Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Of Faith and the Easter Bunny

Sawyer wanted to know when the Easter Bunny was coming to our house.

This was a sticky one.

David tried to tell him he won't come because he's afraid of the dogs.

"But he comes at night. The dogs will be sleeping," Sawyer pointed out.

Got him on that one.

And so it was left to me to explain what Easter is and why we don't celebrate it. I mean, we'll take the kids to the town's Spring Fling that includes an Easter Egg hunt. But they won't wake up Easter morning to find a basket full of chocolate and jelly beans and peeps.

I figured I'd first better start with Christmas. See, we have a tree and we exchange gifts. My kids believe in Santa and Rudolph and elves.

But they don't believe in Jesus.

"Who's Jesus?" Sage asked me today.

Yes, I had managed to do Christmas without explaining what it means. I'm Jewish by birth and tradition. We've lit the menorah at Chanukah the past few years and this week the kids attended their first Passover Seder.

My husband is vaguely Christian. Which is to say he doesn't go to church. But he believes in G-d or a higher power, and, like me, is not a fan of organized religion.

When I was a child my parents allowed us to hang up stockings. We had no tree, but I fervently believed in Santa Claus and would perch on my bed Christmas Eve, gazing out the window in search of a shiny red light amid the stars.

Maybe they didn't want us to feel left out. When you grow up in a largely Catholic area, it's tough to understand why you're the only one not participating.

I think that's part of why we do a secular Christmas, even though that's an oxymoron. It's tradition for my husband. The gifts and candy canes and picking out a tree is fun for the kids. And there is my affinity for shiny things. Like sparkling lights and ornaments.

So today I started the Easter convo by telling the kids that Christmas is to celebrate the birth of a man named Jesus who lived a long time ago. Then he died, and on Easter, he came back to life.

"Like Michael Jackson," Sage said.

Okay. Not so much. The idea of resurrection is a slippery slope for a child, because then they will start asking if Grandpa is coming back. Or Michael Jackson.

"Well," I told them, trying again. "Some people believe that Jesus died and then was resurrected, or kind of came back to life. They are called Christians because his name was Jesus Christ. Now, Mommy believes he was alive. But I don't believe he came back to life. And that's why we don't celebrate Easter."

By this point, I had no idea if I was making sense. I was trying to make it as simplistic as possible (so yes, I'm aware that Christ wasn't his last name, but I didn't want to get into the whole Christians believe he was the Messiah and Jews don't. That discussion is for another day).

Luckily lunch was ready and their attention became focused on turkey sandwiches and carrots.

A few weeks ago, a game of Legos with the neighbor boys devolved into an argument about G-d. The boys said G-d was there, in the garage. Sawyer countered with "No he isn't. He's dead. MOM! Who's G-d?"

I'd been putting off talking to my kids about G-d. I struggle because I feel it's hypocritical to instruct them to believe in a G-d I'm not sure exists. Children are so black and white, you know? If you tell them something, they take it as truth. Now, I don't have a problem with Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or even the Easter Bunny. To me, that's part of the magic of childhood.

So what did I tell Sawyer? At the time, I said we'd talk about it later with Daddy. It took a couple days, but he cornered us in the car coming home from the beach.

I explained that G-d is a spirit, not a person. That He is like the wind: you can't see it, but you know it's there by the way the leaves move. Some people like to talk to Him if they are feeling scared or lonely and it makes them feel better, and lots of people believe He created the world and everything in it.

"Is G-d real?" Sawyer asked.

"That's for you to decide," I told him.

Thing is, even though I am ambivalent about His existence, I do not want to close off the possibility for my kids. If G-d is something they feel will help them in their life at some point, then I'm all for it. I don't want their beliefs to be entirely colored by my thoughts. I have struggled with this a lot, wondering if I'm doing a disservice to my kids by not raising them in a particular religion or with a strong faith - or any faith - in G-d.

I think growing up in a religion is easier than not. There are rules. Guidelines. Books and television shows and games. And churches or temples that help. Maybe you sing songs with your toddler about Jesus, or whisper into your baby's ear about what a blessing from G-d he is so it's always a part of them.

