Both Andrew and I have a Catholic background, Andrew more than myself, yet for our own personal reasons have never made religion a priority for ourselves or our young family. That being said, we both revert to and draw from our religious backgrounds from time to time. I find comfort in the idea that someone bigger and smarter than me, may be standing beside me whispering in my ears when I am faced with life decisions that can sometimes be overwhelming. I often feel like that “someone” is my Grandpa Flash or my Great Grandma Davis. These are the two people that my mind goes to in those moments. It seems that they somehow bathe me in warmth, and pat me on the back in moments when all I need is a bit of reassurance in order to keep moving forward. I occasionally get the same feeling of warmth when I am watching my children accomplish things that they have struggled with, or when they are being brave and facing their fears. Those fears are the catalyst for this post.
As any typical three-year old, Ethan is working through some common fears. More specifically he is afraid of the dark and has bedtime worries about “bad guys.” He has been playing with Star Wars and super hero action figures for some time now. He loves them. He was even Batman for Halloween. I made the costume. It was super cute. The problem is that as he starts to relate these types of characters to real life and the line between real and pretend are becoming blurred. He often asks me to hide “bad guys” like The Joker or any of the He-Man villains in my room, because he is afraid of them. Like most 3-year olds, he consistently fails to understand the difference between real and pretend. We continue to deal with these fears on a day-to-day basis.
Recently, I thought I would try and ease his fears by drawing on his experience and learning from his school. For about a year now, Ethan has attended private school. Currently he is attending a wonderful Lutheran Church school in the area. Despite the lack of religious education at home, Ethan has always seemed to be drawn to the bible stories that he learns in class. This was a contributing factor for picking a school for him. Anyway, we progressed through our normal bedtime routine as usual. Ethan climbed into bed and started to cry. This is very sad to me, as both of my kids have always been champions at going to bed easily. I asked him what was making him cry, fully knowing what his answer would be. This time, I felt that I was prepared. We talked about all of the people that love him, and as normal he included Baby Jesus or as Ethan lovingly refers to him, “Baby Cheese-its.” That was perfect, the situation set-up just the way I had hoped. I told him that Jesus lives in his heart, and that when he is feeling scared he can talk to Jesus to help him feel brave and strong. Once we got past Jesus not actually being able to talk back, he seemed ok and went to bed. I was relieved and felt like maybe this would be a good tool for him. The conversation at breakfast the next day would prove me wrong.
Me: Ethan, did you have a good snooze?
Ethan: No! I had bad dreams.
Me: Did you talk to Jesus in your heart?
Ethan: Yes, but I still had bad dreams.
Maya: Is Jesus still alive?
Ethan: No! The bad guys killed him on a cross with his hands.
It‘s no wonder the idea of talking to Jesus in his heart did not help him to feel comforted. He already has an image of the guy hanging on a cross with bad guys all around him. It’s a wonder he got any sleep at all.
Needless to say, this reopened the conversation about whether or not “bad guys” are real. It also opened up conversations about religion that I am neither prepared nor comfortable having with my children. I feel like the stories in the bible are just that, stories. I think they come from real events in history, but have been exaggerated tomeet needs of people over time, and to help us understand things that we do not have answers for. I think the values or morals in the most of the stories are valuable, but others leave much room for interpretation.
I think the issue of religion is one of the more difficult issues that we have to address as parents. I want my children to have a solid system of beliefs to fall back on when they need that extra bit of confidence when making important decisions. However, I want my kids to have the chance to make a choice about religion for themselves. Maya has never gone to a religious school, but seems to be very interested. Ethan as I said really enjoys the bible stories. I am considering Sunday school for Maya, just so she has some foundation on which to build. Hopefully, they can help answer some of the questions that she comes up with that Andrew and I are unable to answer.
As for me, I will continue to look over my shoulder to whoever it is that is watching out for me. I often think about how impressed my Grandpa would have been with Maya in particular. He would have been impressed with Ethan as well, but Maya would have been his first great grandchild. She came into this world a fighter, and she has the most radiant presence about her when she thinks someone is going to take her picture. I didn’t know my Great Grandmother very well, having only met her once or twice, but I have always felt a connection and sense of safety in the thought that she may be watching out for me.