An Atheist Parent’s Promises To Her Children July 30, 2012

An Atheist Parent’s Promises To Her Children

Tessa Tinney, an atheist parent, has a beautiful post at the Parenting Beyond Belief blog about the promises she’s making to her sons. Here are just a few of them:

I promise that by example I will teach you kindness, justice, cooperation, respect and tolerance. Because morality is part of what it means to be a responsible member of society and the world.

I promise to help you see other people’s perspectives, consider their experiences and be tolerant of their differences. I’ll encourage you to see beyond the labels of good and evil to understand the complexity of human existence.

I promise that as you grow and as I get to know you, I’ll accept you for who you are rather than any preconceived notion of who you “should” be.

Alongside science, history, philosophy and the arts, I promise to teach you about all religions and give you the intellectual freedom to wonder, question and come to your own conclusions. And if your conclusions are different from my own, as many inevitably will be, I promise to respect them.

Beautifully put. You can read the rest of them here.

What would you add to the list?

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  • I think the concepts of “respect” and “tolerance” are tricky. Children need to learn that not all ideas deserve respect, and not all ideas or actions should be tolerated. They need to learn that it’s okay not to respect everything or everyone, nor to tolerate them. But somehow, they also need to learn to avoid being a jerk while defining what shouldn’t be respected or tolerated.

  • I promise to teach you with compassion rather than judge you with arrogance; I am not perfect, I have made poor choices in my life and I am sure I will make more as I grow older, although I will strive not to. I also understand you are not perfect, and you will make mistakes too, and I will be there to help you navigate through and learn from them, not judge you for them.

  • Tainda

    As the mother of a 19-year-old, this is a good list.  I especially like the last one you posted about respecting conclusions different than her own.

    My daughter found her way “out of the light” (har har) around 16.  Before then, she followed her friends and I allowed that but still continued to steer her the right way.  It’s hard enough being a teenager let alone being an atheist teenager in the bible belt.

  •  i confess i’m not in love with this language. sure, difference is great. but i would’ve loved to see more of an emphasis on logic, reason, and rationality. this sounds practically apologetic. 

    it’s so easy to dream about perfection with little, untalking babies. but then they start talking, and being, and you react to them. there’s this hilarious diaper ad from some years back. for a discount brand. the beginning of the ad is two adoring parents and a perfectly clean baby and house, all cooring and hugging and whatnot. then the scene fast forwards some months to a disgustingly dirty house and a frazzled mom and filthy kid running around in poopy chaos, trying to fasten anything on his butt. “in the Beginning, you give your kid the most expensive, pretty diapers you can enjoy. then Real Life happens.” this sort of reminds me of that. 

    it’s worth it to fight with your kids about reason and truth. you may not always win, but they will remember it when they are older. 

  • Alchemist

    Well put.

  • Aimee

    Very very nice…..I needed that reminder.  

  • Alchemist

    I would add something about growing into dominion over your own body. I’m still grappling with the timing myself, but at some point in early adulthood my children will have the right to control their own bodies, medically and sexually.
    I only hope that we have taught them well how to weigh their options and make choices based on reason and rational thinking. I must hope that we’ve made it clear that when those choices are made we will do all we can to support and protect them ( visit to the Dr for birth control, etc).
    Our bodies are about the only thing we can say we truly own, a promise to honour that would seem appropriate to me.

  • rlrose328

    Agreed… we’ve been trying to navigate that thick pond for a few years now.  We wholeheartedly believe that not all viewpoints should be respected or tolerated, that they are dangerous to our world and the livelihood of many people.  But that doesn’t mean we should be vocal about our nonrespect or intolerance.  It’s about avoiding those with said viewpoint and joining others to to try to end it, if possible (marriage inequality and NAMBLA, to name a few).  I have no respect or tolerance for anyone who believes these concepts or organizations are right.

  • 1000 Needles

     i would’ve loved to see more of an emphasis on logic, reason, and rationality. 

    I think she covered those bases without explicitly using the words ‘logic’ or ‘rationality.’  For example:

    I promise to tell you the truth as much as I know it. And encourage a lifetime of curiosity, questioning and exploration in pursuit of more knowledge and your own truth.


    And in guiding you through life, I promise to talk to you about death — as much as I understand it — without euphemisms or fables, but as a natural part of this complex and enduring world. And I’ll talk to you about how brief a time we have in a world that existed before us and that will exist far after we depart.

    While those excerpts don’t hit the popular skeptic buzzwords, I think the emphasis on reason is there. They definitely hint at naturalism and skepticism.

  • Marco Conti

    Already, among the comments on the site this is from there is a post by someone  bringing up the usual trite bullshit of “darwinism” and the secular nature of fascism and communism and their relative horrors. 

    Looks like I won’t be able to respond until I remember my wordpress password but I hope someone does soon while I keep searching.

  • Fixing a bit here from that last bit:
    Alongside science, history, philosophy and the arts, I promise to teach you about all religions AND THE HATE, DISCRIMINATION AND BIGOTRY THEY ESPOUSE and give you the intellectual freedom to wonder, question and come to your own conclusions. And if your conclusions are different from my own, as many inevitably will be, I promise to ROFLMAO AT YOU BUT NEVER TO RESPECT respect them IF YOU GET BRAINWASHED BY THAT RELIGIOUS NONSENSE. 

    There, FTFY.

  • Ibis3

    How can you try to end it if you’re not vocal about your intolerance and disrespect for it?

  • Celeste

    It’s beautifully written. I’d add that I will help my children to
    understand what morality means and how we form our own morals based on
    values we hold dear.

  • James

    Beautiful! I almost just squeezed out a tear.

  • Nicole Youngman

     I tell my 9yr old that people can believe whatever they want as long as those beliefs aren’t hurting anyone. If someone thinks the moon is made of green cheese, that’s crazy but harmless; if their religion tells them gays can’t get married or that everyone else should follow their religion and they try to force people to do that, that’s mean and not ok. It’ll get more complicated later but for now it works.

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