Living in Orange County is tough when it comes to this stuff. We have Saddleback Church with Pastor Rick Warren right down the street. We didn't have Evangicals where I grew up back East; religion was a private thing and nobody really talked about it. Out here, every other SUV or minivan at the pickup line at school has a windshield sticker advertising Warren's Easter Sunday service at Anaheim Stadium.

I don't believe you need religion or belief in G-d to be a good person. There's been too much destruction in the name of it (see Bin Laden, Osama or perhaps Crusades, The). I have a tough time getting behind a G-d who would allow such suffering, especially of children.

You do need a loving family or mentor to guide you as to what is right and wrong. You teach your kids to be strong, kind, caring and accepting of others, not because they're trying to please G-d, but because it's the right thing to do as a human being.

That's what we're all trying to do, as parents. Whether we go to a church, temple or mosque. Whether or not we believe in a greater power, or if we find inspiration in the beauty of nature or in the miracle of children.

I am still on my own journey to find faith. And it weighs on me, how to set the right path for my kids.

It weighs on me.


Aimee @ Ain't Yo Mama's Blog said...

This is such a great post and I love it for a variety of reasons, namely because I relate so well to it. My husband and I are also Jewish and we live in OC, so I know exactly what you mean. Our son is only 2, so we haven't discussed anything about G-d and Christian holidays with him yet, but we're anticipating those conversations at some point in the next few years. What might make it more challenging is that half of my family is Catholic/Christian and we are always invited to holiday celebrations.

I also love your explanation of G-d and how it's up to parents/mentors to model and teach moral behavior and particular values. I could not agree more. And I also agree that it can be some of the most conflicting and challenging aspects of parenthood.

I'm a fan of your blog. I'll be adding you to my Blog Roll!


Cheryl said...

Aimee - Thank you so much for your thoughtful words. I was nervous to post this, as you can imagine. Your comments helped feel not so alone in all this.

Kate, aka Guavalicious said...

Such a great post. I struggle a lot with how to define and expose my kids to religion. As an atheist I have a hard time telling my kids to believe in something I don't but, as you wrote, I think religion is an important part of a child's upbringing. I definitely feel my life was enhanced by growing up Catholic. But how do I help them find their own way to peace with religion when I don't particpate in it (nor does my husband).

And though we do celebrate Christmas we hold the line at Easter. If we're not with family it's just another day.

Kate, aka Guavalicious said...

And don't feel alone. I know it's hard when it seems like EVERYONE else is religious but a lot of people struggle with how to fit it into their kids' lives.

Here's my post on being an atheist:

And my SIL's on not being a Christian in the bible belt:

Simply Lovely Gifts said...

Love this post! My religious background is completely confused and so I've just had to come up with my own variation of what works for us. It's very controversial b/c I live in the Bible Belt so I just basically keep my mouth shut for the most part. Out of convenience my kids have gone to preschools that are church-based, but that's prety much where the religious education ends. I find myself answering most questions with "well some people believe this" and "other people believe that" and then if prodded further I tell what I believe (which is that there's some kind of higher power which gives & takes life from the human body - that's my version of G-d). And I strongly believe that morals are taught by parents/teachers and NOT churches. It's a tough subject & you've covered it wonderfully.

Kelli/Plangirl said...

Cheryl, this blog could have come straight from my own heart, aside from a few details. I am struggling with this right now and am not sure what the right answer is. Thanks for letting me know I am not alone...

Cheryl said...

Kate - Thank you!! I am looking forward to checking out your links. I really thought I was the only one struggling with this. Seems like so many people are so sure - in some ways I envy them!

Leslie - I'm also starting to do the "some people believe" thing, but I think ultimately kids want to know what MOMMY believes and that's where I struggle, you know?

Kelli - When you figure it out, let me know. We are definitely in this together!

kirsten said...

Part of me wants to wait, really digest your thoughts, and then comment with much more reflection behind my comments.

And then I know that'll happen at Never O'Clock. Or at least I won't remember to come back & comment if I do that.

