My 7yo daughter loves Jesus a LOT, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. My deconstruction started when she was 4, and she wasn’t exposed to a whole lot (not in my thinking, anyway). At least a couple times a week, she’ll tell me how she can’t wait to see Jesus one day, and how she’s going to run to him and hug him and tell him that she loves him. A couple months ago, she would get a little upset, because she’d say that she REALLY wanted to see Jesus and be with Jesus, but she didn’t want to die. And I….just don’t really know what to do with it all. I still believe in Jesus and love him quite a lot myself. She gets to choose whether to go to church with me (delightful small Mennonite church) or with her dad (large conservative church), and often his church wins out because they have a really cool marble race. But then she comes home talking about how the streets of heaven are made of gold, and I spend a car trip trying to nonchalantly find out if they have talked to her about hell (they haven’t so far). I just….I don’t know what to do. I have Pete Enns bible curriculum which starts with Jesus, but I’ve done 5 lessons out of it in the last two years. We got a Spark children’s bible at the Lutheran church we attended before we moved. But we never read that. I don’t do anything Jesusy or Bible related with them other than the discussions we have, because I’m terrified of ruining my kids.
It sounds to me like you have a highly imaginative daughter who is at a very concrete-literal stage in her cognitive development. She wants to hug Jesus and walk on actual streets of heaven made of gold. She is joy-filled, fun-loving (who doesn’t love a marble race?!), and larger than life. She sounds absolutely delightful!
You tell me you’ve been deconstructing your Christian beliefs since your daughter was 4, so three years into this journey, I am guessing you are still struggling to resolve a lot of questions about what you believe. This is causing tension in not knowing how to pass on your faith and values to your daughter. Parenting while deconstructing, or faith shifting, can indeed be filled with landmines of triggers as we are awakened to the fact that the doctrines we received were toxic and make us, as you fear, “terrified of ruining our kids.”
There are Spiritual Child Protection Policies we can institute to ensure our children are given spiritual autonomy while growing in their spirituality. But I believe you are already set up with many of these safeguards for your daughter. She has the choice of two very different types of churches which sounds to me like you are strengthening her own intuition to decide what she wants for herself, as well as exposing her to multiple streams of learning about God. You aren’t trying to convert her, focusing instead more on Jesus stories and having open and honest conversations with her.
The only red flags I see are of her internalizing some teachings about the afterlife: she seems to believe she can only see Jesus when she dies, and that heaven is a literal place with streets of gold. This is concerning to me only if it is laced with fear. Do you sense that she is afraid of not being with Jesus unless she prays a prayer, goes to church, reads the Bible, or any other conditional requirement? Is she generally an anxious or fearful child because of these teachings? If so, then I would suggest pulling her out of these situations that is causing her distress.
But I doubt this is the situation for you because she seems happy. She seems well-loved and fully blossoming in her spiritual development. These are positive signs of wholeness that she isn’t afraid to imagine scenarios of hugging Jesus and telling him she loves him. It tells me that you probably hug her often and tell her you love her, for that to be the basis of her imagination of a relationship with the divine.
You say, “I just don’t know what to do.” Good news, you are already doing it! You are building a well-connected relationship with your daughter, and letting the loving atmosphere of her multiple influences free her into developing her spirituality. You don’t know why she loves Jesus the way she does because you haven’t taught her explicitly to love Jesus in this way, and that’s because spirituality isn’t taught. Children are born with a capacity to be spiritual and they can thrive in their own development of spirituality if they are given the environment to freely do so.
Get excited with her about her exuberant love for Jesus, especially since you say you do too. You aren’t ruining her by letting her express love and joy. Continue monitoring her for signs of fear and distress, or forced conversion/indoctrination from her formative influences, but barring those toxic factors, relish in her imagination and joy of the transcendent. Try to do your own emotional work of deconstructing without burdening her with it. And may you both find healing and wholeness from your parent-child relationship and your expressions of faith.
Best wishes to you and your family,
Cindy for Unfundamentalist Parenting
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*This is part of Ask Unfundamentalist Parenting series where I answer real life parenting dilemmas. You can submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org*