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  1. #1
    Strongly Ambivalent Ivy's Avatar
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    Default Ambivalent Childrearing, OR "Confusion Leads to Illumination"

    This is something I considered putting in the Agnosticism thread, but decided it was too much of a derailment and needed its own spot.

    Like I said in that thread, I am an agnostic on paper. My guts believe in God but my guts don't exactly have the best track record (see: had only boy names picked out for Thing 1 due to "mother's intuition," only to have to come up with a girl name in a hurry when that intuition proved shitty). I enjoy being part of a faith community that is populated with people who are similarly unsure (and similarly comfortable with their unsureness).

    A conversation came up between Thing 1 (my daughter, who is 7 years old) and me yesterday. She said "Mom, did you know that God made Adam and then he made Eve out of one of Adam's ribs? Isn't that weird?"

    I said "Yes, that's how the old story goes, but did you know that some people think maybe the story doesn't really mean what it seems to mean? Maybe the story is a way to get us thinking about what it means to be human."

    She answered "Oh, I'm not one of those people."

    "One of which people?"

    "One of the people who doesn't believe the story!"

    I wasn't quite sure how to proceed. I said something like "Thinking the story has a deeper meaning doesn't mean you don't believe it. It just means you don't think it has to be literal." (We've been discussing the difference between figurative and literal lately and I think she gets it.)

    She may not be quite ready for "layers of meaning" yet, but I'm not content to encourage her to either 1) discard the old stories that have meaning to our family, even if they're not literal meaning, or 2) believe something I don't think literally happened. I am looking for some way to strike a balance.

    At this point, I'm taking the tack of giving her all the opinions I know of about how to think about this kind of shit, letting her know which one is my opinion, but not giving her the impression she has to agree with me. It's probably confusing to a kid. I guess I'm okay with a little confusion-- I prefer it to absolute certainty, for myself. This IS something I want to raise my children to understand: that this stuff is not always black and white, that there are layers of meaning in nearly everything humans think and believe, and that we can think about things in more than one way and still be intellectually honest.

    Am I shortchanging them? (Loaded question, I know-- be honest!)
    The one who buggers a fire burns his penis
    -anonymous graffiti in the basilica at Pompeii

  2. #2
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    I don't know, Ivy. I am in the same position.

    C is as certain of faith in the Christian God as I am unsure right now, and all of our children attend church and church events. The eldest is inwardly skeptical (as I expected), although he doesn't make waves outwardly because he's not the sort to cause trouble. B believes whatever you tell him, enthusiastically. And A quietly believes and asked Jesus to come into her heart a few months back and is very set on doing what she think he'd have her do.

    What do I do with all that? I do not want to "ruin" a positive commitment; as far as behavior and idealism goes, I think wanting to emulate Jesus is a good thing, and if someone can find it in themselves to be convinced of his claims, then I don't want to ruin them either (since life is much harder in the ambiguities, and I am not even sure I'm right).

    But 8-9 months ago, I interrupted morning devotions with the idea that the Adam & Eve story was possibly an analogy/metaphor... and my own children laughed because they had no clue what I was saying: How can something be "true" and "not true" all at once? It actually became a running joke for a bit, and I was even inwardly annoyed because my own children were sort of poking fun at what I thought was the most reasonable objections. And I had to decide that it was okay, and that was where they were at right now.

    That made me think more about giving them too much ambiguity to start with. If they were mature and in adulthood, then I could do it, but their brains and minds are still developing. It's almost as if they need to have a foundation set FIRST, and then I can start shaking things up... but until the foundation is set, any ambiguity I add to the mix just seems to cause confusion for them. I want them to be skeptical in the good ways, not cynical or always afraid and unsure of what they know.

    I hate having to play all of this by ear. I think I will just gently introduce possibilities to them as they get older and also really let them initiate any ventures into "grayness." I expect the eldest to be the most open and interested in the gray spots. It is just hard, because C so firmly believes in Christianity while I am completely unsure and have no way to prove or disprove anything about God. We both understand where each other is at and try to be fair with each other about how those views are represented to the children, but we are still somewhat at odds right now...
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  3. #3
    Senior Member niffer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    That made me think more about giving them too much ambiguity to start with. If they were mature and in adulthood, then I could do it, but their brains and minds are still developing. It's almost as if they need to have a foundation set FIRST, and then I can start shaking things up... but until the foundation is set, any ambiguity I add to the mix just seems to cause confusion for them. I want them to be skeptical in the good ways, not cynical or always afraid and unsure of what they know.
    I agree with your points made here. As well, if you make them confused, then their faith in you and your abilities might crumble a little. I suggest telling them that they'll understand when they're older, and leave it at that.
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  4. #4
    Strongly Ambivalent Ivy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by niffer View Post
    I agree with your points made here. As well, if you make them confused, then their faith in you and your abilities might crumble a little. I suggest telling them that they'll understand when they're older, and leave it at that.
    True. I guess what I'm driving at is that holding up an unrealistically sure facade seems inauthentic to me. I'm NOT sure. It feels like lying to me to say that I am.
    The one who buggers a fire burns his penis
    -anonymous graffiti in the basilica at Pompeii

