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 Funeral and Religious Service – A Day of Firsts for My Daughter

My husband’s grandfather died last weekend. He was in his 90s and he was aware that he was dying. He lay in hospice for several days before finally passing. It was unbearable to watch. I hope that when I die – especially if I know I’m dying – it goes a little quicker than that. 

At first, we weren’t going to take our six-year-old daughter to visit him in hospice, but one night he specifically asked for her so we brought her the next day. She was a little freaked out but she sat on the floor and drew him a picture. She showed it to him and it was very sweet.

The funeral is tomorrow and my husband and I both agree she should be there with the rest of the family. This really isn’t her first funeral, but it will probably be the first one she actually remembers. She was still a baby when my stepmother and grandmother died. 

This will also be her first religious service. My husband’s family is Lutheran – the conservative kind. (Eek!)

Part of me hopes our daughter will be curious and ask us lots of questions, but the other part of me knows she’s going to be bored and ask to play with my phone.

Any advice on making this a meaningful/educational experience for my daughter? Or is six still too young to understand?

I’m really not a “people person”. Anyone else?

Last weekend my family went to the local science museum, and it was super crowded. In fact, it’s been packed every single time we’ve been there. We have a family membership and my daughter loves the place. I hate going there because crowds make me incredibly nervous.

But I go. I have a lot of anxiety when we go out in public or in social situations, but I do it for my daughter. I don’t want her to miss out. It’s so hard to be a parent with anxiety because I want my daughter to experience lots of different things. My anxiety hinders me, but I’m doing my best to not let it affect my daughter. 

But honestly, some days I don’t even want to leave the house.

Even the grocery store is difficult. I prefer to go in the middle of the week at night when no one’s there, but unfortunately, we always end up going on Friday when we get paid – just like everyone else. Saying money’s tight in the middle of the week is an understatement. 

I won’t even go near Costco on the weekend.

This isn’t limited to crowds. I always feel awkward in my interactions with others. I have a schizophrenic disorder and my medication makes me shake – I just feel like everyone knows. My mental illness has never been a secret, but I also don’t want it to be the first thing people think of when they see me.

In summary, I am not a people person. I don’t have much of a point to this post other than to find people to commiserate with. Now that I’m done bitching, can anyone relate? People with little ones — how do you ensure your child experiences as much as possible when you’re just a big ball of nerves?

My daughter at the science museum.

What’s worth the risk?

I have the best job in the world! I paint and write poetry every day. When my shift ends, I go home and do the same thing. I have envisioned this kind of life for as long as I can remember and now it’s actually real. I am so fortunate to get to do the things I love.

At one of our recent writer’s groups at work, we had the prompt “what’s worth the risk?” I immediately thought of my daughter. She was a high-risk pregnancy due to a medication I take. Here’s the poem I wrote:

 

The Risk in the Storm

A tear-soaked past
and a broken brain
were met with resilience
and an abundance of love.

The idea of you
was met with resistance –
the biggest risk
in the smallest package.

You came into this world
in lightning and thunder.
It was the longest night –
out of the darkness came your light.

You were once a dream out of reach
but now I lift you up
to taste the stars
grounded in my purpose.

Six years of giggles and tears,
six years to the moon and back.
You can fall down but get back up
because I promise my love is for life.

You’re the littlest girl
with the biggest heart
and brightest smile.
Let your storm change your world.

 

Now it’s your turn — what’s worth the risk?

Active Shooter Drills/Training

I recently went through ALICE training at work. Surprisingly it was my very first time getting active shooter training. The main takeaway was to get the hell out of the building. 

My office has had some experience with gun violence. It’s not in the best of neighborhoods. Two years ago there was a shooting outside the back of the building. Our organization has also received threats where the entire office was evacuated. 

I even have a plan if a gunman enters the building – there’s a door that locks that blocks off access to my desk. I would lock the door, hide under my desk, and call 911. That’s my plan if I can’t escape. I thought about this well before the training.

The training had some interesting ways to distract a shooter but I think if I was put in the situation I would freeze and be absolutely no help. The instructor kept saying “engage with the shooter”. When put in that situation, who would have the balls to do that?

Usually, during the training, they do live simulations, but my employer chose not to do that. Apparently, it’s pretty intense and even traumatic. The instructor said there was a woman at another local organization who was so traumatized by the simulations that she had to take two weeks off of work.

We listened to 911 tapes from Columbine High School. It was extremely difficult to hear. I was in high school when the Columbine shooting happened and it changed everything.