So here's my quick take: I think if you do a secular Xmas, you can do a secular Easter. What does the Easter Bunny have to do with Jesus Christ?? A celebration of birth, rebirth, renewal - the pagan rituals of celebrating the return of the sun were in place waaaaaay before the Xians figured out making our religious holiday part of all that. (Hmm, same as Xmas. Whole 'nother post, huh?)

Also, I think as parents we don't have to be afraid to say to our kids "you known, sweetie, *I don't know - NOBODY does*" I think we need to do enough self-examination that we have an answer prepared to our best ability about what WE believe, but I don't think that we need to present our own tentative explorations & beliefs as the absolute truth.

We shouldn't hesitate to give them some direction, though, even if we're wrong, because we are their filter/paradigm for ALL the world, not just faith. Its not like you hesitate to teach your child about science, just because you don't fully understand it, right??

Christa Terry said...

I don't have any advice re: god, faith, and religion as they pertain to holidays or just daily life, but if the kid is feeling left out because of missing out on the Easter fun, you might do what some athiest/agnostic friends of ours do and celebration the arrival of springtime. Heck, all the non-religious Easter symbols are terribly pagan anyway, so you'd be all set!

Mya S. said...

One day in the car on the way to soccer, my son Adam and his friend are having a conversation that somehow turned to G-d. In short, it was stated that no one created G-d, he is just there. Adam replies "No, the titans created G-d!". He had just finished that Lightning Thief book. I realized than that was the closest my son has come to learning anything remotely related to G-d or religion. I'm not sure what to tell him although I did make sure he realized that the Titans and Greek Gods are mythology. :)

Both my husband and I have a real hard time with organized religion. Not only do I not know what I really believe but growing up in as a non-Mormon in Utah has really jaded my views on religion, tolerance and acceptance. I don't agree with the idea of telling a child what to believe from day one. Feels too much like "brainwashing". When we moved here I was so excited...California...liberals like me. Little did I realize that Orange County is as conservative as Utah. I have found that people are more accepting of different views here. For that I am very grateful. Still not sure what to tell my kids...

ian said...

I really like that you didn't dismiss the idea of G-d for your kids and especially the part where you said that you didn't want to color their perception of Him with your own thoughts. I don't have kids yet, but I'm excited to see the confusing steps of that journey. I have a lot of faith in YHWH but I don't want my kids to believe simply because I do (and I don't believe simply because I know other people who do).

Regarding your frustration over the suffering of people in the world; The one thing that I still wrestle with is this question: We have the capacity to end many forms of suffering ourselves, so why should we rely on G-d to fix all our problems, especially when we blame suffering on him instead of offering it to him?

Good luck on your journey through life! If you're ever interested in a dialogue about any of this, I'm always up for a good chat :)

Elle said...

I have always been curious why everyone types G-d, leaving out the o? Rabbi Schmuley does it too.

Personally, I grew up in a house and family, extended family that didn't/doesn't practice religion. I am certain my grandmothers and great-grandmothers probably did go to Christian (Lutheran) church and read the bible, however. We celebrated all the fun, candy-laden holidays either way.

However, I still ended up going to various churches with my friends' families. I've been to Christian, Catholic, Mormon.. I was involved in youth groups as an adolescent and early teen. After a certain age and into my 20s I rejected it as a crutch that I didn't need.

In my mid to late 20s I was in a very emotionally-low point in my life and had some very real spiritual/religious dreams (not drug induced). It spurred a curiosity in me to 'seek'.

My husband I began dating around the same time and he was in a similar place. We began church hopping and landed at Saddleback. (We'll be going to the huge Easter at Angel Stadium this Sunday - but no sticker on my car). :) It took me a while to like it there and the people annoyed me (still do sometimes), but we've stuck with it.

We talk to our daughters about G-d and spiritual matters, pray with them every night, read about it, go to church on Sundays, and 4 yo goes to Christian preschool, and might go to Kindergarten there as well. I hope it gives them an emotional depth and foundation I wish I had had as a child.

Eventually they will make their own decisions and may choose to stray from it. I hope not though. I'm not going to force something on them, but teach them about G-d's love as much as I can. I also try to learn about and understand other perspectives and religions and share that as well.

