This Christmas season was pretty stinkin’ awesome in the Freitas house. My expectations were cautiously low because last year we all spent the week of Christmas vomiting, but this year the whole season was magic and both boys were in awe of everything. This was the first year that Dawson really bought into all of the Christmas paraphernalia. He truly believed that a man in a red suit was coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve. He laughed hysterically at whatever shenanigans our Elf on the shelf (Rosie) was up to every morning, accepting it as reality that she had been up in the night making trouble. We made him one of those online videos where Santa talks to you and says your name and his eyes about popped out of his head, he was so totally convinced that he was talking to the real deal. In our house Christmas time also comes with talk about Jesus’ birth, wise men, animals in a stable and a big bright star. Full disclosure: the ratio of commercialized Christmas to “true reason for the season” Christmas is kind of out of whack here (this mama loves gift buying, decorating, cookie baking and all the other cheesy magic December brings). Nevertheless, Dawson is happy to school anyone who asks about Mary, Joseph, no room in the inn, etcetera. (Full disclosure again: he is convinced that Jesus got presents from Santa the morning after he was born, and he threatened to steal our Christmas tree like the Grinch did, but hey, we are trying). I’m glad my boys know both sides of Christmas, but at ages 1 and 4, the commercial aspects of Christmas and the religious parts are all the same. To them Santa, Rudolph, Jesus and God are equal in their real-ness. Mom and dad (and Grandparents and friends and movies and books we read) say they exist, so they do. I could tell them that a purple giraffe named Ralf created the world and to them, for now, they would accept it. Kind of scary actually.
A few weeks ago I heard Dawson telling Sawyer in the backseat of the car that God makes it rain and puts rainbows in the sky. I’m sure I reflexively told him that once on a rainy day (don’t worry, I also told him the scientific facts about the water cycle). He doesn’t know that “God makes it rain” is a kind of platitude I said once because I feel like a good mommy when I include God in my answers to him (though I do actually believe that God is in control of all things, even rain). His understanding of rain just includes a guy called God (who he also knows as someone who made him and loves him) because that is the way it is. Mom and Dad and his Sunday school teachers say so. That sweet moment passed and the boys moved on to throwing a toy across the car at each other, but I was hit with this sudden terrifying awareness that THEY ARE LISTENING, and they fully believe what I tell them to be true. Child-like faith sounds lovely, and watching it is beautiful and magical, but it also comes with such huge responsibility for us as parents. HUGE. They are buying whatever I tell him. My boys (at least for now) will drink whatever figurative Koolaid I put in their Paw Patrol sippy cups. That is an enormous privilege and a daunting task to be faced with as a parent. It would be irresponsible of me not to take it seriously, to just take a shot in the dark at giving them a world view based on whatever feels or sounds good at the moment.
I have many friends raising their kids on many places along the spectrum of religion/faith/morality and I have nothing but respect for them all. I think that all of us moms (the ones I know at least) agree about raising our kids to be good, generous, peaceful members of society and we have mutual respect for each others’ parenting approaches, including where we stand on matters of faith. This isn’t meant to be a post about how everyone had better start preaching the Gospel to their own kids. My point is that whatever we are planning to teach our kids, whatever it is that we believe to be true, we need to get relatively certain about the details of what we believe and how we plan to model and teach that to our children. They are listening AND (gulp) watching. I sure as heck don’t want to be called out by my 4 year old for being lukewarm.
I know that my kids will grow up and question and explore the world, faith, religion and morality on their own terms. I hope that I raise them in a way that allows that kind of exploration, curiosity and freedom, but the foundation for all of that is laid now. The way their brain is being wired to see God, the world and their place in it, is happening right now, in my home, in my car, at my dinner table. This is not the time for platitudes and half-hearted guesses about God and eternity.
The best way for me to be a teacher to my kids is to continue to focus on my own personal, spiritual growth. I have to face my doubts and questions and get answers for myself so that my own foundation is strong. I want to have answers for them, and I need to know which questions I can’t yet answer, so that I can be honest with them about that too. What I don’t want is to waste these short years while I am still (mostly) in control of what their little minds hear and see. Soon they will start to question and doubt and I will have to compete with whatever friends, the media, the rest of the world, tell them about the meaning of life, their purpose on Earth, what is good and true and right. I will enjoy watching and helping them find their own way, but it will be even more important then that they can look to a mom who is sure about what she knows and what she doesn’t and who is actually living out what she tells them to be true. They can still decide for themselves, and I will support them in that, but I want them to know that what I believe and have taught them isn’t just something we do on Sunday mornings and read about in their kiddie Bible for five minutes before bed. I want them to see in me a peace and passion that is palpable and contagious, a real relationship, not something that I taught them about simply because it is what I was taught and because I didn’t know what else to say.
If I believe that God exists, if I’m going to teach my kids that God is our creator, that he sent his son Jesus to pay for our sins, and that their purpose on Earth is to share His love and spread that message, then what? It has to be more than Santa. It has to be more than clichés. The reality of God is a really big thing to teach my kids if I am not going to be completely genuine about it, if I am not all in. The Christian faith (or any religious frame of reference for that matter) is not something to toss around like it’s the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy. If I really believe it, then I also believe that that my kids’ (eternal) lives depend on it. That’s a lot more serious than just saying a prayer before dinner and talking about God making rainbows.
The pure, unquestioning faith of a child is a miraculous and daunting thing. Avoiding my own lack of Biblical knowledge, understanding, doubts and questions so that I don’t have to face telling my kids anything real or solid isn’t going to cut it. My hope is that the reality of two kids eating up my world view as absolute truth (for the moment) will be a catalyst, helping to propel me toward greater spiritual maturity. Change my heart 2016. The time is now.