Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Raising a Child without Religion?

April is well underway and we're still wearing Christmas pajamas over here. Did you celebrate Easter? We didn't dye eggs, hide eggs, take photos with an Easter bunny, or go to church. That morning we went on a jog around the harbor and after Felix's nap we took a cooler to the park, had a picnic, and played bocce ball. The park was absolutely packed with families and we managed to snag the last parking spot. Later, a ranger told us it was the busiest he'd ever seen. Many of the families were having their own Easter egg hunts and a lot of children were still dressed in church clothing. We were all there for the same reason, to spend the holiday with loved ones, but it made me wonder - was my family actually celebrating Easter or were we just having a picnic at the park?
I was raised Catholic. My father was an altar boy. He met my mom at a church in Colombia. They have seen the pope...twice. I was baptized as an infant, was enrolled in CCD classes as a child, had my First Communion, then my Confirmation as a teenager. I was in the children's choir at our church in Miami for a little while and my sister and I even attended a Catholic university. While in high school I dabbled in the Baptist sect of Christianity and joined the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) because a lot of my friends were members. I even got "saved" one night by a pastor. I prayed every night before bed and often before meals. Going to church on Sunday morning was a nonnegotiable part of our weekly routine. I am partly named after the Virgin Mary. I don't think it gets more Catholic than that. But sometime around the second Iraq war, after my brother's deployment, a religious shift started to occur in our immediate family.
We stopped going to church every week and, after several incidents within the Catholic community of The Rio Grande Valley, particularly when it was discovered that our bishop at the time was protecting several priests who had been accused of sexual abuse, we stopped going entirely. There were protests and acts of civil disobedience. There may or may not have been a protest sign with the bishop's face on it. My father may or may not have used it for dart practice. There may or may not have been an excommunication. 
Soon, a new poster was purchased, framed, and proudly displayed on our family room wall: the words "Heretic in Good Company"boldly printed at the top. Below them, a picture of a bonfire consuming (presumably) those whose opinions differed from the church's. A lone man stands nearby adding kindling to the flame, a cross laying by his feet.  Listed around the picture are about fifty names of people that have historically challenged the status quo and been charged with heresy: Joan of Arc, Galileo, Copernicus, Martin Luther, and Jesus of Nazareth, just to name a few. It seems that within a few months of that poster appearing on the wall, our strict, traditional Catholic way of life was a thing of the past.
Now I'm a mother. I have a responsibility to raise my son to be a kind and decent human being. I want him to follow the Golden Rule but not under the banner of religion. I want him to aim to be good but not because he's avoiding consequences, unlike in Catholicism, for example, that teaches the ten commandments as a means of avoiding hell. I want him to have an inner drive to be a loving and respectful person that's outside of the hypocrisy of a religion that aims to teach tolerance while regarding certain behaviors as "wrong". And I don't believe that just Catholicism is problematic - I see fault in all the major religions. 
But I also want my child to grow up feeling like he's part of a community that believes in the greater good - whatever that may mean. I want him to feel a sense of belonging and, possibly, spirituality. I want him to grow up with traditions that are meaningful to us, but, all the well established traditions are mostly related to religion, like Christmas and Easter. I don't want him to feel alienated from his peers due to not partaking in these holidays but I also want him to live an authentic life. Can we have all the fun of Easter without the work, the forty days of lent where we are taught to give up something we enjoy? Should we put up the Christmas tree and build the nativity scene even though we won't be praying at church on Christmas Eve? It seems wrong to me. If we're not going to mass on Sundays or learning about the reasons that Easter and Christmas are celebrated, then maybe we shouldn't do the activities that go along with it? They say you don't get to have your cake and eat it, too, unfortunately. 
Or, maybe we can build meaning into those cultural traditions by exploring other, less popular, beliefs like Paganism or the Unitarian Universalist faith - some kind of secular religion. Or perhaps we go completely atheist and stick solely to truths that science can back up. I'm not sure about any of it but I think I'm willing to research these options a bit further. Traditional religions seem to be less popular lately since they aren't having any kind of positive effect on all the death and destruction happening in our world and, instead, are often directly correlated to so much of the misery that's taking place. So I think it might be time to change our mindset about the goodness of "holy" faith and look into those not-so-holy ones. Don't worry, I won't be joining a cult. But if I do, I'll be sure to report back.
How about your families? Are you more traditionally or non-traditionally religious? Let me know in the comments! Have a great week. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sundays Unplugged

A couple of weeks ago I was in the kitchen making Felix lunch while he napped. The television was on and I had my phone on the counter near the ingredients. It wasn't exactly a moment set up for mindfulness but, after suddenly realizing that I had picked up and checked my phone every minute for about five minutes, I snapped into the present - I am addicted to my phone. I wasn't expecting a call, nor following a recipe online, nor doing anything that required me to look at my phone as obsessively as I had in that short amount of time. I had been picking it up to look at the screen absentmindedly, not even aware that I was doing so, until the fifth time when I realized the time on my phone had only changed one minute since the last time I'd looked at it. I felt shame and sadness: I don't know how to spend down-time without staring at my phone screen.

