A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 28 “Kindergarten”

Dear daughter,

You’ve been in kindergarten for three weeks now and we are still getting used to the new schedule. You and I wake up bright and early and get ready for the day. We are both painfully aware that neither one of us is a morning person. 

Despite that, I shower and put on make-up while you get a little breakfast. We get dressed and I drop you off at school. Every day I fight back tears as I walk you to the door. I really hope you haven’t noticed. Sometimes you cry, too.

Letting you grow up is hard. I want to keep you in my arms but I have to let you go. 

I think about you during the day. Are you making friends? Did you eat lunch? Did you have fun in gym class? 

This is a big deal right now, but I’m hoping the anxiety will soon die down. Pretty soon I’ll be dropping you off at school and we won’t think twice about it.

Daughter — despite the drama of the mornings, I want you to enjoy school. You’re going to learn so much. Be a sponge and take it all in. It’s so important.

I love you but now it’s time for you to gain a little independence and learn. 

 

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 27 “Pink”

Dear daughter,

As daddy and I waited to welcome you into the world, we spent a lot of time thinking about how to raise a little girl. We wanted you to grow up to be strong and independent. Did that mean we should steer you away from traditional “girly” things? We weren’t sure.

Eight months into the pregnancy, Pop-Pop and Grandma threw us a baby shower. Everybody loves to buy adorable little baby clothes when they go to baby showers, however, I asked everyone to stay away from pink. Daddy and I were going to do everything gender-neutral. Your room was an “under the sea” theme and we wanted to dress you in yellow, green, and purple. (No pink.)

Gender-neutral is surprisingly hard to pull off in America, but we did our best. However, it wasn’t going to last.

Things changed a couple of years down the road. As soon as you learned your colors, you knew you loved pink. Shit! Really kid? How did this happen?

As soon as you could walk in the store, we let you pick out your own clothes. You wanted pink everything. There were many days that you were dressed from head to toe in pink. 

Three years later and nothing has changed. Your clothes are pink. Your shoes are pink. Your bed is pink. You come into mommy and daddy’s room and steal mommy’s pink jewelry and hair things. Everything is pink.

I’ve caught hell for it. “You shouldn’t dress your little girl in pink every day.” The thing is, I didn’t dress you. You picked out your own clothes and dressed yourself. 

So I started to think, is pink really that bad? It’s your favorite color and it was never forced on you. It’s just something you like.

I’m learning, daughter. Pink isn’t bad — it’s just another color.

On June 18th, 2021, you graduated from preschool. Your graduation was a special event, but you refused to wear a dress. Instead, you wore a pink shirt with a doggie on it, gray leggings, and pink unicorn snow boots — and you looked absolutely adorable!

So now I say, as long as you are comfortable and your clothes make you happy — wear whatever the fuck you want. That’s all that matters. 

I hope you remember this if you decide to become a parent one day.

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 26 “The Pledge”

Dear young and impressionable daughter,

Two days ago I learned that you start every day at daycare with the Pledge of Allegiance. 

What? Kids still say the Pledge of Allegiance?

It was at your preschool graduation. I watched you all recite it and my stomach dropped to the floor. (Or maybe that was my jaw.)

I am against you saying the Pledge for a few different reasons.

First, and probably the most obvious reason, is for the phrase “under god”. We are raising you in a secular home and hearing you say “under god” goes against every fiber in my being. One day soon I will tell you why the separation of church and state is so incredibly important and why this phrase completely undermines it. 

Second, hearing your preschool class — made up of kids that are only three, four, and five years old — mindlessly recite words they can’t even begin to understand makes me cringe. Little ones are taught the Pledge completely unaware of its meaning and motive. They’re too young to question it.

And finally, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Just because someone is in charge doesn’t mean they’re right. It is totally fine to question authority — I even encourage it. I don’t know how strong they are encouraging you to recite the Pledge, but you have every right to say no — to sit down and not say it.

I had no idea you were saying the Pledge at daycare and I’m afraid I have addressed the issue too late. This is already part of a routine for you and your classmates. I’m scared of you feeling ostracized from the rest of your class if I call your teacher now and tell her you can’t say it.

However, we will revisit this discussion when you’re a little older and can understand the words you are reciting. At that time, it will be up to you whether you say it or not.

Question everything, daughter.

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 25 “Anxiety”

Dear daughter,

We’ve hit a point where shit gets real. 

