hours staring at the boob tube and not constructing Lincoln Log houses, painting watercolors or otherwise expanding our minds? Did it really require me to go out of my way to mention that she doesn’t otherwise watch much TV? No, it did not.
Despite my initial smugness, I’m sure, in fact I know, it is not the first time I have said something like that. I certainly have a small collection of friends whom, for reasons I cannot seem to explain—other than some irrational and base fear of judgement that still remains from my high school days—I feel compelled to point out when I am in line with their own parenting judgement calls. Almost like a twisted form of one-upness or getting in with the “in crowd”. And with strangers, I’m pretty certain I said a lot of these kinds of things in the context of seeming like I have to announce my values through what I say about how we raise M. Yet, before having M, I must have found another way to get my point across, to the extent that it’s even necessary or relevant.
So it’s time for me to stop it already. I know how she eats on a daily basis, and I know overall it’s healthy. So the occasional treat is not a problem, and I don’t need to go out of my way to give strangers or anyone else a complete breakdown of her weekly nutrient intake in order to feel comfortable with letting her eat a cookie or one too many PB&Js from time to time in the presence of others. I know how (little) TV she watches from week to week, and we, as her parents, are OK with that, even if it seems like she can rattle off the names of too many kid-friendly shows. I’m going to quit it with quantifying how much weekly screen time is actually taking place in our house. If people think it’s 24/7, so be it. I know the truth, and that’s what counts.
I hope that other parents guilty of this confession-style parenting will join me. Let’s just agree that we all know that each other’s kid is eating flax and broccoli for breakfast while reading Dickens, but that here, right now at this party/BBQ/playdate/beach gathering, we can all just enjoy and indulge in some unapologetic and judgement-free good fun without having to qualify it first. Now pass me the chips.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
I worry a lot about the little things. I worry a lot about the big things. If I had more time, I’d worry about the medium things too.
I think I did this more when M was teeny tiny, but after hitting the 2 year old mark or so, I think I started doing it less. She was walking. She was talking. She was a good eater. No broken bones. Not too shabby. Time to relax a bit.
Though there’s one issue that continues to plague us in this house–well, let’s be honest, me, really–and it’s her sleeping habits. But I’m not worrying about it anymore. Nope. Not even if it means that I have to hold a pinky toe every night (I’ll get to that in a minute).
She’s never been one to need a lot of sleep. Ever since she was a baby, we were dealt the crappy hand for sleeping. I was the one whose baby never slept all the way through the night. I was obsessed with finding the magic formula for inducing long, uninterrupted sleep. She’s four years old now. Still my baby. Still not sleeping through the night.
When she was napping, we were lucky to get more than an hour and a half. That was a good day. Usually though, she was around 45 minutes to an hour. Even her daycare teachers couldn’t understand it. I seriously considered that we were doing something wrong when I’d hear that other kids were power napping two, three hours at a time, and sleeping another 11 or so at night. It became clear that around 3 or so years old, she no longer needed naps, because even if she took one of her regular 20-30 minute jobbers, the net result was her staying up to catch late night talk shows (not really). That whole “sleep begets sleep” thing is a load of crap in our house. The only thing that daytime sleep got us was a lot less mommy-daddy time at night. So naps were cut out about a year ago, and even today, despite what all the “experts” say in their books, M is consistently averaging 10 hours of sleep. This is less than what she’s “supposed” to need, but she shows no other signs of needing more sleep (believe me, I’ve run down that checklist many times), so that’s just what her body needs.
The other issue, is not the amount of sleep she gets, but the fact that she 1) still wakes up 1-2 times every night, to use the bathroom; and 2) that she needs me to sit by her bed to fall asleep. Admittedly, I was
stupid concerned enough to mention the frequent night wakings to her pediatrician at the annual exam a few months ago. All that got me was a lecture from the doctor how A) that “shouldn’t be happening” (Why, because every other human in the world sleeps 8 hours straight without ever getting up in the middle of the night?? Right.), B) we shouldn’t let her drink anything after 6PM (Even dinner? Yes. Even in the summer if she’s asking for water? Well, just a sip. Yeah right. I’m not going to dehydrate my kid, sorry.), and C) maybe it’s a UTI.
