Secular Parenting in a Non-Secular Society
One common problem that many people face today, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof, is how to be a “good” parent. We buy the latest books, read the “right” blogs, hear countless of hours of advice from our friends (both those with and without children). Hell, we even post parenting questions to places like Facebook and Twitter. I think this type of behavior is quite understandable since, unlike many species, we don’t seem to have a full set of “parental instincts” built into our biology. Sure, you might have to carry around a flour sack for a week in high school or have a brief introduction to developmental psychology in an introductory psychology course in college, but very few of us have direct instruction in how to be a good parent. Instead, we look to our own parents (which could be a positive or negative influence), our peers with children, and society as a whole to glean what information we can about how best to raise our children under our particular set of beliefs.
But, what if you look around and find out that, oh shit, the people and society you are surrounded by do not actually share your belief system? What if, in particular, you want to raise your child in an atmosphere that supports freethought, rational inquiry, and secular humanistic values? There are literally thousands of books on parenting as a Christian, quite a few on Muslim and Buddhist parenting, but pickings are rather slim if you go looking for secular parenting advice. Or rather, they were until the last few years, when along came Dale McGowan.
McGowan exploded on the secular scene in 2007 as the editor and co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief, which was followed up by Raising Freethinkers: A Practical Guide for Parenting Beyond Belief in 2009. He also maintains the excellent blog The Meming of Life, which has expanded past only parenting into other areas of secular life. As he told Helen Grant of OKC.net recently,
okc.net: What prompted you to write “Parenting Beyond Belief?”
McGowan: Early in my own parenting I went looking for resources addressing the specific issues that come up when you raise children outside of religion — understanding moral development, dealing with death, religious literacy, rites of passage, extended family issues, community, etc — and found zilch. The intention of the book and its companion guide “Raising Freethinkers” is to help nonreligious parents find answers to those challenges without the religious framework.
Taken together, these three resources (which aren’t just McGowan, but also have a number of other authors), are a fantastic starting point for any secular parent-to-be or parent-already. They combine philosophical discussion on what it truly means to be raising a freethinking child, as well as practical, everyday advice for how to go about doing so. I have read both books, check his blog often, and think that my secular parenting skills are better for doing so.
This past summer, McGowan was one of the featured speakers at the Oklahoma Freethought Conference (FreeOK), where he gave an excellent talk on these issues, embedded below.
On the day after the conference, McGowan held a Parenting Beyond Belief workshop, hosted by the OKC Secular Parenting Group. I know a number of people who attended, and they were united in praising the information they received. The workshop covered what McGowan considers five essential key areas to address when raising a freethinker:
- Understanding religion
- Extended family issues
- Finding community
- Instilling ethics
- Dealing with death and life
To learn more about these issues, I highly recommend checking out McGowan’s website, reading the books, check out his YouTube channel, check out my friend Seth interviewing him on the TTA podcast, or even attend one of his workshops