I’ve cried over the fact that my six-year-old has to do active shooter drills at school. She doesn’t know what it’s for. The night after my training I asked my daughter what she thought about lockdown drills at school. She asked, “is that when we huddle together?” I said yes and asked her why she has to do that. She said, “It’s for practice like a fire drill.” That’s all she knows — it’s “practice”. She doesn’t know any different. I left it at that.

I remember feeling scared during tornado drills at school. Growing up in the Midwest I damn well knew what a tornado was. I can’t imagine being told to hide when you don’t really know the reason. That has to be frightening and confusing. 

They tell students to hide but in Florida, the shooter pulled the fire alarm. What would you do?

There was a shooting at our local high school during a football game a couple months ago — the school my daughter will be going to. But people said it was gang-related — not random — as if that’s supposed to make me feel better about it. No one died but a couple people were wounded.

I do think about these situations – especially at work or out in public – but sometimes it seems like mass shootings happen so frequently that an event can be easily forgotten. Then it happens again. And again. In a way, you become desensitized to it. Even so, it’s still on my mind. Is it on yours?

Do you guys think about these situations often? Do you ever go somewhere and make a plan in your head of where you would go and what you would do? Do you avoid crowded places?

Is it even possible to prepare for an active shooter situation? Will the scenarios I play in my head ever be useful? Or is it causing unnecessary anxiety? 

Post-Pandemic Rules: Do you send a kid with a cold to school?

Last week we had parent-teacher conferences at my daughter’s school, and my husband and I both attended. My daughter is in the first grade and her teacher said she is missing too many days.

Okay, so she missed two days in September because we were on vacation. Maybe we shouldn’t have done that.

But the other days she was sick. Sinus crap. Virus stuff. Nasty cough. Belly ache. She’s been through it all and she passes it all around. My husband and I get sick. The neighbor girl gets sick a lot, too. When she’s sick I usually keep her home.

The conference with my daughter’s teacher was only last week but my daughter has already gotten sick again. Lots of snot and coughing.

I sent her to school anyway and I felt like an asshole – first because my daughter doesn’t feel well and second, because now other kids are going to get sick. But she didn’t have a fever, no vomiting, and no diarrhea – so off to school she goes.

With the pandemic still on our minds, I thought it was best to play it safe, but this time I just sent her to school. 

What do you think? It’s just a cold – she’s not dying – but I feel Covid may have changed the rules a bit. My work has made it really clear – if you’re sick, stay home! But what about school? How sick does your kid have to be to keep them home?

An Atheist Upbringing

Can you be raised an atheist? Or is it a conclusion one must come to on their own?
Obviously, I want to give my daughter a secular childhood but religion seems to be creeping in any way. My daughter is picking up so much from the world around her – including religion. My husband and I have said nothing yet somehow she still knows about god, the devil, angels, and heaven.
I have brought this topic up before and some atheists on here and on Facebook have given me some good ideas on how to approach this topic with my daughter. Still, I have yet to really intervene – except for a couple of questions to probe what she really knows.
My husband and I need to start talking because obviously others already are.
Someone in an atheist Facebook group suggested the children’s book, The Belief Book, by David McAfee. Has anyone read it? What did you think?
I have a lot of hope when I think back to my own upbringing. I was raised in a conservative rural area and my parents weren’t atheists, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t questioning religion as a child. I think at times, children can be natural skeptics with their innate curiosity. At least, I know I was. I hope my daughter shares that trait.

I don’t want to feel like I am indoctrinating my child to believe the same way I do. That makes me no better than devout believers.
Honestly, it’s probably best for my daughter to learn as much as possible about the world around her and decide for herself. Ultimately, it’s her life – not mine.
How would I feel if my daughter decided to follow a religion? How did my parents feel when I became an atheist? Is it the same?
Do you have any more thoughts on the topic? Book suggestions for me and/or my daughter? I’d love to hear what you think.

Kids and Gender Norms — I could use some advice.

Ever since my daughter learned the colors she knew her favorite was pink. She’s six now and that hasn’t changed. She has a closet full of pink dresses and she’s worn one every day since she started first grade a few weeks ago. I’m afraid the school is going to think we’re religious because she wears a dress every day.

My husband and I do not push this. In fact, we are often trying to get her to wear other colors. She picks out her own clothes at the store and she dresses herself. 

