Tell Them The Truth: Empowering Our Children to Be Truth-Seekers

Source: Gallery Hip

Source: Gallery Hip

Babylon system is the vampire
Suckin’ the children day by day
Me say, de Babylon system is the vampire,

falling empire,
suckin’ the blood of the sufferers.
Building church and university,
Deceiving the people continually…

In 1979, Jamaican Reggae music legend, Robert “Bob” Marley — less than two decades after his country’s independence from England —wrote and released a song called “Babylon System.”

In the chorus, Bob’s band issues a five-word plea with so much conviction that it still demands to be heard: Tell the children the truth.

Today, as an adult, as a community member, and as a mother of two daughters, I demand what Bob Marley & the Wailers demanded back then. I, too, want the truth for the children.

So much so that I opted out of many of the American childhood social norms, like Santa and the Easter Bunny, because I want them to trust that I won’t ever deceive them — even if it’s all in “good fun.”

But once my daughters entered the American school system, I quickly realized that it would be impossible for my husband and I to keep the truth as the focal point while they were being taught lies from skewed textbooks and silenced teachers.

Further, I began to notice how that “good fun” showed up in so many areas outside of school.

My daughters, now ten and eight, have been peppered with questions and accusations on playgrounds, among family members with differing perspectives than our own, and in other everyday interactions.

Those conversations, much like many of those good fun topics (which are essentially socially acceptable and generally expected lies), wrap themselves around three important areas in our society: God, food, and education.

For the truth-seeking adult, these three areas offer prime opportunities to deal with children either out of fear or out of respect.

The fear-based place is the one where we go along with whatever we’ve been taught while the respect-based place is the one where we observe our children and offer our perspectives, but allow our children the space to discover their own beliefs and truths.

Because our truths are ours — and not automatically our children’s — it’s important that we provide them with information and resources, then allow them to make their own decisions.

I make a practice of staying aligned with my belief that I can share my truths with my children without forcing them to comply with everything I believe.

As I continue that practice, I offer you some of what I’m learning, by sharing my truths on God, food, and education that have helped me to stay mindful of what I’m telling my children.

The Three Truths

Truth #1: God and Religion are not Inextricably Linked

I was raised in Jamaica, a country that still has the highest number of churches per capita in the world and more than 100 different Christian denominations.

In my community, God, Jesus, faith, and love were all bundled into one set of rituals and assertions.

My husband and I are taking a different approach to parenting and faith/spirituality. We decided against framing God and faith within the context of any one religion.

But it was very difficult to stand in our decision, especially when our daughters were younger, because of the numerous religious symbols embedded into child-focused holiday activities at school.

My girls found some of the projects (like making Santa hats) fun, but were less inclined to participate in Christmas plays, for example.

However, the plays were so elaborate (for children), and so many of their classroom activities during the holidays centered around the play, that they felt like they’d be the odd ones out if they didn’t participate.

And so, they complied.

Exploration: The Alternative to Compliance

For me, rituals related to Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and anything else that ties a reward to a religious assertion is akin to bribing a child into a belief.

If God and gifts are linked to each other by way of the watcher of good and bad deeds, then of course children will choose the God/Santa-gift option.

But where is the spirituality in that space? Why isn’t it good for a child to know that people who love them make time to work for, carefully choose, and beautifully gift wrap presents for them?

And what is a seven-year-old girl, for example, to do when she feels she did something bad and doesn’t deserve gifts one year? Does she call on God or Santa?

Does she simply hope that Santa didn’t see her bad deed? What happens when she doesn’t get the gifts she wants even if she’s been “good?” Did Santa fail her? Did she fail Santa?

Essentially, I feel that it’s never too early for us to facilitate spiritual exploration and self-inquiry in children because eventually, that seven-year-old will need to find her way inward.

She will have to face a tough life experience — like loss, hurt, or disappointment — and connect authentically with something that can help her process her emotions in healthy ways.

We should allow children to explore spirituality, which can be inclusive of, but should not be solely based on, religion.

They should be able to call God by a name they decide — or not at all. They should be free to explore Holy Books from varying cultures and traditions.

Even if you have a set belief, I encourage you to be willing to allow your child to question the ideas being given to them.  

Let them ask and feel through what you and your circle are sharing with them. Allow them the opportunity for real engagement with, and not coerced connection to, an entity because you said they should believe what you believe.

Truth #2: Real Food Is Not the Same Thing As Tasty Chemistry

Even in kindergarten, our oldest daughter was well aware of the difference between real food and sugary treats.

It is possible — even in their early years — to explain in simple ways the completely preventable litany of physical and emotional side effects that can be a result of processed foods and other environmental or genetic causes.

Further, that explanation doesn’t need to be rooted in fatphobia or classism, and it’s important to remember that people should never be judged or ridiculed for their health or diet.

