Tag Archives: children

Gender education

We’ve had issues in the UK for some time now about parents wanting their kids not to be exposed to LGBTQ information at school. Some teachers appear not to be keen either. Today I want to talk about what happens when we let kids grow up thinking that straight if the normal default.

I assume there are a subset of people who believe if you tell your kid that gay is a thing, it will turn them gay. If they don’t know, they’ll be straight. This is a perspective that assumes gay is a deviance that a person chooses, and can choose not to be. There are of course people who can choose – we’re called bisexuals, and we are often made invisible, even to ourselves.

A young person who does not know LGBTQ people exist may go through childhood aware they are out of kilter with people around them. They have no words for this. They will feel isolated, lonely, lost and all kinds of other distress. Eventually they will figure out who they are. Rather than growing up feeling secure and validated, they grow up without that. That’s a cruel thing to do to a child. Our sexual identities start to show up pre-puberty. No one should be frightened by the nature of their childhood crushes.

If queer is so abnormal you can’t talk about it, the suspicion of queerness becomes grounds for bullying.

If you grow up straight, with straight being treated like the only option, you’ll likely give little thought to your orientation. Straight kids don’t have to come out to their parents as straight. Now, if we bring kids up aware of diversity, they may all have to look at themselves along the way and figure out who they are. No one is default normal any more, and no one is the weird outsider, and everyone has to give it some thought – that’s a much more level playing field.

There seems to be an unspoken assumption that straight kids who get to grow up feeling normal and never having to come out to anyone are advantaged – and indeed in some ways they are. But it also has a price tag, and that price tag is never having to think about who you are. I think there are a lot of benefits in asking questions. I also think there are bisexuals who are pushed into straight identities because they have no idea who they are. And if straight is normal and queer is deviant and you can pass as normal if you hide part of yourself – this is not a good way to live.

Kids are not led astray by knowing more about the breadth of human possibility. You don’t turn people gay by telling them that gay exists. What you do is save them from having to live either as outsiders, or trying to fake being something they are not. Anyone who thinks heterosexuality is so fragile that it can only be maintained by never letting children know about the other stuff, doesn’t really believe that being straight is as natural and normal as they make out. I wonder, with great discomfort, how many of the most vocal people protesting that kids who know about LGBTQ will be corrupted by it, are in fact bisexual people who have been cultured to hate part of themselves. As a bisexual person, this makes me uncomfortable, but we are the people who can choose whether to get into a queer relationship. It’s not a choice for other people. Just us.

If you are a straight person who has chosen to be straight, because you could have gone the other way, you aren’t straight. You’re bisexual and you’ve made choices.


Talking to children about death

Not so long back, a neighbour spelled out the word ‘dead’ to us in a conversation so that her small daughter would not understand what was being talked about. It’s normal not to talk to small children about death, and I remember being young enough that there were things so terrible no one would explain them to me. I remember how frightened I felt about the things I was not allowed to know, and how unreasonable and threatening the world seemed.

Normal people don’t take children to funerals. My son was four when his great grandmother died. I took him to see her at the funeral parlour, because I wanted him to understand what was going on. I took him to the funeral and to her burial. For quite a while thereafter, she was the great granny who went in a box in the ground, and he was ok with that. We talked a bit about how no one really knows what happens when you die, and that it’s ok not to know, and nothing to be afraid of.

That autumn featured a dead crow – hit by a car – which proceeded to decompose at the end of our road, on the pavement we walked down to get to school. He dealt with this by writing a song about it, and we talked about why it isn’t a good idea to get in the way of cars. He’s always been very, very sensible about traffic.

When a friend of ours died, too young, and I was asked to be the celebrant at her funeral, my son stepped up to help where other adults were unable to – unafraid by the size of the gathering for a start.

We’re able to talk about death. He knows my funeral preferences. (In order of preference, air burial, eaten by a vulture, naked in a foetal position and covered in ochre, shroud, cardboard coffin).

My philosophy has always been that if a child asks a question, then they need an answer. They need a good, solid sort of answer that won’t set them up for confusion later on. Whether it’s sex, death, infinity, terrorism, or anything else big or scary, they need something that makes sense in a language that does not overly distress them. By normal parenting standards, I’ve been an outrageous over-sharer. But I’ve got a teenage son who has known about menstruation for so long that it’s no big deal to him.

I’ve also got a teenage son who trusts me, because he’s not at the moment going through the process of establishing just how much I lied to him when he was growing up. I’ve got a teenager who can take my authority when I need to pull rank, because he knows I won’t bullshit him or fob him off with answers that are more about my comfort than his. It turns out that’s worth a great deal.