I definitely despise hatred, fear, violence, murder, rape and propaganda from some organized religions or non-religious groups. I enjoy new-age philosophy too.

I don't have all the answers, and of course I have my doubts sometimes, but I choose to follow a more spiritual path for my life and share it with my girls, because I know what the alternative feels like.

Thanks for posting such a compelling article and allowing me to share my thoughts (even if somewhat opposing.) Happy Spring! :)

Cheryl said...

Kirsten - So glad you chimed in! I was curious about your take, and now I know. Thank you, thank you.

Christa - I know - it seems weird that I draw the line at Easter, doesn't it?

Mya - that is too funny. The frame of reference for kids! I am obviously in agreement on the brainwashing thing. It's just so hard to know what the right thing to do is! And so I fumble around..

Ian - Thanks so much for chiming in! I guess I can't understand why a 2 yr old needs to die from cancer, and the whole idea of that child being in a "better place" is just repugnant to me. That being said - yes, we suffer all kinds of things at are hands and at the hands of other humans. We ALL need to be kinder to one another, in many, many ways.

Elle - Jewish people do not write the word "G-d" on anything that can be erased, thus the hyphen. I am glad that you found your own path. I think that's the best way. And I don't find your views opposing - I find them interesting! THere is no wrong or right (despite what some would tell you). Thanks for your comment!!

Mya S. said...

Ha! Learned something new. I had no idea why everyone was typing G-d and just went along thinking it was some rule of the blogging world. Expanding my horizons everyday I am here in SoCal I guess!

Mrsblogalot said...

Cheryl, my first question has to be...Are you ME????

Really, I am checking myself and looking at your picture and then looking in the mirror and doing the ...naw...couldn't be....

I don't think I've ever read a post before that every single solitary word has rang so true for me. I would have even written it if...well..I was you ...which I'm still confused about.

Pardon the ramblin..maam..get it ? instead of man?

Why do you even let me come here?

What I am trying to say is that this was a tremendously wonderful and insightful post!!!


Queenie T said...

It's a hard discussion, for sure. I was raised in a household that went every Sunday to a small Baptist church in the South (we're talking a one room building and our bathrooms were in a cinder block outhouse). As a teenager, I began reading about "alternative" religions such as Wicca and some Native American beliefs. Years later, I married a guy that happens to be Jewish.

Add to all that, I have a child from my first marriage who was raised as a Christian. And then I had a child with my Jewish faith new husband.

So yeah, I can relate a little bit about this whole "what the heck do I tell my kids about religion" thing. And it's not even like the whole sex discussion, because at least THAT will be talked about by their peers frequently enough that you can work more on correcting misinformation. But faith? There IS no firm information or misinformation, because you just have to go by what you think and feel.

We have Christmas and Hanukkah represented. It took a couple of years of begging (okay, nagging!) to finally get the go-ahead from the hubby to put out my little manger scene, which is one of my favorite thing because it consists of little kids as if they are doing a play and is kinda adorable.

The way we've kind of addressed this over the years was to couch things as "some people believe ___, other people believe ___" and following up with how wonderful it is that people can have different beliefs. Inevitably, we'd be asked "but what do YOU believe", and that's a bit trickier. It's trickier because it requires honesty.

And it's pretty darn hard to tell these little humans you created that YOU DON'T KNOW something! When they are young and still learning about the world while basically glued to Mom and Dad, we represent these all-knowing, all-seeing beings. I mean, how else would Mom know that little Johnny sneaked a cookie before lunch?!

Still, honesty works best. It's OKAY to say "well, Mommy grew up in a household where we believed ___. Now that I'm a grown-up, I ___." It's okay to say "it's sort of a personal thing, and I'm still working on figuring it out". It's also okay to say "I need to think about how to answer your questions. Can we talk about it after lunch?"

I think you as well as a parent can in one of those moments. I think there is no "right" or "wrong" way to talk about these things, as long as you DO talk about them when your kids want or need to talk.

At least you can be assured of one thing - this is a problem MANY parents face. Kudos for being brave enough to broach a sort of taboo-feeling subject and ask for the insights of others!

Queenie T said...

