This post is part of our month-long series featuring different ways that parents of various religions have talked to their kids about God.
When our daughter, Hot Shot, was 4, we followed the advice of the Gospel according to Anne Lamott and sent her to a Jewish day school for kindergarten. See, Anne Lamott says, if you’re going to be an atheist, then fine, so be it, but don’t take it out on your kids. Give them spiritual mentors, she tells us. Allow them the opportunity of faith!
We figured we better listen, because, you know, what did we have to offer our little girl but an ambivalent pragmatist and an atheist Jew? Anne Lamott was raised by pragmatic atheists and she became a Born Again. We couldn’t have that!
So we sent her off to school and (success!) by the end of the first week all she could talk about was God. God, God, God! How He created Adam and Eve and how He kicked them out of that really nice garden, and how He wanted to kill everyone from the race of Cain.
It was too much for me to take.
“Hold it right there,” I said, that first Shabbat of the school year. “What makes you think God’s a He?”
“That’s just what everyone says, Mom.” Hot Shot was years beyond 4-year-old innocence by then, and said this with a deep eyeroll and labored sigh.
“Who everyone?” I prodded. I was beyond caring about her sighs.
“Everyone everyone,” she answered. “My teacher, the other kids … everyone.”
“But you know, right?” I couldn’t let it drop. “You know God could be a he or a she or an it. That the word ‘God’ doesn’t have anything to do with being like a man, or a boy, or any gender. You know that, right?”
She didn’t say anything right away. Just stared at me, boring little messages through my forehead, into my tiny brain. I know that. Of course, I know that! How could I not know that?!
When she did finally speak it was to question, not answer.
“Do you even believe in God?” she asked me point blank.
I knew it was a critical moment. We sent her to this school so she could find spirituality, be exposed to people who believe in all that hoo-ha. But the damage had been done: I could already hear more skepticism in her voice than anything. And I had never lied to her before.
“Do you?” she asked again.
“Well,” I told her, “the truth is, I don’t really care about God. I just believe in being good and kind, and working to make things better. As long as I keep doing those things, I don’t see how it matters if there’s a God or not.”
There was a pause and then:
“So why do you care if He’s a he or a she?”
I honestly had never thought of this–that my lack of caring would diminish the power of my vote in the God’s gender count-off. Huh.
“It just does,” I said, knowing she’d receive this sorry response as the complete surrender it was. Now that she had me pinned to the floor there was nothing to do but salvage the original plan.
“Honey?” I said, as sweetly as if I were offering her the last square of gingerbread, “you know you can believe in God if it feels good to you, right? That would be okay with Momma and me.”
“Oh, no,” she said quickly. “No. I’m like you.” She paused for a minute to put on her I’ve-been-thinking-this-over face and added, “but I don’t think we should tell my teacher.”
Liz Rose-Cohen is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio where she lives with her Heather-Has-Two-Mommies, transracially adoptive, mostly-Jewish family. She is currently writing her first book which is a collection of stories about living life as a stupendously aware white person, and blogs at Foreigner in Buckeye Nation.
To read all of the post in this series, click here.