I may have mentioned before that I’m not a big non-fiction person. But when the opportunity came to this secular, imperfect person and homeschooler to do a blog tour with MotherTalk for Parenting Beyond Belief: On Raising Ethical, Caring Kids Without Religion, I was hooked. Admittedly, I’m always a sucker for a free book, but this one called to me in a way that few non-fiction books call to me. When I received it and opened it, it was almost impossible to put down!
Parenting Beyond Belief is a collection of essays edited by Dale McGowan. It says in the introduction it is not a full-scale parenting book, but yet it still contains some of the parenting strategies I think are most important: caring for a baby/child’s needs, allowing yourself to say “I don’t know”, and respecting a child’s questioning nature.
I was (mostly) raised as a Unitarian Universalist, which is pretty close to being a secular church. I liked being able to say I went to church, and when I was an adult it felt good to say I was taking my kids to church. I love the sense of community, and the sermons that keep me thinking – not about a deity, but about current issues and philosophy rather than theology. My favorite UU congregations have welcomed questions and not had much to do with theology. It can be hard to find a fabulous congregation, though (but if you’re in Austin or Central Connecticut, let me know, I can give you a lead..), and so right now we are parenting without a congregation as backup. Plus we have many more Christian friends now than we ever have – and the girls have participated in several Christian homeschool offerings. I wanted to read about how to back up my feelings and beliefs, and how to discuss them with my children.
The reason I found Parenting Beyond Belief difficult to put down is that it is not a dry instructional book – rather, it is a series of personal essays and stories about how parents have dealt with different issues with their children – the Pledge of Allegiance, death, discussing what friends say about their religion, and much more. I completely agree that with discussion and by exposing children to different beliefs/ideas, the child’s mind will grow and hook onto the beliefs that feel right to them. However, you need to explain your beliefs/ideas to the children too – discussing in a way that sometimes feels uncomfortable (ie: decomposition after death). I am left with the feeling, after reading this book, that as long as I explain my morals, and am willing to answer even the hardest questions, my girls will be OK. Just as my girls love to try to figure out how a drill/VCR/computer/etc works, and want to take it apart to figure it out, they will do the same thing with beliefs – WHY is a great question. My girls love the scientific principle and proving things scientifically – good training for leading a questioning life.
As for the layout of the book, each essay is put into a category, and the categories serve as chapters. The essays are wonderful, and the book pulls out some fabulous quotes to put in the margins. There are point/counter-point essays (on Santa!), which leave you to decide for yourself. The whole book feels like a manual on how to make your own decisions – but a manual that you want to keep reading. If you are a parent leading a secular (or UU) life, and you want to help guide your children through their questioning, this book is a must-read. In addition, at the end of each chapter there are a lot of footnotes and additional resources for further reading/investigation. There are also some great discussions on finding and building community. If you want more ideas for answers, beyond the basic “do to other people what you want them to do to you” morals and ethics and caring – please go buy Parenting Beyond Belief or check it out from the library. It made me feel like I had a reference book that I could reach for when I feel overwhelmed by some of the quasi-religious questions in the house, and that’s a great feeling.