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    Senior Member cafe's Avatar
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    I can understand where you're coming from with this. I, personally, want my kids to have a good understanding of the Bible and the traditional tenets of faith, that kind of thing, just so they can make an informed decision themselves. I don't think I have all the answers or that human beings are even capable of understanding a lot of the answers if we even knew what questions to ask, but I would like them to have some understanding of what their daddy and I believe and why. I'm not willing to go too far beyond that and I'm not entirely sure how we're going to work out the logistics of it all since we can's seem to get our good-for-nothing rear-ends to church on a regular basis.

    Young kids are concrete thinkers by nature and most don't gain the ability to think in the terms Jennifer is describing (truth/facts vs Truth) until they are getting into their teens. Going into a lot of complexity before that just isn't very productive.

    And for perspective, Don and I agreed before we had kids that we would not teach them to believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, etc. We didn't think the fun of it was worth the deception it involved. However, despite our feelings on the subject and our complete refusal to play along, more than one of my kids has insisted that Santa is real and not in the historical sense like I taught them. I felt chagrined and taken aback, but when they wouldn't see the light, I thought it must somehow be important to them to have that belief at the time, so I didn't make a major case about it.

    I think religious stuff can be the same way. They will have more clarity of thought and more experience as the get older, so it's not worth a major effort to debunk stuff that they want to believe in right now.
    “There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.”
    ~ John Rogers

  6. #6
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ivy View Post
    True. I guess what I'm driving at is that holding up an unrealistically sure facade seems inauthentic to me. I'm NOT sure. It feels like lying to me to say that I am.
    I know... sigh. It makes me feel the same way.

    I am not sure how to reconcile it, just that some sort of compromise has to be found. Is it enough to just acknowledge to them that some things might not make sense to them, and that it is always a good thing to ask questions, even if the answers cannot be found right away?

    (iow, rather than making their acceptance of the information the end result, instead focus on the process by which they accept information? And letting them know that ambiguity and doubt is okay?)
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  7. #7
    Lex Parsimoniae Xander's Avatar
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    **brains flicks into alternate mode**
    Stories? When I were young there were none of these stories. You got a good clip round the ear before bed and you were glad of it!! Bloomin kids of today...pampered. Don't know they're even born most of em!"
    **and now for something completely different**

    Ivy,
    Why teach so directly if your worried about such things? You know you don't have to teach a person that 2+2=4 specifically but rather if you can teach them how maths works and use parallel examples then the student will eventually realise that 2+2=4.

    I think my parents started with things like when your on the phone and you say "see you later", my mother would comment that it's incorrect because I have no intention of seeing them later, I should say "I'll speak to you later". Things like that started me on the road of seeing through the first few layers of things, after which understanding of non literal things is easier. Hence you could then show them what you believe or what you've seen said & done and allow them to judge for themselves.

    Just a two penneth worth.
    Isn't it time for a colourful metaphor?

  8. #8
    Lallygag Moderator Geoff's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    I don't know, Ivy. I am in the same position.

    C is as certain of faith in the Christian God as I am unsure right now, and all of our children attend church and church events. The eldest is inwardly skeptical (as I expected), although he doesn't make waves outwardly because he's not the sort to cause trouble. B believes whatever you tell him, enthusiastically. And A quietly believes and asked Jesus to come into her heart a few months back and is very set on doing what she think he'd have her do.

    What do I do with all that? I do not want to "ruin" a positive commitment; as far as behavior and idealism goes, I think wanting to emulate Jesus is a good thing, and if someone can find it in themselves to be convinced of his claims, then I don't want to ruin them either (since life is much harder in the ambiguities, and I am not even sure I'm right).

    But 8-9 months ago, I interrupted morning devotions with the idea that the Adam & Eve story was possibly an analogy/metaphor... and my own children laughed because they had no clue what I was saying: How can something be "true" and "not true" all at once? It actually became a running joke for a bit, and I was even inwardly annoyed because my own children were sort of poking fun at what I thought was the most reasonable objections. And I had to decide that it was okay, and that was where they were at right now.

