‘What is the sky made of? What’s under the ground? What’s inside me?’
These are all questions my three-year-old son has asked me within the last few weeks alone. Nowadays he spends most of his waking hours asking questions. Questions about everything that he sees, hears, is told and occurs to him.
Besides spiritual leaders, scientists and teachers, I imagine parents are the only other group of people who are expected to answer these kinds of big questions in life.
And, on paper at least, most of us are probably the least qualified of all to do so. Not only that, but we also have to answer it for people who are basically little sponges willing to accept any knowledge you impart on them and take your wise words very seriously. Seriously enough to repeat them to others. Sometimes not exactly as you intended them.
My son’s nursery teacher told me the other day that he gave her a little lecture about earthworms, saying his mummy told him they are very clever because if they get cut in half they can grow into new worms. For the record that’s not exactly what I told him, but that’s obviously what I managed to teach him.
So, misinformation about earthworms aside, it’s quite a responsibility answering the bigger questions for him if he’s going to take everything I say as gospel.
The only exceptions are when I tell him we’re out of ice-cream, or that it’s time for bed to which I get a, ‘Well, I don’t believe it!’
So how do I answer the one question that has kept coming up lately in various forms? ‘How did the moon get into the sky? Where do I come from? Who made the world?’
Of course there are a few stock answers I could call on. But I always promised myself I’d teach my little boy about life from a place of honesty and to the best of my understanding, even if I sometimes get it wrong. And if I don’t know the answer, to say so.
So it would hardly be honest of me to fob him off or give him anyone else’s answer to this question but my own.
But what is that?
How do I answer this question for myself?
Or can I answer it at all?
I grew up learning about the world from a relatively Christian point of view. Not because my family was particularly religious, but because that was the most obvious framework available to them. It’s what they grew up with.
So we went to Sunday school and to church. I learned that Jesus loves me and that if I did something wrong I should ask for forgiveness. Many of the values and beliefs I grew up were Christian and on the whole they’re pretty solid ones to have: humility, gratitude, service, trust, friendship…
One thing my parents always did was leave things open-ended. They didn’t insist on anything. So as I grew older, I started to question some of the specifics I was taught. And I suppose it is my own list of objections to these that make me hesitant to bring my little boy up in the same way. That doesn’t mean this path isn’t right for many, just not for me as it turns out.
The thing is, if there is any one belief I want to impart on my son, it’s in his own inherent goodness and wholeness without the need for an intermediary.
My husband and I also agree to disagree about this kind of thing so we end up leaving the big questions hanging there, open-ended.
Then more come up.
‘Where do you go when you die? What does die mean? Did the fox go to heaven? (He saw a squashed fox the other day in the road from his seat on my bike.)
The thing is I don’t know whether any of us can really explain or neatly define such things, no matter which religious or philosophical standpoint we take. One thing I do know is that my greatest wish for my boy is that he should find peace within himself instead of feeling he needs to search for it out there somewhere.
For me the path to that peace was yoga. When I found yoga I found my heart’s home. I felt somehow there was an understanding, an acceptance and a serenity seeping into my bones as I practiced. I still find it hard to put these things into words for myself let alone for anyone else. And in fact the more I practice the less I feel I need explanations. But I’ve also learnt that just because that is my experience, it doesn’t mean the same is true for everyone else. Everyone’s truth is relative. No one has all the whole answer.
‘So, who made the world, Mommy?’
I eventually decide to tell him that it’s a hard question to answer and that I don’t really know. I explain that people have a few ideas though and I try and introduce these in a simple way that he might understand – if there is any simple way to describe God, Evolution and The Big Bang within a 3 year old’s short attention span. He nods, frowning seriously and simply says ‘ok’, moving on to the next thing. Maybe in the end I was making it more complicated than it needed to be.
There is a big difference between what we believe and what we know. Just because we believe it, or have experienced it that way, doesn’t make it the right answer. It’s worth remembering that when we teach our children anything, all we’re doing is don’t imparting our opinions on them. They are going to see the world differently to us as they grow—and in fact they already do. Sometimes the best thing to tell them is that we don’t know the answer and help them to explore the possibilities.
So now, we have started speaking about Jesus and who he was. I teach him little songs that I learnt as a child and a night-time prayer my mom sang with us. I also keep Buddha statues round the house and because he’s asked, we speak about him too. Mainly it all amounts to storytelling which is I suppose, a lot of what religion and philosophy is about.
Sometimes in the mornings instead of watching cartoons, we practice yoga together. He loves doing the lion-breath most of all. His least favourite, of course, is anything that involves sitting still. Before he scrambles off to the next thing, we manage to sit cross-legged, knees touching, and with some actions we say together ‘’I am safe, I am loved, I am peaceful, I am happy.’
Perhaps that’s all the explanation we need for now. All is well, even if we don’t know all the answers. And of course a bit of ice-cream and a good night’s sleep always help.
‘’We learnt the wrong things by repetition. My love, you are not those things. Leave everything alone and be alone inside your own heart. You are not alone as a person, you are alone as the entire universe.’’ ~ Mooji
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Khara-Jade Warren
Editor: Renée Picard