Mandisa Thomas is the Founder of Black Nonbelievers, Inc (Twitter & Facebook). One of the largest, if the not the largest, organization for African-American or black nonbelievers & atheists in the United States.
The organization is intended to give secular fellowship, provide nurturance and support for nonbelievers, encourage a sense of pride in irreligion, and promote charity in the non-religious community.
I reached out to begin an educational series with one of the, and again if not the, most prominent African-American woman nonbeliever grassroots activists in the United States.
Here, we talk about Mother’s Day (conducted prior to it).
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We’re in the orbit of Mother’s Day. For those who are secular parents and have developed a secular family life that has worked for them, individually as a family unit, how do you work with and around difficulties with extensions of the family when one marries, for instance, parent-in-laws? Things of this nature.
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, being in a secular household, it usually means that you’re eschewing traditional upbringing. Meaning that, you’re reconsidering the whole “honour thy mother and father thing” and that “family is everything” and “blood over everything.”
I know that in my family – my husband and I – have discussed most everything objectively. We include our children in that as well. In most families, they adopt this idea that children should be seen and not heard/.
Those children should do anything and everything that the parents want. Sometimes, that extends to the grandparents as well. You are supposed to obey them no matter what. In our household and many other secular households, we teach them to speak up when something is wrong.
As parents, we aren’t infallible. There are times when we are wrong. That we must reconsider our position. When it comes to in-laws and grandparents of an older generation, it can be a little bit difficult to deal with.
As the children are growing up, the environments are becoming more conducive for them to ask questions; whereas, the older generation couldn’t do that when they were kids.
Sometimes, it is difficult for them to deal with when it comes to their children and their grandchildren. Oftentimes, there is religious and societal indoctrination. With our household, where we’re raising our children non-religious, that includes reconsidering and also doing away with those archaic ideals.
Jacobsen: If you look at the American context, by and large, for most of its history as well as into the present, though the dynamics of the demographics of religion and non-religion are shifting, the general culture will remain more or less conservative in many respects.
If you look at some of the principles many parents will take on implicitly, such as the Ten Commandments command mentioned before about honouring parents, what traditional American values to their merit make sense? What ones to their demerit don’t make sense in a modern context?
Thomas: The values that I think have some merit are trying to do things together as a family: having family time. Whether it’s eating together, or doing activities that increase our family communication, in our house, we tend to encourage some individuality.
We don’t always eat at the dinner table. We don’t always eat the same things either. But I think incorporating some family time is always good. What I think are very, very harmful [Laughing] factors are the ones inherent in the idea of the nuclear family – not “nucular” like George W. Bush…
Thomas: The mother, the father, the son and daughter, etc., this idea that families are heteronormative. That there must always be a mom and a dad. Coming from a single parent household myself, I see the merit and the importance of having two parents in our household.
But it is not a guarantee that a child will grow up to be a productive citizen, simply because there are two parents. I find many faults with these notions of the traditional family and American values, especially when there is a lot of hypocrisy.
There is also this false idea of the American family. Everyone should live this “middle-class dream” and have nice house and other material items; that everyone should work a regular 9-5 job.
So, that is an ideal. It has really put a lot of people in debt and made a lot of people miserable. There is a lot that I find wrong that the traditional American values and sense of family have really created this false image or idea of happiness.
Jacobsen: With Mother’s Day around the corner or the bend, how do you plan to celebrate it, secularly?
Thomas: I will actually be in Albany, New York, speaking with the Capital District Humanist Society [Laughing].
Thomas: So, I won’t be in town for Mother’s Day this year. In Atlanta, we usually host an annual Mother’s Day brunch with some of the moms of BN, and sometimes the kids will come along. Then I will go to dinner with my children later.
It has been nice to celebrate Mother’s Day in ways that I couldn’t with my own mother. Though it will be different this year, my kids and I know that it doesn’t take one day for us to realize the value of the mother still being there. I love them no matter what, whether it’s Mother’s Day or not.
That whatever they plan, we will eventually be able to do. I also do not want to put on that pressure on them. It is Mother’s Day is very commercialized, and many are compelled to give gifts, or to show a overwhelming affection for their mothers.
I know that my kids will do that, even if I won’t be home on that day.
Jacobsen: What have been some of the nicer surprises from the husband and the kids in secular Mother’s Days past?
Thomas: Usually, they let me stay home and sleep [Laughing].
Thomas: That’s what I like to do. Because I do not want to be bothered. I can shut myself in the room. I can watch TV. I can watch movies or just sleep. To me, that is a great Mother’s Day. They go out and enjoy each other and give me a day off.
That is a great Mother’s Day for me. I do a lot of gift cards, gifts, presents. I like going out to eat. When they do those things, it’s nice as well. But a nice space and tie to relax and just do absolutely nothing. It is always one of the best Mother’s Day presents that I can get.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandis
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.