I struggle with anxiety every day. It’s probably my most debilitating mental health issue even though my primary diagnosis is schizoaffective disorder. For schizoaffective disorder, I take medication and my symptoms go away, but with anxiety, solutions aren’t as clear cut. It is a daily battle for me consisting of some exhaustive highs and lows. It’s a terrifying rollercoaster ride and I think I would do just about anything to get the fuck off of it.

One of my worst fears is that you inherit this awful mental health disorder.

But now I watch you — you’re not as outgoing as you once were. You’re shy. Your teachers say you cry at preschool and you hide in the bathroom when you’re nervous. Yesterday was your preschool graduation, and you looked scared. I look at you and see my own anxiety that I had in childhood and it’s painful.

I’m so sorry, daughter. You come from a line of nervous people. Pop Pop worries constantly and I’m socially awkward. I prefer to isolate myself and stay home alone rather than interacting with others.

Even though I struggle, I still have some advice for you. Recognize when you are struggling and reach out for help when you need it. Don’t wait. Even though anxiety medication didn’t really work for me, that doesn’t mean I gave up. 

I found that meditation helps me. While it doesn’t seem to prevent anxiety, it has definitely made a difference in how I cope with it. I was actively searching for solutions — still am really.

And maybe I’m socially awkward but that doesn’t mean I don’t have support. I don’t have a million friends but I’m very close to my family. That’s very important to me and my mental health.

Maybe I’m jumping the gun here. You’re only five years old. Maybe you won’t have problems with anxiety, but there’s still a lesson to be learned here:

Reach out for help. Don’t wait and don’t give up. Find support. We all struggle with something and I hope you find these words useful. 

I will always be here for you.

Love,

Mom

My daughter graduated from preschool last week!

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 24 “Boundaries”

Dear daughter,

If someone makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to be polite. You don’t have to smile. You don’t have to nervously giggle. You don’t owe anyone anything. Set boundaries and don’t let anyone cross them. 

Daughter — I’m not good at this. I’ve put up with so much shit in my life. Creepy guys. Abusive bosses. It’s hard for me to say no and I avoid conflict even when it’s necessary. People have used me — taken advantage of me. 

With time, I’ve gotten a little better at standing up for myself but it’s never easy.

Remember — you always have the right to leave. Set boundaries and don’t waver. Good people will respect them. The rest don’t deserve your time. 

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no. 23 “Holidays”

Dear daughter,

By now I’m sure you know, I hate Christmas. I hate Christmas shopping. I hate Christmas carols, and I absolutely hate that Christmas seems to last the whole damn month of December. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Eat. Hang out with family and friends. Simple.

You are turning five at the end of the month, and this year you really enjoyed Easter. We had a couple egg hunts at home and at Pop Pop’s and you had a party at daycare. You even said it was your favorite holiday. (I know that’s subject to change.)

Our little family celebrates Christian holidays but not in very Christian ways. Older generations of our family were Christian so Easter and Christmas are traditions, but these days the traditions are secular and we’ve made them our own. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are fun parts of childhood; Jesus is not required to give Christmas and Easter meaning.

My favorite part of any holiday is getting to spend time with our family.

My beautiful daughter — you are growing up and soon will start a life of your own. Make holidays your own as well. Whatever you do, celebrate what makes you happy.

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no.22 “Always Use Your Voice”

Dear daughter,

Yesterday was difficult. We’re still in the middle of the pandemic, so it was just another day of hanging around the house. 

You were putting up a fight for some very basic things — brushing your teeth and getting dressed. You’re four and you don’t like being told what to do. I don’t like threatening time-out but it seems to get the job done.

The fights and frustration continued throughout the day. I don’t even remember what it all was about. What was concerning was that by the end of the day when we’re all tired, you were crying and I couldn’t understand what you were saying. This has been happening more frequently. I wish I knew what was going on so I could help you.

Daughter, I’m sure by the time you read this letter I will be able to understand you when you’re upset. Language skills and emotional regulation will come (and hopefully soon.)

It’s okay to be upset. Always use your voice. Communication is crucial. If you need help, always speak up. Be clear in what you need.

I don’t cry that much. It’s not that I’m afraid to let go, it’s just me. When I do cry, it is a good indication that changes need to be made. So when I break down, I listen to my mind and body. You always should, too. 

Beautiful daughter, life is full of ups and downs and good communication will help you get through all of it. Always use your voice.

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — no.21 “Frustration”

Dear daughter,

 

Your frustration is through the roof. It’s most noticeable when you play video games. If something doesn’t work right in the game, you yell, cry, and sometimes throw the remote. It escalates very quickly — zero to 100 in no time flat.

