The wonderful thing about travelling with your kids is the ability to show them how other people in the world live. It gives them perspective, understanding and boosts their ability to be compassionate. As a parent, travelling with your kids gives you a completely new perspective than your own. You get to see how other kids are being raised, it gives you countless opportunities to compare and challenge your beliefs about child rearing.
During my visit with my family in Jamaica a situation came up that was both hilarious and deeply thought provoking. It made me look at how I’ve been raising my daughter in regards to religion.
I strongly believe that my job as a parent is not to tell her who she is or who she should be. My job is to give her the tools she needs to think critically and to make healthy decisions that lead to independence, happiness and success. My partner and I do our best to take that philosophy into every area of our parenting including what we teach her about spirituality.
We have been careful to teach her the basics of spirituality and the core truths that are universal. We stay away from dogma and teach her to approach new beliefs with an open mind. As a result of growing up in a Wiccan / Zen household in Vancouver (a community that tends to be spiritual but very overtly religious), my daughter didn't know much about Christianity. So being immersed in Jamaican culture, which tends to be very religious Christian, was a bit of a culture shock for her.
Jamaicans pray a lot in comparison to any other culture that my daughter has experienced. So by a our 1st big family dinner a few days into our visit she had witnessed a few prayers especially at meals, this meal was no different. Then came the awkward situation when the 8 year old light of my life turned to me and asked loudly “Mama, who is Jesus?”
The room went silent and I could just feel the shock and judgement permeating the room. I had the oddest feeling wash over me of both wanting to laugh and wanting the floor to swallow me up whole. I managed to calmly tell her “We’ll sit and talk about it after dinner sweetie,” before digging into my food with unwarranted enthusiasm. Conversation resumed and though I could tell there were a few members of my family who wanted to talk to me about it, they chose to respect my spiritual and parenting choices. I am blessed with a loving family.
We did have that conversation later. Although she had heard of Jesus before she just didn’t understand what made him so important to these people. She’d understood him in terms of him being a man but now she was seeing him being prayed to and worshiped as a god. She just didn’t understand it. Then, after I explained more in depth about the beliefs of Christianity her face brightened and she said “Oh! So he’s like a demigod like Hercules!” It was a parallel I’d never drawn before. Seeing something through the fresh eyes of a child is an amazing thing.
As she struggled to understand she started to ask the delicate questions that adults tend to avoid with all the delicacy of an 8 year old, which is to say: none. “Well was Jesus real or is it just a story?” “If Jesus was real then is Hercules real?” “Why don’t Christians believe in Hercules then?” I did my best to answer each cringe-worthy question honestly and openly, mindful of the burning ears of my family within earshot.
The experience did make me examine what and how I was teaching her about spirituality. Was I putting more of an emphasis on critical thinking than being open-minded and compassionate? By avoiding all dogma was I putting her at a disadvantage when she did encounter these beliefs? Was I too concerned about being politically correct or polite and not expressing my own deep spirituality openly with her? It was a great opportunity to review and adjust as well as gauge where she was in her own learning and what topics she was ready to explore in depth.
As uncomfortable as the conversation was for me to have (another thing I had to examine), it opened up so much opportunity for learning for both of us. I’m looking forward to experiencing all the different expressions of beliefs we will encounter on our family travels around the world.