It was just another day. My daughter was at preschool, my mother was watching my toddler son, and I was sitting in a clean, generic waiting room, hoping that when it was my turn in the dentist chair I wouldn’t be hearing any expensive news. A mother and her son, 7 years old at most, sat across from me thumbing through an old National Geographic magazine. “Mom,” the son asked, “why are those people wearing blankets over their heads?”
My eyes widened in curiosity. I knew what he was referring to; I had heard his questions about the previous page. How would this mother explain a picture of women in burqas to her son? It could go many ways: a to-the-point, factual explanation; a showing of pity, an awkward garble from a mother caught off-guard, an underhanded and subtly bigoted commentary, even an apathetic toss of a response before changing the subject.
Without any hesitation, the mom replied, “They are women wearing burqas because it is part of their religion.” She let him look and read what little he wanted to read while she waited patiently for possible follow-up questions. But he turned the page, moving on to the next photo spread.
I bowed my head and thought to myself about the questions and curiosities my own children would ask me in the days, weeks, and years to come. Religious differences, cultural differences, abstinence, homosexuality, premarital sex, questions of lifestyle or morals…I sighed. Some would be easy explanations and some would be—for lack of a better word—doozies. Would I answer in such a way that teaches my children tolerance and reasoning without undercutting our own beliefs? Or would I answer in such a way that might drag my children into to realms of uninformed soap-boxing before they are old enough to wisely sift through the relevant vs. irrelevant or bigoted vs. properly standing for a personal belief?
There may come a time when my daughter asks how I can believe that homosexuality is detrimental to the institution of family (and society as a whole), and that acting on homosexual urges is a sin when a homosexual uncle or family friend is welcomed and loved in our home.
What does one say when his or her religious or moral beliefs are twisted into a type of hate, bigotry, hypocrisy, or the like, simply by the way in which the questions are asked? By the way in which their answers are unfairly—even intentionally—misinterpreted? Insert Phil Robertson sympathies here.
My hope is that my children know what I believe in and know that those beliefs stand alongside love and tolerance. I hope that I can teach them that just because I don’t agree with everything that someone else believes in does not mean that I “hate” that person. I hope that they know that we can love people without encouraging the choices they make which we don’t personally support. I hope that they will understand that just because I fight for legislation that supports traditional families does not mean that I think the same-sex parents down the street are awful parents. I hope that I can explain that just because I cherish my religious beliefs as truth does not necessarily mean that I think Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, or any other religious beliefs are invalid. I hope that I can be an example of respect, love, tact, and decency. I pray that my children will know that courageously standing up for what they believe does not mean putting down others, nor does it mean that they are “haters.”
As I followed the dental assistant back to the big vinyl chair, she asked me how my babies were doing. Babies, I thought and smiled. They are babies… just toddlers. How do I teach these values to such young minds?
And so for now, I start with simple answers supported by love. I remind my daughter and my son to try to see people the way God sees them: as His children whom He loves dearly. And I show them by example how to be understanding and kind without putting aside personal convictions.
Today’s questions from curious children might be about vegetables, or Grandpa’s airplane, or even why their friend and schoolmate, Muhammed, has a long name. Tomorrow’s questions will be harder. Here’s to being a wise enough parent to handle those questions with prudence, that my children will grow up even wiser than I.