A little P.S.:

I've always felt that little kids might have a better inside track of understanding these things. The following really sort of stunned me silent (which is, as you know, not a regular affliction for me).

My Daddy was sick for a very long time with prostate cancer. I'd had to prepare the kids for a long time that he was ill. I had to have discussions about death.

The morning we got "the call", we waited to wake the kids until we'd got our flights settled. My daughter came down first, and took it hard. We'd lived directly behind my parents for the first 3 years of her life.

Then my youngest came down. Before I could even say a word, he said "it's Pa, isn't it. He died?" I said that yes, he had. He had a small smile, and gave me a hug. He said "it's okay, he'll like Heaven. It's nice. I remember it."

Color me speechless. We've not taken the boy child to any sort of religious services, and I honestly have no idea of where he could've gotten that - it had to be coming straight from him.

As if that weren't enough, he then shocked me by smiling REALLY big, eyes wide, and in an excited voice said "and guess what else? In Heaven? Pa will have TWO hands!" (Daddy was born with a club left hand.)

Honestly, I don't know WHERE that came from. But it sure gave me lots of food for thought, and still does to this day.

Andrea said...

Just yesterday my 3yo asked me what Easter was. I expalained that it was the birth of Jesus - that he was born on Christmas but because he is the son of God he has a second birthday...she was ok with that. I struggled with what to say. Do I tell her that he died and was reborn? Isn't that a bit much for a 3yo? DO I tell her about other traditions? She understands that people believe different things but that we go to church...this is such a hard topic - thank you for writing so thoughtfully about it!

Andrea said...

This is a conversation that we just had the other day when my 3yo asked what Easter was. I explained that it was the birth of Jesus - that he was born on Christmas day, but because he was the son of G-d he has a second birthday - she was ok w/ that answer. I questioned what to say - I thought that telling her that he died and was resurrected was too much for a 3yo...this is such a hard discussion - thank you for writing so thoughtfully about it!

Cheryl said...

Mrs. BAL: Wait, am I then you? Maybe you wrote the post and I was writing your reply to the post? Anyway - thank you!!

Tonya - VERY cool about Noah! That must've made you feel a teeny bit better..

Andrea - I do think a lot of the religious/bible stories are a little much for young kids. Sounds like you did a great job, tho!

Aging Mommy said...

This is a great post about such a difficult subject. As my daughter has only just turned three we have not reached the stage where we need to have these discussions but I know the time will come. I agree with so much of what you say here.

My parents are not religious - more akin to atheists in fact, but when we were children they did not reveal this to us, rather once we were old enough to appreciate what we would learn we started attending church and continued to attend for a number of years. So effectively my parents let us decide for ourselves what we believed and did not believe. I am not a religious person either but I plan on following the same course with my daughter so that when she is old enough to, she can also make her own decisions.

Sara @ The Football Wife said...

I get very turned off by Christians who say they can't wait to get to heaven. I like it right where I am - thank you! I consider myself a Christian but I feel closest to G-d outside of church. Quiet moments are when I feel most moved...

Great post... And BTW, Easter candy goes to 75% off Monday. ;-)

Momfluential said...

I foresee our kids having a long discussion about G-d sometime soon. Should be interesting. Great post!

Lucy said...

Great post. I've spent a lot of my life believing but questioning if that makes sense. I believe there must be a higher power, but at the same time the Romans and Greeks had a ton of gods back in the day and now we call those myths. Who's to say people won't be saying that about us years from now?

My biggest religious issue right now is that I am INSANELY private with it--can't pray out loud in front of people, don't want to discuss my beliefs with anyone, etc. Which makes me worry how I'm going to explain it to my son when he's older. I get sooo uncomfortable talking about religion (I don't know why) that I think the sex talk will be easier! :)

Cheryl said...

AM - Sounds like a good plan - and at least you have a plan, right? ;)

Sara - Totally agree. And all the jelly beans were sold out at Target!

Ciaran - Yes. A very interesting convo!

Lucy - What's the thing? Never talk religion or politics? And I think the sex talk WILL be easier. I mean, I had three kids - I *think* I know what it's all about! lol

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