Mommy, What is Heaven?
For the last two years, I have been dreading this moment in time. My five-year old asked me with a curious look in his eye. My mind raced, my heartbeat sped up. What do I say? How do I answer that question?
On Monday, September 21st, 2009, my husband lost his last grandfather to heart failure. We told the children that he died. They know what death is and are somewhat okay with the idea. They understand it when bugs and animals die, but they have never really had to deal with the issue of a person dying. So we headed down to Lakin, Kansas to be with my husband's family in the time of loss and to attend the services.
On Thursday afternoon we headed to the funeral home. Neither of our children knew what we were there for. Finally, my mother-in-law asked if either of the children wanted to see him. At first I said no, then paused and asked each of the kids. I didn't want to be the one that blocked them from this experience. Someday they will have to bury another family member and I don't want them to be terrified like I am. My son stood up and said, "I want to go in". So my mother-in-law took him down the hallway into the viewing room. He came back and didn't talk for a while. When we went outside I heard him say to my husband, that body was scary. Ryan got upset because well that was his grandpa. As he started to scold him for saying that, I stopped him and let him know that this was the first time he had ever seen a dead body, he has no idea what to think.
A few minutes later most of the family headed back inside and as we were waiting my four year old daughter started becoming more and more aggigated that we were still there. I explained that this would be the final time that daddy could see his grandpa again before we took him to the cemetary. My daughter walked over to her four year old cousin and said, "My daddy's grandpa died." Her cousin replied, "I know, he died on Monday and went to heaven." My daughter looked at her and exclaimed, "No he didn't, we are taking him to the cemetary to bury him and put dirt on top." They argued for a bit, then decided that they both would be sad that he died and they sat on the floor and acted sad.
The same conversation was held the next day in the church at the funeral. Both of my children were listening to their cousin talk about heaven and the devil and how the devil takes you away to a bad place if you are naughty. I wanted to stop her right then and there but didn't mainly because she has no idea what she is talking about. She is quoting what she is being told. It is not my place to correct or make her feel wrong about something so serious as religion. Her parents are raising her strict Catholic and therefore use the religion as a scaretactic into making sure she behaves.
To me, I personally believe that at age four, you are not old enough to understand the spiritual side of religion. The only way children learn about religion is through their parents. Which is why so many things are passed down from generation to generation and why so many children don't learn about other religions. Parents only teach one avenue and children are told over and over that if they are good God loves them and if they are naughty, then the devil takes them to hell. And if you go to church every Sunday and you do this and that then you get to go to heaven too.
So when I heard those words come out of my niece's mouth, I just paused and let her keep talking. She is in a way, teaching my children their first lesson in life. That every family is different. That even though my husband and my niece's mother are brother and sister, the two families are very different indeed.
And then today on the radio, I was flipping through the stations and on one it was a Christian radio station. My son heard the words God and heaven and said to me, "Mom, they are talking about those words, God and Heaven. What are they?" So when I stopped and thought about it, I had no idea how to answer. I didn't want to come off and say something that would make him think that other people were wrong because I don't believe in heaven and hell. I almost wanted to say something about how God and Heaven are like Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, you believe in him because good things come of it, but they really don't exist. I didn't want to come across and just say they don't exist because then at school if someone says something, it will turn into a horror show when Damon says he don't believe in that stuff and that mommy said so. I don't want that headache for him. But I can't make him pretend to believe just to fit into his friend circle at school and not let him stand out.
I am struggling so much with this, more than I thought I would. I knew that someday religion would end up coming into the converstation, I honestly thought they would be a bit older before we had to discuss it. Why you ask am I struggling...mainly because I fear more the outcome of my decision rather than the talk itself. My children are smart, I know they will understand that some people believe in heaven and hell and God and Jesus. Its the fact that they don't realize how by them talking about it with other people can start a wild fire in a small community. I don't want to lie and tell them that is what we believe just so they fit in either because that isn't the honest truth.
DH doesn't help either. He don't care either way. He was just going to ignore that it was even brought up, but I can't do that. I don't want them not knowing either. At the time, I will admit I changed the subject so I didn't have to answer. I needed time to think about how to respond. I don't want to respond negatively by saying that what he heard was wrong and its all fake. Because to a lot of people in today's world, its not fake. I don't want him thinking that everyone is wrong because some day he may grow up and decide that his beliefs are that of following Christ.
So for now it will rest in my head. Trying to figure out the best way to talk to him about religion. I am sure that I can handle it. At least I know that it will be MUCH more informative than what I got as a child. I was never taught about anything other than Christianity. And my parents just had to send us to CCD for that, we never were taught at home about God or other religions. To a point, it saddens me that as parents they didn't realize that I would grow up and become my own person. They assumed I would continue in their ways and teach my children the Lord's Prayer and the prayer before a meal and so forth. I would have loved to have learned about other religions growing up. Having an idea that I could have a CHOICE in what I believed in. It would have made much more sense when I knew that I wasn't Christian. Struggling with that choice then was hard and now to have that on my children is even harder.
Maybe in a few years people will be MUCH more okay with alternative religion choices and not care so much what other people do. But for now I have to watch what I say and how I say it in front of the kids. I don't want their minds influenced by my spiritual path in life. I want them to freely choose what they believe.
So for now I will leave things be as they are. If he asks again, I will attempt to try and explain some of the things to him. If he takes to that we will move forward from there. I would love to do a religious study with him at home when he is older so he can learn about all different types of religions and how people see things in other parts of the world. I want him to know he has options and to let him choose his options. I will not choose a spiritual path for my child. I want them to find their god, their happiness. It is not up to me to decide and sadly, not many parents feel that way.