Talking With Children

I am trying to be simple without being simplistic.

“We can shoot him with an arrow and poke him!” exclaims my four-year-old daughter. It’s dinner time and over baked sweet potato fries, my husband and I are talking about a difficult person. We aren’t being discrete, and our younger daughter has intervened.

Her daddy raises his eyebrows and explains that we don’t do those kinds of things.  Justice is God’s, meaning sometimes we have to wait for Him to make things right.

When my older daughter turned two, I found myself humbled. As a college instructor, I prided myself on guiding conservative Christian students in recognizing complexity.  But my observant toddler couldn’t receive complicated answers but only simple ones.  How, I wondered, do I speak without conveying black-and-white thinking that leads to narrow judgmentalism? How do I protect them from the darkness of the world while acknowledging its existence?

My five-year-old checked out a picture book on Joan of Arc a few weeks ago, and thus a basic understanding of violence and the situation of war have entered her and her sister’s minds—why arrows are seen as a way to handle a personality problem.  (Two books on Cleopatra were also placed in the bag. Those I paraphrase. First, I’ll deal with aggression. Someday, I’ll deal with sex.)

I once lived thinking that anything not American or late Protestant could be held at a distance. That is, until I went through a period of grieving as I critiqued my own faith, acknowledging that my spiritual inheritance included Christians in the past (and a few contemporary ones) who had jailed, beaten, and executed those whose faith did not closely replicate their own.

So when my daughters ask why the church leaders of Joan of Arc’s time did such terrible things and why the English wanted to hurt the French, I tell them that sometimes Christians get confused about what’s important. I remind them that the English are from whom we get the cartoon Kipper the Dog and the French our Madeline books.

I’m simple without being simplistic.

Driving home from an event, I hear a voice pipe from the back, “Why did that car cut you off?”

“Maybe,” I say, “because he’s had a bad day. Sometimes, I do, and I don’t drive well. Or maybe, he’s an angry person, and that anger is what makes him feel strong.”

I exhibit compassion (when I can manage it).

The world is so much less us-versus-them than we tend to believe. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses prepares Israel to go into the Promised Land. He directs them to live as God’s people and not as those who love other gods, and yet he does this by opening with Israel’s story so far, not only their exodus from slavery but also their own shady actions that caused discipline and wandering in the wilderness.

When I speak the truth to my children, I speak to myself.  Bind God’s laws to your hearts, I instruct, but hear the context: He rescued us and continues to do so.

Heather Walker Peterson

Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.

Comments are closed.