Our daughters, like most children, responded to the information we shared with them with her own curiosity and asked questions to gather information for themselves.

They make, what I consider to be, healthy choices between nutritious foods and (non-nutritious) treats they enjoy.

That seems to surprise a lot of adults, as so many of us experience frustration with helping our children choose nutrition over taste.

But, since we buy their food, we have influence that is necessary to utilize because our children do not yet have the life experience or context for the consequences that can come with lack of information about the benefits of eating certain types of food.

Information: The Alternative to Compliance

Outside of their first year or so, we didn’t attempt to completely shelter our girls from processed foods. We were (and are) also very deliberate about not equating size with health or worth.

They still have the occasional junk food or drink, just as their father and I do, but we did educate them with what we were learning about how plant-based foods and processed foods affect the body differently.

We talked to them about their energy levels and stomach aches, and even talked to them about how foods can control moods, along with how the human digestive system works.

Also, there are so many engaging books, as well as free online videos and games, that can help any adult to facilitate curiosity and information about food choices for children.

This is not about becoming a certified nutritionist to empower and educate your child on how foods affect their body. Instead, it’s about knowing that you don’t have to just eat what commercials promote or what feels readily accessible.

This is also an opportunity to consider that, as adults, our addictions (to sugar and salt, for example) do not have to automatically become our children’s addictions as well.

Truth #3: You Are Being Purposely Miseducated About American History

Formal education is usually introduced into a child’s life as a means of intellectual and social guidance.

Parents trust their children’s schools, seeing them as part of their community, to equip their children with the skills they need to financially and socially thrive.

The troubling part for me, though, is that this guidance comes with a set of pre-defined expectations about what a child should be doing and what they should be good at by a certain age.

Most people — myself included at one point — see school as the best training ground to prepare our children for “real life.”

That belief calls for us to give our children a set of books, a set of goals, and a litany of tests that measure little more than their ability to memorize and re-write information.

In the midst of this, little is being done to nurture the child because most of the energy goes toward proving that the child is receiving the information.

Receiving and understanding are not the same and even when the information is understood, this pre-fabricated set of “necessary knowledge and skills” are often massaged and manipulated in ways that show prejudice in gender, race, and religion.  

History, for example, is offered in many American schools through a skewed lens of bravery and selflessness on the part of White, heterosexual, Christian cis men — and cowardice (or worse yet, non-existence) where anyone outside of the dominant power is concerned.

Unschooling: One of Many Alternatives to Compliance

Like so many other people before us when they recognized the real cost of compliance, we chose to flee the system. To grab our bags, cut our losses, and define a new norm.

For us, the migration was not to another country or another town, but another daily pattern for gathering and sorting through information.

For us, that new norm came with unschooling, a line of reasoning that entrusts children with the defining and pursuing of their own truths, with our guidance, and in their own time.

Essentially, this way of living untethered us from our own fears of not knowing enough to educate our children ourselves. We are observing and learning about how learning actually works.

And thankfully, it is not at all necessary to have an older person pour information into a child.

Instead, as facilitators, we give our daughters parameters and resources, and we allow them to use curiosity as their primary stimulator for doing any activity.

If you’re curious about unschooling (also referred to as worldschooling), you can take my unschooling course for free.

Is unschooling for everyone? No — particularly if the parent(s) work outside the home, as many do, and are not able to provide the necessary environment for their children to create their own structure and follow their own flow.

However, some aspects of unschooling can be applied for schooled children in simple ways such as more discussions with your child about their interests and then offering your resources (like being able to take them to events related to their interests) to help them explore.

Moving Toward the Truth

Today, if you are inclined to raise a human being who is comfortable with (and confident in) them self and well equipped to lead a happy, morally responsible, financially empowered life, there are truths your child needs to know.

You will need to define those points of access because they differ for each person. Continue paying attention to your children. Learn what their interests are, and lend your perspectives and your resources to their interests.

Incorporate less force and more flow, and remember that structure and force are not the same things.

You can help your child to be goal oriented and trustworthy without forcing them to complete tasks that you set for them.

Make efforts to parent from a space of respect for children’s rights to understand themselves and to feel confident in their abilities to eventually guide themselves.

This means we have to be both honest and firm with them. But we also need to listen to them, to give them access to the full story, and make sure they know that they have room to decide their truths for their own selves.

We refuse to be
What you wanted us to be;
We are what we are:
That’s the way (way) it’s going to be.

Robert “Bob” Marley, Babylon System

Akilah S. Richards is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She is a six-time author, digital content writer, and lifestyle coach who writes passionately about self-expression, womanhood, modern feminism, location independence and the unschooling lifestyle. Connect with Akilah on InstagramTumblr, or her #radicalselfie e-home, radicalselfie.comRead her articles.