But it’s not limited to video games. Sometimes if you’re not understood in conversations you get very upset. 

I get it. I really do. I’m a very impatient person and am often frustrated, too.

When I look back on my childhood, I remember a lot of confusion. It just felt like I never knew what was going on. I didn’t know how things worked and I didn’t understand why people would act the way they did. I remember several times when I got in trouble and never understood what I did wrong. It was very frustrating.

My smart and beautiful daughter — you are a little more passionate and fiery than I was growing up and I think in life, that might serve you well. That doesn’t help the frustration you are feeling now, though. So many things are new to you and there’s a lot to take in.

I can tell you to try to stay calm, but you’re only four right now and I know that won’t work. So I will try to stay calm for you. 

Always ask questions when you don’t understand and give it time. Don’t give up. When you get older things will become a little more clear. Growing up is confusing and frustrating but you will get through it. I promise. 

Love,

Mom

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.20 “Learning from a Pandemic”

We’ve reached the end of the road! This will be my last letter for a while as I am hoping to start fresh with new ideas and posts in January.

Happy New Year, everyone! Stay safe!

 

Dear daughter,

In 2020, you turned four years old, and the Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to its knees. Some countries fared better than others; the US was not one of them. As I write this on a cool and windy September night, 207,000 Americans have lost their lives to the virus.

I’m not saying all of those deaths could have been prevented, but there are very simple ways to slow the spread of the virus that many Americans are ignoring. Had our leaders expressed the seriousness of the outbreak and put mask mandates in place sooner, some of those we lost may still be alive. 

Masks are a very simple thing people can do to respect and care for others in their community. So simple. Scientists and medical professionals have been stressing the use of masks since the beginning of the pandemic, and yet some people refuse to wear them. Some argue it’s infringing on their personal freedoms.

When there’s a public health crisis, your “personal freedoms” take a back seat and you think about how to protect your family and community. This is a dire time and we wish we could return to some sense of normal, but for that to happen we have to think of our community as a whole. Even if you don’t like masks, wear it to protect others and because it’s the right thing to do.

Dear daughter — you probably won’t remember this time in history, but you’re here — you’re living it. This time has taught me to think of others. Wear a mask because it’s simple. Help out where you can. Think of your community, and trust the experts.

Hopefully, nothing else will happen like this in your lifetime, but if it does, learn from this chaotic year and do what’s best for the community — and country and even world — as a whole. Help others because we are in this together.

Love,

Mom

PS You have some adorable masks.

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – no.19 “Four-Letter Word” and “Blame and Responsibility”

Dear adorably innocent daughter,

You’re only four-years-old, but you can use the word “fuck” properly in just about every part of the sentence. 

I know it’s my fault. I really have a mouth on me sometimes.

I can’t help but laugh every time you say it even though dad tells me not to.

 Two adorable examples come to mind:

One summer day we were playing in the sandbox and you complained about the “fucking bugs”. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to pee my pants. We live in an old swamp and I hate the fucking bugs, too.

But I think my favorite would be the night we were working on craft projects and you dropped a paper plate full of glitter. It went everywhere — all over the table, rug, and floor. You froze, then looked at me with fear in your eyes, and let out a soft and innocent “fuck”. I could never be mad after that.

Maybe I don’t have a lesson in this letter, and maybe I’m a nieve first-time parent, but I really don’t care if you swear. Pop Pop and dad really want to curb your habit, but I just always feel there are bigger fish to fry. Plus I’m not a fan of censorship.

Just always know there’s a time and place. If we’re hanging out at home, let it fly. If you’re at a job interview, maybe not so much. 

Love,

Mom

 

Dear daughter,

When you take god and the devil out of the equation, you become responsible for your own actions. 

Too many people use religion as an excuse for their wrongdoings. 

I’m sure by now you know what it feels like to be hurt. Keep that in mind in the way you treat others. Empathy is held dear to families of humanist parents. We are good humans and we own up to our mistakes and learn from them. We respect others.

God and the devil have absolutely nothing to do with the personal growth you will experience from the ups and downs of life and your interactions with others.

It is your responsibility to acknowledge when you are wrong and become a better person because of it. 

You don’t need religion to have a moral compass. In fact, you’re probably better without it. 

The Golden Rule isn’t Christian; it’s found in cultures all over the world. Please keep it in mind.

Love,

Mom