How do you raise your children to have open minds when you have an ex who counters your belief in openness?
I’m in the middle of the longest, stupidest legal battle in the history of family law (okay, I may be exaggerating a wee bit, but it certainly feels that way). This was supposed to be over in December. It’s May. Last week the judge set a court date in August, so this promises to drag out for months more.
At issue: parenting specifics. My ex is fighting me on three things:
1) He doesn’t want to provide on-going support for my severely developmentally-disabled son after he turns 18. (Said son is now seven, still in diapers, and can’t answer the simple question “what’s your name?” He will always need a guardian.)
2) He doesn’t want to pay a fair share of child support. He works 20 hours of overtime per week (this is, after all, his excuse for bailing on his visitation time), but he wants child support calculations based upon his base salary only.
3) He is arguing with a clause stating that I will have final decision-making authority when it comes to my children’s medical, educational, and religious issues.
Number three, ah there’s the rub. At least in the issue at hand today–number one pisses me the fuck off more than I can express. But that’s for another blog post.
My older son craves knowledge. At the beginning of the school year when they do those cheesy “about me” projects, one of the things he always says about himself is that he loves to learn. Our DVR is filled with shows like Nova, Planet Earth, and Wonders of the Universe because he loves discovering all he can about the world.
We’ve spent hours upon hours snuggled on the couch together watching documentaries about Pangaea and homo erectus and dinosaur fossils. So what he said last week was particularly surprising.
“The Earth is 4,000 years old.”
Nico was dumbfounded. Soon he began to pepper my son with logic to challenge this flabbergasting claim. “What about the Triassic era you learned about when you did your dinosaur project? How long ago was that era?”
“300 million years ago. But maybe the book got the number wrong and it was really 4,000 years ago.”
“There are human records that date back to over 4,000 years ago. We have writing on stone tablets from the Nile region and the Indus Valley that are more than 4,000 years old.”
This went on and on. By the end, my son concluded that the dinosaurs were created 4,000 years ago, then died out, then were replaced by humans the next day.
My ex has become more and more of a religious fundamentalist as he’s aged. When he moved to Metropolis in November, he started attending a fundamentalist Baptist church religiously (no pun intended). And, when he has the boys on the weekend, he takes them to church. I didn’t have a problem with this really because the church has a special needs ministry with people who understand my younger son’s disability so he actually has a nice time when he goes.
But, it seems that my older son’s two-hour Sunday school class strives to indoctrinate the children in Young Earth Creationism. This theory goes beyond just saying that God created the world; it calculates years based upon the biblical record to determine how old the Earth is. All of those long, tedious passages of “so and so begat so and so who lived to be 700 years old” are tallied. Most people who adhere to this theory believe the Earth was created 5,700 to 10,000 years ago, but my son’s Sunday School teacher is apparently a bit more radical and thinks the number is 4,000. Science and history be damned; a literal translation of the Bible is all that matters.
If it were up to me, I’d allow my son to make his own decisions about his faith. I want to expose him to a rich range of belief systems, from atheism to Zoroastrianism, and allow him make up his own mind as he explores because I believe that a religion that is forced on someone has no value at all. However, until a judge says “yes” me having final decision-making come August, I don’t have any legal standing to make an authoritative stand against my ex’s fundamentalism. And, I don’t want my son to feel torn between believing what mom says and what dad says.
What’s a mom to do?
Last night my son was beyond intrigued by Nova episode about the elements. Bedtime was creeping up, but he was so enthralled that I decided to be a bit lax on my typical militancy about going to bed on time. I was just about to the point where I was going to pause the show and pick up on the rest the next day when the host, David Pogue, began to talk about the development of the elements on Earth. It all started with microorganisms, which developed into algae, which expelled oxygen as a byproduct of its chemical reactions, which made the development of other forms of life possible. Pogue met up with a microbiologist who studies the hot springs of Yellowstone and said, “I prepared to meet my oldest living relative.” He was about to meet a microorganism who lives in the boiling waters.
I paused the DVR. Teaching moment.
I asked my son if he knew what Pogue was talking about when he said he was meeting his oldest living relative. He didn’t know. Nico, being the playful and sarcastic guy he is, started calling out possibilities just to make my son laugh. “A camel? Chester Cheeto? Jose Ole? A T-rex?”
I told him to be quiet, that I was going to talk about evolutionary biology with my son. The “ah ha!” look flitted onto Nico’s face as he realized what I was doing, and he shut up.
My son and I talked about how old Pogue said the microorganism were, then traced the evolutionary path from microbe to algae to other forms of life. It countered the story of creation that he’d learned, and he repeated the Genesis account with such accuracy that I’m pretty sure the church has the Sunday School kids memorizing the opening chapters of the book word for word. I didn’t want to say the Genesis account was wrong because that would counter my goal of encouraging him to encounter a wide variety of ideas with an open mind, so we talked about how Moses didn’t know anything about microbiology or atoms when he wrote the Pentateuch and because of that he could only fathom the creation of the world in metaphorical terms. Then Nico and I told him about the wide array of origin myths from culture to culture, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the Navajo Glittering World to the Norse Muspell (yes, we’ve both spent way to much time in school). I told my son that how the Earth came into being was a question so unfathomable in a pre-scientific world that the people tried to make sense of it all through metaphor and story.
My son rested his head on his palm, as if all the mental work his brain was doing made it too heavy for his neck muscles to hold.
“You’re blowing my mind,” he said.
Yes, my mind would be blown too if someone started talking to me about microbes and Gilgamesh when I was only ten.
And yet, he was intrigued. Thirsty to learn more. He asked if we could watch more Nova episodes tomorrow, and I said of course.
He went to bed with an open, curious mind. I couldn’t ask for more.
Have you had any challenges with contrasting parental belief systems, especially among exes? How did you respond?