Lying to Harry Potter

I gather that the impulse to lie to children is widespread. All the plots in Harry Potter depend heavily on it with the ‘good’ adults doing it at least as much as the ‘evil’ ones do. It comes up plenty of other places too. No, fiction is not real life, but the ideas that make sense in fiction do so because they have real life relevance. As a parent I’m familiar enough with the desire to be thought well of by my child. Who wouldn’t want that? There is also the terrible desire to want the world to be a good, fair and lovely place for him, and not to want to have to tell him how awful things can be out there.
It’s normal to lie to children and tell them that everything is going to be fine, even when we’re pretty certain it’s not. (Think about how Umbridge behaves around defence against the dark arts issues). Sooner or later the child grows up and gets some experiences that don’t sit right with the lovely, safe world you wanted to create for them. I remember that transition as not only uncomfortable, but undermining my trust in my parents. Many children are smart and alert enough to pick up on the standard lies, and I doubt there’s much comfort to be had in feeling your parents (or Umbridge for that matter) aren’t willing to be straight with you. Lying to them is more about our comfort than theirs, all too often.
This is one of those issues where what is normal conflicts with what is right. Lie to your children and no one will think the less of you. We lie to ourselves alongside it, we say ‘it’ll be better for little Johnny this way’ when really it will be easier for us. (Think about Snape, Dumbledore, Sirius Black). We can so easily project our motives, needs and feelings onto our own children and then go after the things that will serve those needs, whilst telling ourselves what excellent parents we are (Sirius) . I try very hard to make sure I’m not doing that. But then, the idea that our children should come first in all things is culturally ingrained – especially for women, I think. (Harry Potter’s mother personifies this). Saying ‘I want this for me’ feels a lot less comfortable than pretending to be doing it for them and there’s a lot of cultural encouragement to go about this the wrong way as a consequence.
I still carry a feeling of affront that the world is not a fair place, people in authority cannot be trusted (Ministry for magic), and poetic justice seldom shows up. I know most ugly ducklings do not get to be swans (even if Hermione does), and that wicked stepmothers are not reliably thwarted by the direct consequences of their own evil actions. I grew up with all the stories about what the world should be like – as did most people. What I needed was a little more Han Solo saying ‘life isn’t fair, Princess’ and The Goblin King’s observations on the subject: I wonder what your basis for comparison is?
I’ve run into people along the way who are horrified by my determination to be honest with my child. He knows I’m not perfect. He also has an awareness that it’s not all about him. He is not Harry Potter. I will put him first more often than not, but I have limits and he knows about them. He doesn’t expect the world to revolve around him, nor is he waiting for a patronus to come out of a lamp and grant all his wishes. There are times when we have the news on, or are talking about badgers, or the state of the world when I would give anything to be able to reassure him that it’s all going to be fine. He wouldn’t believe me if I did. He pays too much attention. I’d rather have his earned trust than mislead him.
I cannot give my child the world he deserves, where justice shows up with a wand if all else fails, where happily ever after is pretty much a given and good things eventually find their way to good people. He’s made me acutely aware that I can, and should, do more to try and make that a reality. Unlike fiction, reality does not produce tidy story lines and coherent resolutions. One thing Harry Potter reminds me, is how powerless kids feel when you lie to them, how angry and disrespected (the entirety of book 5). I want to do something different.


Radical inclusivity

There’s a sign up about playground rules at my son’s school. There are all the things you might expect about when to stop, and line up. It also says something to the effect of ‘include in your games any children who are on their own.’ The implications are huge.

When I went through school, the general assumption was that a loner had no one but themselves to blame. If other kids wouldn’t play with you, it was because you were weird and antisocial, and that was fine. Either you learned to fit in, or you stayed out. Children who were crippled by poor confidence, who had not been well socialised prior to school, who didn’t follow the ‘in things’ easily, became exiles. The exiled child readily becomes a scapegoat and a victim, and again when I was a child, picking on the one fat kid, the one weirdo, was considered perfectly normal and no one did anything to stop it. For the record, that would indeed have been me – vegetarian before it was trendy, living without a television, wearing second hand clothes, and with some physical problems that meant I couldn’t run and had little confidence. Oh, and I was, definitively, a weirdo.

My son is, and has always been a bit of an oddball, and has always taken pride in being different. He doesn’t want to look like everyone else, he’s televisionless and does not spend all his spare time playing computer games. Nor does he play football. With his interests in philosophy, green issues and steampunk, he’s not on the same wavelength as his peers. But he’s not any kind of social exile in the way that I was. One of the reasons for this, is that school cultures have evidently changed. There is more onus on the majority to take in and accept the minority. Teaching philosophies around self esteem talk a lot about recognising and celebrating difference. When you get down to it, every child is different. Each one has a unique set of experiences, feelings, needs and intentions.

A system where those outside the boundaries of ‘normal’ are fair targets for bullying or just exclusion, enforces conformity. Those who are ‘in’ are under a lot of pressure to stay in, to be as much like everyone else as possible. That in turn helps to reinforce the boundaries. Those rigid lines between in and out encourage fear and mistrust. Anything different from us is not ok, we should resent it, is the message this conveys. And that attitude plays itself out across the world stage in terrifying and destructive ways.

