Well, I stepped in a big pile of online poop a few days ago. I posted a question online and it touched a few nerves. I shouldn’t be surprised, the subjects involved were two things that seem to create the post passionate responses: veganism and child rearing.
My inquiry was relatively simple, I was curious how I (as a childless person) should answer children when they ask why I am a vegan. How honest should I be? Do kids know that meat comes from live animals? Should I discuss how a plant-based diet is healthier? Should I talk about how I think it is wrong to kill animals for human pleasure? Basically, how do I handle questions from kids about my alternative lifestyles when I don’t want to piss off parents.
I received some good advice. Several parents gave examples of how they would like that situation handled and some language that would be appropriate for children. In general, I am probably overthinking much of this but I am fascinated by child-rearing (and terrified of pissing off parents who are my friends). Most parents even said they would have no problem with me explaining my beliefs, even though those beliefs contradicted their own.
There were some people who were more passionate though, some who did not like the idea of sharing ideas with their kids that ran counter to their own. How children are raised is a grey area in all societies, and one in which there doesn’t seem to be a perfect answer. Most people don’t see their children as property that can be treated as they see fit, parental rights don’t extend to abuse or neglect. But we also don’t like the idea of non-parents stepping in to tell parents how to raise their kids, and rightfully so. Parents, in theory anyway, have the best intentions for their children and have the most localized knowledge. That means they should be the ones in the best position to raise the children, but we don’t always agree on what counts as abuse or neglect.
Some would see permanently removing a part of an unwilling infant’s genitalia as part of an ancient religious ceremony as harming a child and violating that child’s autonomy, while others think male circumcision is fine. Others would say using religion to try and heal a child from a disease is appropriate, while others see that as neglect. Some see raising a child along a certain religious or ethical path as the parent’s rights, while others think that closing your children off to differing opinions is brainwashing and damages their ability to function in the adult world later on.
Parenting is hard, and it shouldn’t be entered into lightly. It might be one of the most important things a person can do with their life and, as such, I think people should be educated about the best practices to raising children. We also shouldn’t shame or stigmatize people who decide not to have children, instead we should use childless people as a resource to provide a more well-rounded education to children and provide support. I don’t want kids of my own, but I will gladly help my childbearing friends by living in a communal system with them, babysitting so that they can get a date in with their spouse and bump uglies for a night, have conversations with them that the parents are uncomfortable with, or take them on an adventure over the summer that will open their minds to new experiences.
I’m not sure that I am comfortable lying to children though, or even really sugar-coating things (though, I will be tactful and attempt to use appropriate language for their age). I guess this is a warning, if you have kids and don’t want certain subjects discussed please let me know ahead of time. If I’m not warned then I will openly answer questions about veganism (or atheism, anarchism, sexuality, non-traditional relationships, vagabond life, or anything else that comes up). I’ll honor the parental request about keeping silent on these issues, but to be honest, I won’t be comfortable with it, and I’ll probably ask about it later when the children aren’t around. On the flip side, if parents are uncomfortable talking about things with their children (I’m sure this is true for some subjects, particularly sexuality which should really be discussed in an appropriate form very early on) feel free to make me the eccentric uncle that they can turn to with their questions. I’m always open to explaining things to all ages and am available via email, text, etc.
Side note: The discussion on my Facebook wall made me realize that being vegan is kind of a privileged position in the United States. In order to go without eating animal products you either need extra money or extra time. Most parents, particularly parents of multiple kids, don’t have either. If your meals are primarily fast food because your weekly schedule doesn’t allow for any breaks too cook then it can be incredibly burdensome to have a child with ethical problems with meat consumption.Vegan fast food tends to be more expensive and cooking meals for a large family is very time consuming. I can sympathize with that.