A few days back, I posted what I tell my kids about Santa, asking if it’s Ok to lie to your kids– the gist of the post being “Now I believe that all these myths serve a brilliant purpose: a gentle way for kids to learn well-intended parents are not always reliable sources of truth.”
I didn’t write anything about Heaven, just put it in the title of my post, but got a lot of comments on the blog, email etc.
My six year old starting freaking out about death when she was three. She was crying in the night, “I don’t want to die!” Maybe because I had my second daughter around this time. I asked my doctor what to do and she asked me what I believed in and that just confused me further. My daughter was only three, I figured the most important thing was for her to feel safe and loved and that everything was okay. So I told her about Heaven, I told her about reincarnation, I named all the people who loved her, put their names into a song, stroked her hair until she fell asleep.
I guess what I feel about Heaven is essentially the same message I was trying to get across about Santa; kids are going to have to figure out stuff on their own eventually. No one knows for certain what happens after you die. Mortality is something all humans will grapple with as they get older but kids are not small adults; three years old is too young to grapple.
I heard there is a book by Maria Shriver for kids about death and also I know there are a couple about pets who die, one Bernestain bears about a dead fish. I’ll read them and rate them.
What do you tell your kids about heaven?
This comment on the earlier post from Kim:
What confuses me more is what to do about heaven. For some reason I feel stranger about perpetuating that story than Santa’s– I wonder if it’s because I’m less 100% sure heaven is a fairytale. Or because the context of confronting mortality (“But I don’t want to die!” my daughter said– yikes, I was totally unprepared to deal with that from a four year old, though I should have been) is so much more serious. But after telling my kid in a kind of wobbly way “Well, many people believe that when you die you go to a place called Heaven, where you get to be with everyone you love,” I felt much more conflicted and unsure about how to handle the conversation or whether I was doing teh right thing than I ever have felt about leaving milk, cookies, and raisins for Santa. Go figure…
Santa Claus in our family is for all ages. If you don’t beleive you won’t receive. All ages in our failiy make a Christmas list and get a gift (or so) from Santa. When the kids ask me if Santa is real — I answer “If you don’t beleive you won’t receive”. They can make their own adjustments to their belief as they grow but the expectation that “Santa” will visit doesn’t go away.
With regards to death — its a hard concept for adults but I believe that you have to tell your children what you believe. Mine is something like — God watches over us through our life on earth and beyond. I am not sure what it is like to die — but I am betting on having an opportunity to go to heaven. When my father was very ill and my children were young — I was advised not to expose the kids to the hospital or the eventual outcome. I think that life has a natural order that kids do have to understand and so I took the kids to the hospital. Honestly – they handled it very well and I tried to be very honest with them about their questions. They watched baseball games on TV with my dad and read bits of the newspaper to my dad. They knew that he was very sick and I assured them that when he passed he wasn’t in anymore pain and that seemed to be a relief to them….? My youngest asked if my dad would come back and be his guardian angel — I told him I hope so.
When I was growing up, we were taught and shown all different kinds of beliefs, cultures, and, more broadly, ways of life. This approach meant that we learned about things such as heaven and Santa, but we were not asked to subscribe to them. Instead, we were expected just to listen and be open. Very much like your food shelves in an earlier post, we got to pick what we liked once we had been made aware of all the options. This method seems to have worked well since my sister and I are more prone to being open to ideas rather than closed to them.