A Tisket, a Tasket… What Do We Put in the Religion Basket? (AKA Thoughts on Shaping a Child’s Moral Compass)

A Tisket, a Tasket… What Do We Put in the Religion Basket? (AKA Thoughts on Shaping a Child’s Moral Compass)

by tara morley

Heard on the street

6-year- old girl: “Mommy, is God the dad of Jesus or is Jesus the dad of God?”

5-year- old boy: “Why does Jesus wear such a pokey crown? That looks like it hurts.”

6-year- old girl:“Will Meme and Grammie and Grandpa and Sandy go play in Heaven with Grandpa Ken and Cruiser when they die?”

5-year- old boy: “If I suck my own blood, will I turn into a vampire and live forever?”

6-year- old girl: “Mommy, can I visit you in Heaven when you die?”

5-year- old boy: “Ooh, do you think Cruiser speeds around in a cloud car? I wonder what Cruiser eats. Is food made out of clouds tasty?”

Yep, that conversation with my children happened last week on a walk home. As I sat retyping those musings, I couldn’t help but laugh: mostly because the speed at which they peppered those questions at me was so fast. Their questions were so earnest. Their eyes so wide with wonder.

Just waiting for me to replace those questions with capital-A answers.

Deep Thoughts from Tiny People

Now, having had a minute to reflect on it, I find myself trying to thread together just how their views of “the hereafter” have come to be: partly from our explanations of where “Daddy’s daddy” is (aka Grandpa Ken, whom they never got to meet but whose memory we keep alive); partly from experiencing the very real and painful loss of their first dog (aka Cruiser in the cloud car); partly through the traditions, ethics, and morals we instill in the home; and partly through their daily life experiences outside of the home. (And perhaps from one too many viewings of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Who wouldn’t love food made from clouds?)

As a now-lapsed Methodist and Catholic, my husband and I view the world through a Judeo-Christian paradigm, overlaid with a lens of institutional skepticism. We love the idea of a community that church offers, but the doctrine doesn’t always sit well with us. So… we volunteer to give back. We’ve shaped our inner circle to be largely of like-purposed people. Our purposes may differ, but at the end of the day, we are all trying to give back a little bit. And we pray that this is going to be enough to shape our little people into well-mannered, considerate, whole-hearted contributors of tomorrow.

Shopping for Religion in Aisle 3

I guess we’d call it a secular spirituality wrapped in a Judeo-Christian hug. (If that’s not any sort of actual “–ism”, then I just made it up. New members welcome!) But I wonder… can two halves from different wholes come together to make a new unique perspective that is as rich and thoughtful and whole-hearted as we intend? Can I pick and choose what comprises our family’s spiritual outlook… in kind of the same way I shop for snacks at the grocery store? Hmm, that looks good. I’ll take one of those. Oh… love that brand, don’t like that flavor though. That one is fabulous, if only it came in a variety without raisins…. 

Can the religious and the spiritual come together in sweet and salty perfection just like the chocolate covered pretzel? Or am I going to fail them in ways that only a therapist can untangle in a few decades from now?

“Do Unto Others”

One of the principal tenets in our home is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. While the phrase itself has roots in the Bible, we don’t hark back to the Bible when we are teaching them how to navigate disagreements, how treat others kindly, how to give for the sake of giving, and how to love without asking for anything in return. We ask them to put that reflexive mask on to see how it is they would want to be treated if the shoe were on the other foot. We are teaching them to be “bucket-fillers” with an underscore that kindness begets kindness.

And yet….

We often say a simple prayer at night. We believe in a God and send thanks to the powers that be for each day: for our experiences, for our health, and for our freedom. We ask that Grandpa Ken and Cruiser watch over us. We pray for all those who are seeking love and assistance, and that they may find it, with grace and peace.

We celebrate many of the Christian holidays. We try to prioritize the bigger moral pictures at Christmas (“giving is more important than getting”) and Easter (“a season to be thankful and reflect on how we treat others”). Though, to be honest, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny do tend to take the forefront at times. They are just 5 and 6 after all.

A Mixed Bag With Room for Everyone

Until then, it’s the Golden Rule and unconditional love peppered with a whole lot of praying at night that we are shaping their moral compasses in the right direction. Maybe this approach will work for them as they mature, and maybe not. (Here’s hoping the therapy required is minimal.) If anything, may we arm them with compassionate hearts, forgiving souls, and a backbone to follow their inner voice. May they have the grace and willingness to appreciate and understand world views that differ from theirs. May they learn to listen first, judge second. May they be kind. 

And dear Lord, may they please know we tried our best. Amen.