    That made me think more about giving them too much ambiguity to start with. If they were mature and in adulthood, then I could do it, but their brains and minds are still developing. It's almost as if they need to have a foundation set FIRST, and then I can start shaking things up... but until the foundation is set, any ambiguity I add to the mix just seems to cause confusion for them. I want them to be skeptical in the good ways, not cynical or always afraid and unsure of what they know.

    I hate having to play all of this by ear. I think I will just gently introduce possibilities to them as they get older and also really let them initiate any ventures into "grayness." I expect the eldest to be the most open and interested in the gray spots. It is just hard, because C so firmly believes in Christianity while I am completely unsure and have no way to prove or disprove anything about God. We both understand where each other is at and try to be fair with each other about how those views are represented to the children, but we are still somewhat at odds right now...
    Have you read the Science of Discworld series (Pratchett/Stewart et al). If not I suggest picking them up - if you haven't it is *not* fantasy fiction (although there are story elements to keep you amused) it is a series work about life the universe and everything and in particular how we learn and develop.

    In there, the idea of "lies to children" is explored. In that, we can't learn the big picture at first, we have to learn things that are lies but work. This is how we set a foundation for the next stage. Think of how we learn something relatively well understood like physics. At each level of education the previous level's rules are overturned by the next version - until eventually we hit quantum physics and noone even knowing if we exist or not. The lies to children are a working foundation to bringing the next generation to life and necessary (you can't teach a 5 year old about quantum uncertainty, but you can start by "lying" that gravity is universal - you drop something it hits the ground. Later you can start explaining why it isnt constant in the universe, but for now, it acceptable to "lie"). The example given in the book is rainbows - for many people the simple "lie" that a rainbow appears because light refracts through a raindrop is quite sufficient. But it isn't (quite) right.. why does the rainbow curve, why are the colours the order they are?

    Anyway, good books worth a read. And my point? (Guess I ought to have one)... for early children give them certainty.. and later let them have the walls you have built knocked over or graffiti'd on, but they must start with lies to children to build a coherent workable world for you to discuss with them later.

    Or, a short summary, kids can't run before they can walk!

    -Geoff

  9. #9
    Strongly Ambivalent Ivy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xander View Post

    Ivy,
    Why teach so directly if your worried about such things? You know you don't have to teach a person that 2+2=4 specifically but rather if you can teach them how maths works and use parallel examples then the student will eventually realise that 2+2=4.

    I think my parents started with things like when your on the phone and you say "see you later", my mother would comment that it's incorrect because I have no intention of seeing them later, I should say "I'll speak to you later". Things like that started me on the road of seeing through the first few layers of things, after which understanding of non literal things is easier. Hence you could then show them what you believe or what you've seen said & done and allow them to judge for themselves.

    Just a two penneth worth.
    Thanks, Xander. This is exactly what I have done, and if my children only ever spoke to me it would probably be perfect. I do stick mainly to the concepts that are important to me, such as tolerance and finding the light in each person and so on and so forth. My mother has the kids a lot and she's very devout, AND very concrete in the way she expresses her faith. She tells them the stories, and she tells them as fact. I DO want my kids to know that her faith is important to her and for them to respect that, but not necessarily to buy something just because Nana said it, yknow?
    The one who buggers a fire burns his penis
    -anonymous graffiti in the basilica at Pompeii

  10. #10
    Strongly Ambivalent Ivy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Geoff View Post
    Anyway, good books worth a read. And my point? (Guess I ought to have one)... for early children give them certainty.. and later let them have the walls you have built knocked over or graffiti'd on, but they must start with lies to children to build a coherent workable world for you to discuss with them later.

    Or, a short summary, kids can't run before they can walk!

    -Geoff
    That sounds really interesting. I'll look into those books. This makes so much sense to me, and I'm glad to see it explained neutrally. I often feel torn between "lying to children" and giving them the tools they need to learn for themselves as they are hard-wired to do. I wish that I could lighten up and not feel like I have to explain everything to such detail.

    Part of the problem here is that I became a mother when I was pretty young (I had my daughter at 23) and I hadn't really worked out what *I* thought about these things yet. I still haven't, but I'm much more comfortable with the ambiguities now. So, in a way, we're learning together. I can't in good conscience set myself up as a wise sage with all the answers when I'm really just figuring things out too!
    The one who buggers a fire burns his penis
    -anonymous graffiti in the basilica at Pompeii

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