Like all good over-educated parents, Leeman and I have been reading to our infant daughter from pretty much the moment she was born. Some months ago, we realized that we were both making the same editorial decisions with respect to certain portions of her fledgling library. Specifically, we both omit any reference to the prequels trilogy from her Star Wars easy reader books.
Why would we editorialize in such a way? Obviously, we are a proud geek family. We look forward to sharing with Amanda the joys of the Star Wars universe when she is old enough. What is more, we want her to take the same delight in the original trilogy that we did as children, unsullied by the likes of Jar Jar Binks and Midichlorians. On some level, we do want to control her experience of a pop culture phenomenon that was so formative on us. If Amanda grows up obsessed with Jar Jar, we will love her and accept her for who she is – but it won’t be because she encountered him in her Star Wars 123 board book!
Silliness aside, our selective editing raises important questions about how and what we plan to teach Amanda when it comes to our faith. As parents, we are responsible, to some extent, for shaping the reality our young children encounter. I am sure that we all want to teach our children to be free thinkers. And it is absolutely true that growing up will (and should!) be a process where our children push back a bit from what we have so diligently taught them. This is, after all, how we come to determine what we believe for ourselves.
At the same time, it is inevitable that we as parents will lay the foundation for the world our children are beginning to explore. We teach them what is good or bad, right or wrong, safe or dangerous. We will teach our children their first words—colours, numbers, shapes, and more. Perhaps most importantly of all, though, we as parents have the responsibility for teaching our children about God. That will mean answering any number of questions about who God is, what we know about God, and how we can see God in the world around us.
As much as I want Amanda to share my love of Star Wars, it is far more important to me that she encounter the love of God in her life. And, beyond that, that she grow into the sort of person who will reflect the image of God in her life with others. But it seems to me the question remains — how do we go about laying that spiritual groundwork while respecting our children’s room to encounter the world on their own terms? How do we balance formation and exploration?
Obviously, when it comes to our pop culture preferences, Leeman and I are perfectly willing to employ censorship of Amanda’s reading material. I am sure there will come a time when I will be tempted to “censor” Amanda’s exposure to other ideas as she becomes more aware of the world. Do I want her to know that some people judge others on the basis of their skin or sexual orientation? How do I explain poverty or war? How do I explain that some people do not believe in God? Where is that line between childish innocence and willful ignorance?
I do not have easy answers to these questions. But maybe the solution lies in worrying less about what we are hiding from our daughter, and simply making sure that we do our best to show her in our own lives a positive example of faith and love in action.