I think all parents have those topics that make them cringe a little, and we dread the day when our children will ask us about them. To save my own sanity, I've found that honesty is the best policy, even when I don't know the answer.
When Ben has asked about death, I have told him that no one really knows what happens after we die. However, I believe that our souls go on to become other beings, returning in another form: maybe a flower, a butterfly, a bird. Trying to explain the inexplicable mysteries of life is easier to do when you can relate them to what children know, and give them comforting ways to puzzle things out for themselves.
Ben seemed to like the idea of recycled souls, and it comes up every now and again. "Mom, I want to be a cat next time so I'll be allowed to jump on the furniture," or "Mom, I'm a boy AND a chow hound!" The other day, we watched an IMAX film about the wild coast of Africa. After a particularly visual feeding frenzy, where birds, sharks and dolphins went after a shoal of sardines, Ben whispered to me, "Mom, I never want to be a fish."
The Buddhists say that death is not the end of life, just the end of the body we inhabit in this life. Once the body dies, our spirit will remain and seek out attachment to a new body and new life. Where it will be born is based on our past actions, both positive and negative. This means awareness plays a big part in life, as how we treat others, the earth and ourselves will determine what happens next. I personally think this is a terrific view of things, as it teaches the importance of personal responsibility on many levels.
Some may object to teaching children things that we can't prove, or creating the idea that they may one day become something different. But isn't that what we do their whole lives? When we teach them to reach further when striving for their dreams, we are instilling in them the knowledge that they can become something more, something different, and impact the world in ways they are not yet able to imagine. Getting kids to think about what they want to be, what they don't, and why, gives them insight into their priorities. It will help shape them and their actions. Shouldn't that be the role of every parent?
No matter what we teach our children about the world and beyond, one thing is certain: their knowledge of our unconditional love is critical. This morning, the first words out of Ben's mouth were whiny and demanding. He pouted and complained through dressing, breakfast and brushing and finally looked up at me exasperated when he couldn't zipper his jacket. I smiled at him, and asked if he'd like some help. He nodded, and then the cloud over his head seemed to lift and he said, "I love you Mom."
Creating a safe garden, where children can be themselves, is how we sow the seeds of our budding adults. None of us has all the answers. But if we are careful to nurture our kids consciously, gently and lovingly, we may still reap far more than we could have imagined.