Hmmm…I was open to ruling out the last one. Big mistake. All that got M was three positive pee-in-a-cup tests, which of course were testing positive for the one bacteria that cannot be treated with oral antibiotics, but a rarely and very cautiously used IV course of drugs, that would have required a call to the state health department just to determine the dosing for a kid her age. Only way to rule that one out–and determine if it was just contaminated samples (read: me doing a crappy job of getting a four year old girl to “cleanly” pee in a cup…which is NOT easy)–was for them to do a catheter sample. Words cannot describe the sheer terror that came out of M’s mouth when she had to endure that, so I will spare you and hope that you never have to go through that with your child. But the results were negative (thank goodness). Cue mommy guilt for not getting it right the first three times in a cup…
So, here were are with continued night wakings with no apparent cause except her being a light sleeper, like me. I’ve accepted it. I can only hope she grows out of it and the silver lining I find is that at least she’s waking up and I’m not changing wet sheets in the middle of the night.
But here’s my confession: I indulge her bedtime preferences. If it means the difference between her falling asleep in five minutes with me there, versus two screaming, crying hours with me not there, you know which door I’m picking. Now, in fairness to her, she slept in our bed for the first two years, and then on our bedroom floor (after she woke up at night in her bed where she started) for about 8 months before moving fully into her own room for the whole night. Clearly, her sleep cues have always involved me being present in some fashion. Did I create this “problem”? Possibly. Probably. For a while it was out of necessity (breastfeeding) and then it was out of utter wimpy-ness and guilt for going back to work. There’s also a pretty big part of me that aligns with the child-sleep philosophies held in other parts of the world, that it is OK and biologically natural to have young children sleeping near you. I was reminded of this the just the other day when M was asking me why she has to sleep alone and I don’t. I did not have a credible answer to that question. Heck, even I don’t like sleeping alone if E’s out of town or something.
In four years, we’ve gone from a progression of me singing, to telling stories to lull her to sleep, to me rubbing her back, to laying in her bed with her until my back started getting all funky from it. And it’s largely been me undertaking these nightly efforts, so sometimes I kick myself for not dissociating myself earlier from her falling asleep (this is through no fault of M’s dad — he offers and wants to put her to bed, but we’re in a very prolonged stage of “Mommy only” at bedtime…so be it).
Now, it seems, the only way for her to fall asleep is if I hold her pinky toe. Weird? Entirely. But for her, it’s nothing short of hands-on Ambien. If I don’t hold the toe–lots of shifting, tossing, turning, needing to go to the bathroom, claims that she’s “sweaty”, and that her toes are “sticking together” etc. Her already heightened sensitivity to things like touch and sound are more than amplified at night…I mean her toes are obviously touching each other during the day, but for some reason it chafes at her at bedtime to the point of obvious irritation and frustration.
But if I hold the toe–zonked in 5 minutes max. I’m sure most of it is in her head, not her toes.
I used to worry about doing all of these bedtime rituals when it seems like every other parent can just put their kids (especially at her age) in their beds and walk out and there’s no problem. I felt like a failure or a coward for not nipping this in the bud way earlier. But then I decided that we all have our crutch somewhere to get from point A to point B a little quicker. Some use candy bribes to make grocery shopping a little quieter or potty learning a little faster (or, like we used to, marshmallows), some use a little extra television to get chores done or have a moment’s peace, or any other weapon in the parenting arsenal that makes life momentarily a little easier.
So, for me, though I’m not proud of it, I will continue to have a standing date at 8:00 every night with one very cute little pinky toe. Especially if it means I can dive into my writing 45 minutes earlier than if I don’t. Yes, the rest of you may be able to get to your “me time” a little sooner, and I’m OK with that. But I will continue to hold out hope that, someday, she really will go to sleep on her own, and willingly so, and that it’s just going to take time. I will continue to take my lumps when I see the babysitters’ looks at this odd instruction to hold the sweetest digit on her foot. Just please don’t tell her pediatrician. I can’t imagine what kind of test they’d run for this.
Copyright (c) 2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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