So, In an effort to have more self-control, I decided that on Sundays I will unplug from my phone.
 I chose Sunday because it's the most convenient for me - Chris is around so if there's an emergency or if we have plans with others he can be the contact person.
As of today I have done two unplugged Sundays. When I wake up I quickly check for any messages on my phone, I text my family a reminder that I am unplugging and to contact Chris if need be, and then I turn my phone off and put it in the the drawer of my nightstand, not to be looked at until Monday morning.
Before we go out for the day, I make sure my real camera is charged so I can use it to take photos since my go-to camera is the one on my cell phone. My first Sunday unplugged we spent the morning making discoveries at the San Diego Botanic Garden and the afternoon drinking beer and playing games at Park 101 in Carlsbad. My second Sunday unplugged (yesterday) we went on a long jog in the morning and spent the afternoon drinking beer and eating vegan grilled cheese sandwiches at Bagby Beer Company.  Our Sundays are typically nice but these past two Sundays have felt even sweeter than usual, and I think it's because I was disconnected from my phone.
I was a bit surprised at how easy and liberating it felt not having my phone on me. I felt more present and relaxed and was able to give friends and family my undivided attention. Just like the olden days when we all lived in caves and didn't photograph our morning coffee and then would walk ten miles to school without Google Maps.
Felix is growing up in a technological world and, while that's remarkable on so many levels, I do believe that it's making us lonelier, more distracted, and weirder (and not in the good Ren-and-Stimpy-weird kind of way). I want Felix to find joy and purpose offline and I have to start modeling that now before he begins to throw a fit to use my phone.
Do any of you incorporate time to unplug? What does that look like for you?
Happy Monday, have a wonderful week.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

How to Play :Inspired by The Danish Way

While I was pregnant with Felix I spent weekends reading parenting books and magazines to try and prepare myself for motherhood. Sure, they were generally interesting and informational but none of the advice really stuck with me, except from one book- "The Danish Way of Parenting: What The Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids". This past January, when Felix officially entered the toddler stage, I thought it would be a good idea to reread the book. Now, having finished it a second time, I think it's worth dedicating a few blog posts to the fundamentals of the book because I believe they are the best out there.
Beginning in 2012, the United Nations has released a yearly World's Happiness Report and Denmark has been in the top two spots every year since then. In that same amount of time, the United States hasn't made it into the top ten and has, in fact, been declining. U.S economist Jeffrey Sachs wrote an article about this happiness decline in which he states the reason as being due to a "social crisis, not an economic crisis".  Yes, the United States is a rich country, but our people are lonely. There are many, many factors that have led to this social decline and, after having read "The Danish Way", I believe one of those factors is that in the U.S we don't let our children play enough.

I know that upon first hearing this it may seem untrue, we've all seen kids playing around somewhere -parks, schools, neighborhood cul-de-sacs, even breweries nowadays. But how much of that play is open-ended and unstructured? How much of that play is done with parents nearby but not hovering around? How much of that play is totally child-led? How much of that play isn't sports/competition related? How much of that play is done during the school week and not just on weekends? And, for how long is that play?
Play is a fundamental part of child-rearing in Denmark, not just something kids do when the parents are busy. Danes believe, and I agree with them, that play is a very important aspect of education. Just as learning to read is crucial to being a successful adult, so is having the time and space to simply just play, because it's through play that children learn important social skills: empathy, confidence, listening, negotiating, decision making, etc.  Having a good foundation of social skills at an early age leads to adults that are more confident, more empathetic, and better colleagues and partners. Adults with these social abilities are less lonely, which, in turn, means happier communities and country at large.

So how do we incorporate play here in the United States, a country that isn't structured around the importance of play in the way that Denmark is? Parents, caregivers, and educators need to make a conscience effort to make it happen regularly. These are the ways in which I'm trying to raise Felix to garner a strong sense of self through play based development.

I understand that most people are unable to stay-at-home with their children the way that I am, which is why I think it's crucial that educators and caregivers also be aware of the importance of play. Perhaps "The Danish Way of Parenting" and the follow up to that book - "Play The Danish Way" -would be good resources for teachers and caregivers to read for educational development purposes. In light of so many of the recent tragedies that have been unfolding in our country, raising happier and more social children is our responsibility and we need to work together to make it happen.

Happy Thursday everyone, have a great and fun weekend filled with play!