I believe my blog differs from others I follow because my children are a little older than other mummy bloggers tend to have – mainly because I’ve just got my ass in gear to write a blog whereas others are ahead of me!
My children are 3 and 5, and whilst this means I don’t have to worry about weaning or the realities of being a new mum, the issues I’m facing now I find don’t seem to have answers in a toddler handbook.
The most recent example of this I can offer is the regular conversation I’m currently having with both my children about death. Cheerful eh? But, it would appear that whilst we would like to shield our children from the real life fact which is death, they are confronted with references to it on a regular basis. This throws up two distinct problems for me, and them:
- How to discuss the nature of ‘death’ without worrying or upsetting your child unnecessarily
- As an atheist, how to qualify what death means, without using references you personally don’t believe in
I understand this subject matter isn’t the lightest, but in view of the last week or so’s events, I don’t think it’s untimely. In fact, it’s part of the reason why we’re talking about death at home. My son saw THAT picture on social media last week, of the dead Syrian toddler (this was my mistake, I’d let him watch a silly video on my phone, and unbeknownst to me, he scrolled down once it finished). He also saw a news report over the weekend, of the bodies being buried. Naturally, being 5, he was curious to know why the boy was lying in the water, and later, what the people were doing with those boxes.
I explained, as easily as I could, that the boy had drowned sadly and therefore had stopped breathing, which meant he died. My son digested this information, but I could tell there would be follow up questions. A few days later when he saw the coffins, he asked about those. I explained that when you died, you were buried underground. There was a moment of silence, before he asked, in a worried way ‘but that means you can’t get out’.
Before I answer this the way I did to him, I will also give another example, which my daughter asked me. She’s 3 and her and my husband have a shared love of the band The Pixies (if you don’t know this band, they’re an alternative rock band / indie band…elements of punk…not the typical sort of music you’d expect a 3 year old to enjoy). One of the songs she requests in the car, much to Daddy’s pride, is This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven. You can see where I’m leading with this, can’t you? She sings along to the very catchy chorus which reiterates the title. This has been going on for months. However, over the last week she has started asking questions – how does the monkey get to Heaven? Would he need a rocket? Maybe he flies…
So far we’ve dodged an answer to her and let her answer her own question. I’m loathe to say as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as heaven, let alone a way to get there. Plus, if I have to answer why this monkey is going to Heaven and the only way of getting there is to die, my daughter is going to be very sad.
And that’s the crux of it, isn’t it? We don’t want to tell our children about death, in case we sadden them. But that’s us, as adults, understanding mortality and the uncertainty of life and, for the most of us, knowing someone who has passed away. We associate these events with sadness, because, it is sad to lose someone you know, someone you love. It is human to protect our children from this.
So for now, that’s what I’m doing. My answers, whilst they’re this young, are vague enough to protect them, yet informative enough so they don’t feel like they’re being ignored. I told my son people who died, were like they were taking a very long sleep which they won’t ever wake from. I explained they were at peace, they would be okay and they wouldn’t ever wake to find they were stuck in a box.
I agreed with my daughter (against my atheist principles) that the monkey probably did use a jet pack to get to Heaven.
And I told them both how much we love them. Because, at the end of it all, that’s what we need – love, family, friendship and laughter.
And if you get those, living is so much fun you won’t worry about death.