An Early Childhood Educator once told me, “Children are organically spiritual.” Children naturally explore the non-physical world. They wonder about it. For children, the whole world is new. They are curious and will hear from friends, TV, the internet, commercials, etc. about God. They will wonder about God. Is God really a man? Does he have a beard? Can you see God? Have you seen God, Mom? Whether you personally have a God concept or not, chances are that our society will give your children one – an American, socially appropriate concept. However, that concept may not sit well with you. So how CAN we talk to our children about God?
Begin by asking your child what they believe. Do they believe in “God”? If so, what is God like? See what things they say that you can affirm.
Working with your spouse or a good friend, try to articulate your own God concept – or your reason for disbelief. Put words to it. Make it real to you. Then listen to their beliefs and interpretations. I hope that you pick someone with whom you do not entirely agree; because, believe me, neither you nor I actually know what God is. Once you have a way to describe what you believe, you have something tangible to tell your child. You may express some doubt too, like “no one has ever seen God so no one knows exactly what God is like.” You may tell your child, “When you said X it made me really think.” Children can have some pretty profound ideas.
Then there is the challenge of sharing your ideas, plus those of your child’s other parent, into age appropriate words. What if the two of you disagree? Do you have to have an agreed upon message for your child? What if your child is going to Hebrew school and bringing home bible stories that anthropomorphize God and it’s driving you mad? What do you say to your child, your spouse, the clergy?
Rabbis have amazing conversations about God with children. They are pretty used to it and can help you sort out what you want to say to your child. In fact, all clergy are confronted with this task daily. Go talk to your rabbi, minister or priest. Share your awkward, unrealistic, doubting thoughts. Trust me, they won’t be surprised. Go as a couple.
Do you need to be on the same page as parents? Yes, it is best if you are. But you don’t have to believe the same thing. Perhaps what you’ll both be telling your child is, “Mommy believes in God, but Daddy doesn’t. Here’s why we each think as we do. No one knows for sure about God so we all are just trying to figure it out. We have decided to raise you Jewish/Christian/Hindu so you’ll get to learn from rabbi/minister/priest how Judaism/Christianity/Hinduism understands God. As you get older you’ll keep thinking and you’ll be able to tell us what ideas have come to you.”
This is a time when your interfaith family can come in quite handy. You can point out that Grandma doesn’t believe in God but she always goes to synagogue because she believes in keeping the Jewish people together. Grandpa believes in Jesus but doesn’t really like to go to church so he prays at home. Aunt Julie is an atheist; she can’t decide whether there’s a God or not, but she believes in being a good person so she chose to be a doctor.
Your core message about God will reflect those things that you want to see in your own and your child’s life. Is that kindness, service to others, patience, acceptance of the ideas of others? You will tie these actions/values to the way you speak of the BIG things in life: God, Purpose, Meaning.