This morning, before 7am, we fell in to a difficult conversation with our daughter about death. Why people die, where they go, etc etc. I am glad it was before 7am, because it meant Daddy was still home and I didn't have to navigate this minefield on my own. My brain wasn't quite up to 'how to discuss hard subjects with a three year old without giving them nightmares' capacity at 7am!
We are not religious. We consider ourselves aetheist. It's at times like this though, that I wish I believed in something. It would sure make conversations like this a whole lot easier.
Our three year old is clever for her age. Everyone thinks that of their three year old, I know. But mine is (honest) and it makes things hard. She cannot be fobbed off with an easy answer. She will not allow "you'll understand when you are older" or "just because" or "it just is". Which is difficult, because sometimes, it really just is!
About 18 months ago, my mum's dog died. You can do maths, you realise that this means Evie was about 18 months old. But she remembers the dog (Meg) and talks about her often. At first, she accepted "Meg was poorly, so she had to go somewhere else. We won't see her any more" but as she gets older and understands more, she asks more questions. She often says things like "I miss Meg, Meg died, but we can still love her" which we have obviously told her and agree with. Occasionally she asks "why did Meg die?" and we say "because she was old and poorly and unfortunately that's what happens eventually, when people get old and poorly".
Today started with "I miss Meg" and "Meg died, but we still love her" and progressed to "We won't die, will we Mummy?" Um. Now I don't want to scare my kids, but I don't want to lie to them either. So I said "we will all die eventually, but not until we are very old and that's a long time away, so don't worry about it" and crossed my fingers, hoping that I would get away with that.
Of course I didn't. It progressed to questions over breakfast about where you go when you die. I was happy Daddy was still home, because I was floundering, but he answered "some people are made in to dust, and some people are buried". I nervously wondered what was coming next and obviously it was "is Meg dust?" "No, she is buried" "where?" "In Grandma and Grandad's garden" those of you with slightly older children will already see this coming, I am sure ....... "Next time we go to Grandma's, can we dig her up?"
Oh my goodness! I have visions of psychopathic pre-teens digging up dead pets and goodness knows what (yes, I do have a very over-active imagination). I am thinking, help, how did we get here? What do we say next?
Then her eyes start to well up and there are genuine, emotional tears. "I don't want to be buried underground, I'll be scared" "I don't want to die, I will miss my toys" (notice, not mummy and daddy! Humph!)
Thank goodness for cool headed Joe, because he had a little talk with her and sorted it all out. I don't know what he said, because my mind had left the building at this point, wondering what psychological damage we had just done to our three year old.
And now she is talking about other things and watching CBeebies (and I'm drinking gin!) and we seem to have got through that one. Oh my goodness! Can I have a bit of forewarning next time, or at least wait until my eyes are focussing properly?
Have you had similar conversations? How did you deal with them? Have you got any advice for me, given our non-religious, 'tell our kids the truth' stance?