“Post-Fundamentalist Motherhood”

“Post-Fundamentalist Motherhood” June 12, 2012

Latebloomer recently wrote an excellent post called “Post-Fundamentalist Motherhood.” I’ve often had readers tell me that they read my posts and feel like I’m reading their minds. In this case, I felt the same when reading Latebloomer’s post – she was articulating my thoughts almost exactly. I’m going to quote from her article and add some additional commentary. Latebloomer begins as follows:

When I look at my little toddler, I am so glad that I am no longer a fundamentalist Christian.

She goes on to give three reasons why, all of which I share:

First, I don’t believe in total depravity anymore, so I don’t feel compelled to interpret his actions with negative terminology.

If I believed that my child had a sin nature that predisposed him to evil, that would certainly predispose me to interpret his actions very negatively.

When he insists on exploring the world and touching everything, I could see it as stubbornness.  Instead, I am free to see it as healthy curiosity and a drive to discover the world.  …

When he fights sleep at bedtime, or wakes up multiple times during the night, I could see it as defiance.  Instead, I am free to assume that he has a real need.  …

When he takes toys from other children, I could see it as selfishness.  Instead, I am free to notice that he also spontaneously gives his toys to others. …

When he screeches for me to pick him up, I could see it as manipulation.  Instead, I am free to see that he is just learning to feel and communicate, and crying is one of his main tools of communication right now.  …

My child is not depraved.  He is a good person with a lot of potential.

This. I have seen this so many times with Sally, and have written about it as well. I had been taught to see parenting as a contest, a contest in which I must defeat my child’s will. I was taught that my daughter when she was a babe in arms was “a little bundle of sin.”

It may be difficult for someone not raised the way Latebloomer and I were to see how all encompassing this perspective is. Latebloomer’s list of examples helps reveal how the doctrine of total depravity influences – no, determines – how fundamentalist parents perceive their children’s every action, facial expression, and emotion.

Today though, things are different. Today I see Sally as a good person and, like Latebloomer says, someone filled with potential rather than depravity.

Second, I no longer believe that spanking is a necessary part of parenting, so I won’t feel like a bad parent for not hitting my child.

When my son was only 9 months old, I was horrified to discover that my first impulse was to smack his hand to stop him from touching things after I said no.  I had this impulse even though I have not been in the fundamentalist culture for almost 10 years now.  Luckily, I did not follow through on that impulse–in what world is it right for an adult to hit an infant???  In the fundamentalist world it is not only acceptable, but also necessary, according to Reb Bradley’s book “Child Training Tips”, Richard Fugate’s book “What the Bible Says About Child Training,” and Michael Pearl’s book, “To Train Up a Child.”

Contrary to these fundamentalist teachings, I believe that my child is a person who deserves to be treated with respect. …

I prefer an approach to parenting that is about teaching, not punishment.  …

My experience was very similar to Latebloomer’s. When Sally was nine or ten months old she became mobile and started getting into things we didn’t want her in (indoor plants, breakable decor, important school papers, etc.), and when she got into things after being told “no” my first impulse was to smack her hand. And for a few months, I followed that impulse, largely because of the strong influence of Michael Pearl’s “To Train Up a Child.” And then I realized how backwards that whole approach was.

Like Latebloomer, realizing that my daughter was a person who deserved to be treated with respect was something new – and ultimately something life changing. My entire parenting philosophy pivoted. And, like Latebloomer, I now see parenting as about teaching, not punishment, and about guidance, not control.

I realized something the other day. I haven’t had the impulse to spank (i.e. hit) Sally in over a year. For someone who was taught that to spare the rod is to spoil the child, that’s what I call an achievement.

Finally, I no longer see blind unquestioning obedience as a positive thing in my relationship with God, so I don’t expect that of my child.

Many fundamentalist parents see their role as preparing their children for a relationship with God.  But rather than focusing on displaying God’s love and patience to their children, they focus on demanding respect and obedience from their children, hoping that their children will grow up to be more obedient to God.  So, just like the parents are not allowed to question God’s Word or feel angry at him, their children are not allowed to question or be upset at the parents.  Just like the parents believe there are consequences for disobeying God, they impose consequences on their own disobedient children.  Just like the parents believe that God judges their hearts and motives, they also judge their own children’s hearts and motives.  As parents, they become obsessed with authority because they feel that their children’s eternal souls are at stake.

Latebloomer makes an important point here, and one I have thought about before. If you believe that you owe absolute and unquestioning obedience to God, it’s not that hard to hold that children should render the same to their parents. Authoritarian parenting is in many ways the natural offshoot of authoritarian religion. And, once I questioned and rejected authoritarian religion, it was in many ways natural that I should likewise question and reject authoritarian parenting.

While I do not believe in God, I nevertheless identify once more with what Latebloomer says here: I too came to the realization several years ago that obedience for its own sake is not a positive thing. And when it comes to raising children, that makes all the difference in the world.

So instead of obsessing about obedience and authority, I want to foster an environment where my child can thrive, discover his interests, and find his place in the world.  I want him to feel confident, to think, to question, to choose for himself, to say yes and to say no.  The end result of parenting should be a happy and independent adult who knows that I will love him no matter what, no matter how different from me he is.

You know what’s interesting? Latebloomer identifies as a Christian, and I identify as an atheist, but I could have written this exact same paragraph. In fact, I think in some of my other posts I essentially have. For those who grew up in environments where the parenting goals outlined in this paragraph were the norm, it may be difficult to understand how incredibly radical this entire perspective is for those who were raised in fundamentalist evangelical religious families like Latebloomer and I. And how absolutely beautiful and freeing.

Latebloomer calls her post “Post-Fundamentalist Motherhood.” I’d never thought of it like that before, but I like it.

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