On “Imposing” Our Beliefs on Our Children
It’s fascinating, how what 98% of Americans do with their children is called “parenting” and “guidance.” It can also be referred to as “transmission of culture,” with its handing down of the trappings, rituals, holidays and even mutilations of religion and ethnicity.
But what I do is “imposing” or “forcing” veganism and atheism on my child. It’s not parenting; it’s considered behavior that’s irresponsible at best, and abusive at worst.
As far as atheism goes, I’d rather my child have a healthy skepticism that is fact driven and science driven. I’d rather stress personal responsibility and the realistic notion that life isn’t fair and owes you nothing. And that we have the ability to change our lives and circumstances (and that that is a statement of privilege). You know what would be irresponsible? For me to tell my daughter that there’s some invisible being who, if he desires, can control anything in the universe he wants to control. Including her life. That she needs to respect that being, or else. Or even worship that being, who may or may not exist. That she might suffer tremendously in her life, and that the Being With Ultimate Power is actually doing her a favor by making her suffer. By choosing her to suffer in the manner in which she suffers. He has his reasons.
My parents did their best to raise my sister and me. They did nothing controversial and my sister and I grew up more or less just like most of our friends on suburban Long Island. We were presented with animals to eat and wear. We ate and wore them. We were presented with animal bodies to celebrate over at holidays. Animal skin to wear on our feet.
When my husband and I first adopted Baby Sky, several friends and relatives asked, “are you going to make her be a vegan? And what happens if she decides to eat meat later on?” Essentially, my parents made me eat and wear dead animals. I grew up respecting dogs and cats, but not other animals. Animals existed for my entertainment in zoos, water parks and at circuses. It wasn’t in the consciousness of my parents that the values they were transmitting were marked by disrespect for others. They were simply raising us as best they could within the mainstream culture.
One could also say, however, that they were imposing their beliefs on us. They were forcing us to be consumers of animal exploitation industries. I’m not sure if it technically takes a level of intent to force or impose beliefs, or if you can do it by default by not offering other options or not encouraging critical thinking. Saying, “we eat animals, because that’s what we do” may make no sense whatsoever, but it’s the reason many people continue to eat animals. To do or think otherwise, to acknowledge the absence of logic or empathy in that reasoning, is to open a door that cannot be closed, regardless of the behavior that follows.
When I was in my teens, I told my dad (who was driving the Catholic bus, while mom drove the bus headed toward Buddhism) that I wasn’t going to go to church until girls could be priests. I’d been thinking about the set-up of The Church and didn’t like it. I had good reasons, which were listed, listened to and respected, and I stopped going to church. And when I discovered what animals went through on their way to becoming our meals, I made appropriate changes in that direction as well.
I’m raising my daughter with a clear, stated ethic: Respect other beings, as no one exists for your benefit. I’m forcing that on her just as much as the omnivores next door are forcing their ethics on their children, through their words and deeds.
It’s transmission of a culture that I’m proud of.
If Sky reaches her teens and decides that animals do indeed exist for our benefit, and that there is a god whom she’d like to worship (and furthermore, that her name is spelled Skye), we’ll deconstruct those notions together and she will do what she will do. But I won’t feel like I had done her a disservice by raising her with a heart for justice and a mind for inquiry.