A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter – No. 33 “Empathy”

Dear daughter,

Yesterday you won an award at school for empathy, and I am not surprised at all. You are so considerate of others and you absorb everything around you. Even before you went to school, your empathy was noticed at daycare. When another kid was struggling, you drew them pictures to cheer them up. Everyone at the daycare thought it was the sweetest thing.

You even pick me flowers when I’m sad.

Being able to show compassion and understanding is a skill not everyone possesses that will serve you well throughout your life.

There’s one thing I’ve noticed about your upbringing that really differs from mine years ago. As a child, my focus was achievement. Good grades. Winning competitions. Excelling in extracurriculars, etc. It was always a huge blow when I didn’t measure up. As an adult, I now see there are more important things and I’m still trying to work past my “achievement” mindset.

But you’re different. You focus on character. Daddy and I try not to push you too hard into activities. We want you to get good grades but we’re not going to be angry if you don’t. As far as I’m concerned, the award you received for empathy is a huge honor – bigger than test scores or a ribbon on field day – and I couldn’t be prouder.

I don’t think there was an award for empathy when I was growing up, but there should have been.

You have a talent for connecting with others and I want to support and encourage you as much as possible but my biggest fear is that the world will harden you and turn you cold. I see you feel other’s pain and that’s a heavy weight to carry.

Hopefully, that’s way down the road yet. Continue being that sweet and caring first grader for as long as possible.

Daughter, don’t ever forget you have a beautiful heart and mind. You learn so much from the people you meet and they will learn from you as well. You have so much to offer the world.

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — No. 32 “First Grade”

Dear Daughter,
It’s fall 2022 and a new school year has begun – first grade. More reading. More math. More everything. But so far so good! You like your teacher and this year seems promising.
You’re curious and innocent. You’re making new friends and meeting people who are different from you. You go on many adventures with the girl next door – usually barefoot. Your infectious smile lights up your whole face and brightens the world in your own special way.
You’re spunky. You put on your pretty pink princess dress to go outside and catch bugs. I love that about you.
You have developed a strong interest in art and I love that you now prefer drawing free hand to coloring pages. Your work hangs all over our little house. Daddy and I will do whatever we can to foster your creativity.
I’m a little frustrated that you think god, zombies, and Santa Claus are all real, but I try to remind myself that you’re only six years old. I am here to answer any questions that you have and I will look up answers if I don’t know. I’m not going to leave you hanging. There’s a lot going on in the world and I hope you learn to question everything.
Daughter, you are the future and I believe in you. Have a great year!

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — No. 31 “Swimsuit Season”

Dear daughter,

As I write this it is summertime…which also means swimsuit season.

Now that you’re older, I’m going to let you in on a secret; I never liked wearing a swimsuit. Every time we’ve gone to the beach or pool you’ve seen me in a swimsuit and I’ve never complained.

Before you were born I very rarely wore a swimsuit. I was always self-conscious about my body. I was embarrassed and ashamed.

But then you came along and I decided that I would wear a swimsuit no matter what. You love to swim so it happens somewhat frequently. 

I never wanted you to see me unhappy with my body. I never wanted you to think you have to be a certain size to wear a swimsuit.

The truth is swimsuits are for everyone and come in all sizes.

So many women despise swimsuit season but having an eating disorder can make it even more difficult. 

But still, I put on that fucking swimsuit. 

You’re six years old right now and have unfortunately witnessed my struggle with food, anxiety, and weight. However, you have also witnessed me in treatment. I just feel that wearing a swimsuit is one way I can make a difference and send a message.

My hope is that no matter what changes your body goes through as you get older, you will always wear a swimsuit as well. I hope you will send a body-positive message to those around you — especially to those who are younger — just as I’m trying so hard to do right now.

You are beautiful and always remember you can wear whatever the hell you want no matter what size you are. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. 



PS In just a couple months, we will be taking our annual trip to Kelleys Island. I look forward to watching you play and splash around at the beach!

A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — No. 30 “Spring Program”

Dear daughter,

Tonight is your spring program at school and I know you’re nervous as hell. You’ve been saying so for weeks.

My best advice for tonight – just get it over with. No matter what happens tonight, your family is so proud of you.

Kindergarten is almost over. Soon you’ll be a first grader! Here are some things I’ve learned about you this year:

  1. You hate homework.
  2. You have a lot of people young and old who adore you.
  3. You love animals and want to be a zookeeper. 
  4. You can eat your weight in applesauce.

I hope you enjoyed your first year at school, but buckle up because there’s still so much more to come. 

Learning doesn’t just take place in the classroom – it happens everywhere! Learn as much as you can about the world around you. Pop Pop got us memberships to the zoo and science museum so we will be spending lots of time there this summer as well.

Congratulations on making it through kindergarten!


A Secular Childhood: Letters to My Daughter — No. 29 “Treatment”

Dear daughter,

I am writing this letter at a treatment center for eating disorders in Chicago — four hours away from our little house in Toledo.

Deciding to come to treatment and leave you behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. While it hurts right now, I know I will be a better mom when I am well.

Daughter, I hope you are never in this situation. If you are ever struggling, know that you are never alone. Don’t wait to reach out for help.

I love you more than anything. You are beautiful inside and out and you don’t have to prove yourself to anyone.

I think about you every day and I can’t wait to come home.


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. 




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.



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.



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.



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.