Normally I would say this is okay because it’s her choice, but recently she’s been talking about “boy” colors and “girl” colors. I always thought she wore pink because it’s her favorite color, not because she’s a girl…but is that true? Should I be concerned?

My daughter really isn’t a “girly” girl. She’s definitely not afraid to get dirty in those pink dresses and she’s constantly stealing my Tupperware containers to catch bugs which totally grosses me out. 

It’s just some of the things she’s been saying lately have been worrying me. For example, she said long hair is for girls and short hair is for boys. She had an adorable bob that she’s now growing out. I also have a female relative with short hair and my daughter often calls her a man. It can be a little embarrassing correcting her.

Is this just from her going to school? Help me out parents – how do you address this? How do I make sure she’s doing the things she wants to do based on her interests, not gender?

My 6-year-old daughter told me god is real.

I’m still trying to unpack this one. I don’t even remember how it came up, but it did. We were just hanging out in the living room after dinner and my daughter told me that god is real. When I asked her why she thought that, she said because angels and the devil are real, too. 

I let it go. I didn’t push too much because my daughter also thinks zombies and Santa Claus are real and to me, god is on that same level.

I really want to dig deeper and find out where she is getting this information. She is in the first grade and also goes to daycare. She also spends quite a bit of time playing with the little girl next door. 

Is this worth investigating? Is she just being a 6-year-old repeating what she hears in the community? I still feel I should step in.

It scares me a little. We live in a conservative red state in the Midwest. I grew up here and even though my family didn’t go to church, I was always surrounded by Christianity. It led to a lot of hurt and confusion in my childhood, and anger and resentment in adulthood. I don’t want my daughter to go through that. 

My husband and I have been very careful in giving our daughter a secular childhood. Secular daycare. Public school. She’s never been to church. We have never exposed her to any religion. Maybe that’s part of the problem. She deserves an explanation.

I don’t want to shelter my daughter, but I do want to protect her. Being exposed to religion is inevitable. I want to teach her to be skeptical and use common sense, but I get the feeling that that might be a little much for a 6-year-old.

Should I say something? Should I let it go? Help me out parents – have you encountered this?

Do skeptics have fewer fears?

When I was away at treatment for my eating disorder I learned that there’s a difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is a sort of anticipation like worrying about something in the future – maybe even something that will never happen. Fear is more in the moment like an immediate threat or danger.

I’ve always been an anxious person but I never really understood the difference between anxiety and fear. Anxiety feels like a constant undercurrent in my life but when am I actually fearful?

Rational or Irrational Fear?

I’m afraid of deep water. I am constantly on edge if we are near it. I avoid boats and ships. Every September my family goes to Kelleys Island in Lake Erie. You have to take a ferry to get there and every time we get on it, I swear it’s going to sink. Every single year! I have been on that ferry more times than I can remember but I still get an upset stomach and sweat forms on my brow. 

I have a physical reaction every time I’m near deep water.

The thing is, I’m actually a pretty decent swimmer. I don’t mind shallow water. But if I can swim well, what’s the difference if it’s shallow or deep? 

This seemed like an irrational fear until my daughter was born six years ago. When my daughter is around deep water my fear is times ten. There’s a quarry on my husband’s family’s property, and whenever we go to visit, you better believe I watch my daughter’s every move. She always wants to play outside and I cringe every time she opens the door.

I may be going a bit overboard but I feel with my daughter my fear of deep water has gone from irrational to rational. I don’t even want to think about what could happen.

Also, my daughter has been taking swimming lessons every week since she was three years old. I made sure of it.

I talk myself into it.

When I’m feeling anxiety or fear I often have to talk myself into things. For example, I get nervous when I drive. I always think I’m going to get into an accident or break down. I have to tell myself that the odds of my getting into an accident and breaking down every single time I get into my car are pretty small. Also, I’m a careful driver and I have AAA. 

I drive almost every day and rationalizing with myself really helps. It’s hard though because I know in the back of my mind all sorts of unfortunate events are possible.

I know thinking about ways to stay safe despite small possibilities is more effective than praying every time I get in the car. The question is, do people feel relief after praying as I do after rationalizing?

Does being a skeptic affect your fear?

We all know religion feeds on fear and people will believe just about anything. Are religious people more fearful in general? Do they have more irrational fears? Or do they find peace thinking god will protect them?

Can being a skeptic affect what you fear? If you have the ability to question your fear, does it lessen it? 

 

What do you think? Also, what things are you afraid of? Are they rational or irrational? I’d love to hear it.