Last week, we received this letter in the Skepchick Mailbag. I was hoping to get it posted sooner, but Iâ€™ve been quite busy. I had these conferences to go to and a wedding to help plan (and keep secret) and parties to attend and contests to judge and sleep to not get. Sorry for the delay!
My husband, Danny, and I have decided it’s time to further the human
race and make a baby or two. Â Problem being, we are having trouble
finding books, blogs, and other resources concerning pregnancy,
parenting, and the enormity of creating an entire human being all by
ourselves that aren’t completely lentil-burger. Â I know you have
recommended Dale McGowan as an author, but he is more about the
“instilling values into your kids” and less about the “Oh my god, now
I have to take this baby home and raise it what am I going to do?”
Do you have any suggestions for an excited, but terrified, future
Thanks for writing Teresa! I wish you all the best in your quest to procreate and parent. Being responsible for another human being – a mushy, fragile, blank slate, impressionable human being â€“ is a big deal. Itâ€™s a scary endeavor. But hereâ€™s the good-ish news: knowing how scary it is and how important your role is as a parent is the first sign that you could possibly be really ready to parent! The bad news? Nothing prepares you to become a parent.
What I really want to do is give you a great Skepchickâ€™s Official GuideÂ® to being a great skeptical parent – Â a point by point instructional on how to raise skeptical children. Unfortunately, kids donâ€™t work that way. Skeptical or not, there is not a â€œright wayâ€ or â€œbest wayâ€ to raise kids. Parenting skills are something you develop as you go alongâ€¦ and when you have another one, everything you thought you knew about raising a kid goes out the window becauseâ€¦ you know, thatâ€™s how people work. Weâ€™re all very different, even from the very beginning.
And you canâ€™t raise your children to become great critical thinkers. You can only offer them the tools. It’s up to them to decide whether to use them or not. There are great skeptical parents out there with great skeptical children. They arenâ€™t out there by accident. How each of them does it, I donâ€™t know. The best I can offer is a few tips.
â€œFrom you, alright! I learned it by watching you!â€ Live skeptically. Skepticism isnâ€™t something you use now and then. Itâ€™s something you do all the time. For the first few years, most of what your kids learn comes from watching the people and things around them combined with their innate curiosity. Kids will try to repeat everything you do. Let them see you asking questions. Let them see you accept that you make mistakes. Be the example.
Donâ€™t indoctrinate your children. As veteran skeptics, we tend to dismiss some things before the question can even be asked (like when we already know the answer.) We know astrology is bullshit, and we donâ€™t have to think much of it. However, itâ€™s important to not teach our children that â€œastrology is bullshit.â€ Or that “ghosts donâ€™t exist”. Instead, engage their sense of wonder. Rather than telling them things like â€œWe donâ€™t believe thatâ€, ask them the questions that will help lead them to the answer. Tell them that astrology is a belief that stars affect how we are as individual people. Then ask them questions. Help them come to a conclusion, but donâ€™t give them the answer.
Donâ€™t dismiss their â€œsilly questionsâ€. You can guide themâ€¦ show them how to find the answers to their questions. And reassure them that thereâ€™s nothing wrong with coming up with a different answer than they expected or even wanted.
Embrace change. I think this is the one of the hardest things to do as a human being. We like it when things stay the same. We like our facts to remain facts. But many times, the things you and I learned as kids stop being facts. For some reason, we find this upsetting. In my state, Pluto is legally a planet. WTF, Illinois? As if Phil Plait called all his Astronomers in Charge of the Universe Club members and said, â€œHey, wanna really get people mad? Letâ€™s get rid of Pluto!â€ And they all laughed and tapped their fingers together while everyone on Earth freaked out. Thereâ€™s no reason to be emotionally attached to Plutoâ€™s planet status other than the fact that we just donâ€™t like change.Â Try to show your child that change = learning. Perhaps the change isnâ€™t better, but the change has taught them something. And the change has taught you something as well.
Let them explore. If itâ€™s not stupidly dangerous, let them do it. Sometimes this will get annoying – like when your toddler goes through his pulling everything out of drawers phase. Or when they have to push that same button for the 150th time just to see if it still does the same thing when they push it. But you know what that is? Thatâ€™s science! Itâ€™s the scientific methodâ€¦ donâ€™t stifle that curiosity. At some point we seem to lose it, not completely, but as we grow, it fades significantly. Thereâ€™s no reason to encourage less curiosity, is there?
Lastly, vaccinate. Thereâ€™s no reason to let the potential great leaders of tomorrow die off from something stupid like whooping cough or tetanus.
Maybe your future skeplings will grow up to become great minds. Maybe they will grow up to become young earth creationists. You canâ€™t force either one upon them or away from them. All you can do is guide themâ€¦ the rest is up to them.
Good luck, Teresa! Â Parenting is a frustrating, overwhelming, scary and, at times, thankless jobâ€¦ but one of the most rewarding things youâ€™ll ever have the opportunity to experience.