A few months ago, on one of our episodes, we discussed a question my eldest daughter had asked me one evening as we were getting ready for bedtime (click here for that episode: https://youtu.be/UVnmgFt4DRo).
You should know that in our house, as I can only assume it is the case in yours as well, it isn’t uncommon, right before shut-eye, in a last attempt to stay awake for as long as humanly possible, for our girls to request the longest ever bedtime story or remember that they forgot to go to the bathroom, brush their teeth or realize their pajama pants don’t match their tops and they need to change, or, in this case, aboard probably one of the more complex subjects that absolutely no parent wants to talk about: “When Do We Die?”
Seriously, how can any adult answer that question for their child when they often can’t even answer that question for themselves? And even if you have somewhat of an answer, how do you make it fitting for a 6-year-old?
The challenge at this age is the inability to visualize the gap that exists between her - a child - and an elder and to logically comprehend the longevity of the aging process that ultimately leads us down that parting path. However, she must have understood that when we leave, we don’t ever come back. And I know that realizing this scares her. A feeling that is obviously natural for everyone to have.
I believe my daughter was first exposed to the notion of death when her goldfish died. We told her it was such a good little fish that it went up to the sky to meet up with its other fish friends. At the time we noticed that she was a little perplexed, but the only thing that seemed to preoccupy her mind was how soon we would replace the goldfish with a puppy! (That never happened and it probably never will) But I feel like more recently she seems much more worried about not being here anymore, with us.
So what explanation is the best?
There’s the very common approach in our culture that involves having to explain who/what God is and how, whenever it’s “our time”, we go up in heaven and sit next to his throne in what we call the “afterlife”.
Here’s my problem with that approach. Aside from the two times a year (maybe) that I happen to go to church, mostly to please my mom, I’m not your usual practicing Christian. And besides, I really don’t think there’s much for her to gain from that approach.
I opted therefore for an approach that I believe is much more thought provoking and will always trigger her curiosity all the while encouraging her to strive to be and do more in her life.
Here’s what I said. Basically, it’s not so much about when we die, but more so what we do and who we become in our life before we die. Being born and dying are two things we all go through that can’t be changed. But what happens in between, the life we choose to have, is the one and only element that we have full control over. And that’s what we need to take advantage of! Obviously, this is way too deep and heavy for a six-year-old and my actual thoughts were much closer to something like: How do we make sure that every day is a fun day? How many activities do we want to do? How many friends do we want to make? How many interesting and fun things do we wan to learn in school? Etc.
It was also crucial for me to make her understand that she has so much time ahead of her to take advantage of all these things. And to illustrate the element of time and longevity, I explained to her how she will continue to grow and make us proud and learn so many more things that are to come. Like learning to read and write and how awesome that is! How she will be an amazing older sister and that everything she learns she will be able to teach it to her younger sister and become her role model and eventually do so many more things together in their life. I wanted her to understand how great this life is, how much more there is to come in the future and that this is what she should be looking forward to.
This, of course, goes way beyond the question of dying. As parents, I believe we have the obligation, as much as possible, to keep our kids’ minds constantly busy, absorbing, thinking, imagining, creating and being fulfilled. Every single day I want my daughters to know that today was amazing and that tomorrow will be even greater! And it’s very difficult to just make them understand this. We need to show them! We need to be the example for them to follow. And here is where the challenge comes for us parents. Are we doing what we should be doing every day? What daily actions are we taking that are conducive to our kids’ growth? I’ve come to understand that the daily decisions we make ultimately plant a seed in our kids’ minds that will have an impact on their life, whether immediately or in the future. I’m far from being an expert, but I can only assume that it’s much easier to plant a seed than it is to remove it once it’s there.
So with that in mind the question I leave you with is this: what are you doing, saying or showing to your kids every day to make sure that the seed you implant isn’t one you will regret?