Secular families face special challenges in military communities

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Contributed by Erika Douglass

Last year, my son attended a theist preschool. While waiting for class to be released, I asked another parent about how she got started being a foster parent. She rambled on for a few moments, giving me Christian based websites to look at, then she did something I still can’t believe. She said to me “people like you and me need to be fostering these children, because if we don’t, you know who will?” I expected her to say something rational, maybe pedophiles who slipped through background checks? No. She looked around, like a closet racist would do before telling a racist joke (to give you a visual) and whisper sneered, “Atheists. Those people should NOT be parents.”

I was in shock, and I could feel my anger rising. But, hidden within my anger was hurt. I’m a good mom, maybe even on some days, a great mom. My kids are loved and well cared for. We’re a modern version of the quintessential American family. Dad is active duty Air Force, and I’m a stay at home mom who takes her kids with her for volunteer work. For her to say that atheism automatically makes one an unfit parent was appalling. Why would my love be no less welcome to a child who needed it? Wouldn’t a loving atheist mother be better than no mother at all? In her opinion, no.

Before kids, I spoke before thinking. Parenthood has forced me to stifle some of that, and this woman should be thanking her ever living stars for that. In that moment, as this woman said that my love, my parenting wasn’t good enough for orphaned children, as I held my six-month old baby to my chest, my eyes welled up with tears and I walked away. There were so many things I wanted to say to her, but I was in my child’s school. I was surrounded by two and three year olds, so it was neither the time nor the place.

It’s been months since this happened, but obviously, it does still bother me. It made me wonder why she looked around before spitting “atheist” out…did she think she’d be able to spot one of us with horns and a spiked tail?

I’ve questioned religion since high school, I attended a military boarding school where we had to attend church services five days a week. When I started asking myself why god would grant one families prayers to bless their food, but allow a family down the street to starve while they were praying just as hard; why would god protect one army and smite another, while both armies were praying for protection and victory….it didn’t make any sense. Unlike everything else, the more I thought about it, the less sense it made. I want my son to have good answers to those questions.

douglass 20140802 2My son and I both did make some good friends at this school. One of the mothers of my sons friends invited us to go to church with them, when I told her thanks but no thanks, she responded with “I’ll be praying for you.” Every time I saw her after that, she’d tell me that she was praying for my soul and that one day I would let god into my heart. But we were still looking for a supportive community.

The MAAF Guam chapter was just started. Their first meeting was just a month ago. Since I saw the posting advertising the meeting on a base Facebook page, I was elated. I immediately requested to join the group and thus far, have found everyone to be incredibly helpful. The group is in its infancy, and I cannot wait to be involved. I’m looking forward to meeting more like minded people, and hopefully my kids will make some new friends too! A few months ago, I had posted in the base’s Facebook page asking if there were any organizations of freethinkers or humanists on the island. I assume that some of the responders took to Google to learn what I was asking, (or they didn’t) because I started getting information about area churches and women’s religious studies groups. I ended up deleting the post. I posted the same question in a natural mothers (cloth diapers, breastfeeding, etc.) group for the island and got mixed answers; none were negative, some inquired about humanism and freethinking, and a few asked me to let them know if I found anything! I’ve also gotten good support at Secular US Military Families Facebook Group.

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