If you start children with the idea that including people is good and excluding people is not, there is a radical scope for widespread change inherent in that. If you encourage children to accept difference and diversity, you enable them to explore their own natures and not to feel threatened by anything that might make them different. It’s often said that the most aggressive gay-bashers are closet homosexuals afraid of their own natures. Where acceptance is the norm, you just aren’t going to get that kind of fear.

When I was a child, fitting in was the business of the individual, and exiling weirdos was the prerogative of the majority. If that changed, if it became the responsibility of the majority to include, to reach out, to try and understand, to respect the differences, so much would change. And perhaps all it takes to achieve that, is a message on the playground to encourage four year olds not to leave anyone out.


Behaving like a child

A conversation on facebook yesterday resulted in a chap stomping about, announcing that he was a grown up and only going to read proper, grownup books and that anyone reading children’s books, must be childish. I’ve learned to take these moments away and reflect upon them rather than replying in haste. Some people are best ignored, responses just fuel the emotionally immature behaviour. There is, I think, a world of difference between immaturity and childishness. Many children have old heads on young shoulders and wisdom that has nothing to do with years. Many adults are stroppy, self important and prone to throwing the teddy out of the pram, in slightly less literal ways.

There is so much that is childish which we reject to our cost.

For the child, life is new and full of surprises. They learn to be jaded and cynical, to suppress joy, to hide fear and excitement and present the bland, ‘grownup’ face that is so often mistaken for a sign of emotional maturity. Even though it is the coming of adult hormones that takes our emotional capacities to whole new levels. There is nothing immature about the feeling, or expressing of emotion. The child looks at the world in wonder, and spends a lot of time asking ’why?’. They are reluctant to accept that anything is impossible. They have not yet succumbed to the mantra of work and more work to consume more and enjoy less. Most children are still inclined to feel compassion for things other than themselves – cute fluffy animals especially. They haven’t yet acquired compassion-fatigue or the sense of futility that comes with being a proper ‘grownup’.

And yes, they still read stories full of hope and wonder. Real, serious books for grownups frequently lack this. Yesterday’s complainant talked about the superiority of Hardy. You don’t get many laughs in a Thomas Hardy novel. You don’t get much hope for humanity either, or any kind of vision of a better world.

Children are frequently willing to believe that things could be better than they are. They do not reject hope. They like stories in which good things happen.

Where I’m dabbling in writing for children, I’ve needed to spend a lot of time thinking about what children read, reading it myself, talking to children about what they like, and listening to them generally. Children do not see the world as adults do, but I feel that so often in trying to make ‘them’ more like ‘us’ we diminish them. ‘Growing up’ so often means the stripping away of hope, aspiration, and the ability to enjoy small things. Leaving us with, at least in some cases, the kind of miserable, jaded adults who are angry about any signs of joy and enthusiasm in other adults. Ye gods, what a closed and unhappy way to live!

I want to be more childlike. I want to remember how to enjoy a story that ends happily because everyone got an ice-cream. I want to bury experience and re-embrace the world of the Owl and the Pussycat, Alice in Wonderland and Pooh Bear. I don’t want to write, or read, more stories that reflect ‘gritty reality’ and show us that we can only be smaller than we thought we were and that no one gets out of here alive. I want stories that inspire. Stories I can put in front of adult and child readers alike, safe in the knowledge that I am not going to steal anything precious from them in the process.

There was a survey a few years back on books that had changed people’s lives. It was topped not by some high brow literary revelation of the human condition, but by The Lord of The Rings. Serious, grownup people (mostly on Radio 4) claimed to be surprised and horrified. How could we all be so shallow, so childish as to let our lives be changed by such a silly bit of fantasy, they wanted to know? Why weren’t we being changed by something more important and substantial?

I suspect the answer is simple. Books that set out to be a high brow revelation of the human condition, are frequently a crappy read. I could list all the high brow and terribly important authors I’ve read (I did an English Lit degree) and who are mostly obscure and frankly, deserve it. It’s noticeable that the big guns, Shakespeare, and Dickens, were crowd pleasers in their time. High brow literary endeavour has never sold books in any great number, and probably never will. People who write books in the shape of mathematical structures. People who deconstruct, who are ironic, and post modern and terribly clever, write tedious, story free stories about characters you just want to see eaten by a dragon. Good stories are the vehicles of good ideas. As Ursula Le Guinn says, good art is entertaining.

Humans are story telling creatures. Good stories are alive, and uplifting, and inspire us in some way. I’m fine with beautiful tragedy too, but not with jaded hopelessness. If you’re the sort of self important adult who wants all the grownups to only read important, serious, grownup books, you probably need to do some work making peace with that inner child, all things considered.


To those who will inherit the earth

I had one of those parent jobs this morning, the sort that you know is coming, but dread. There are so many things in this world that it is horrible to have to explain to a child. However, I don’t believe on fobbing them off with half-truths. Once a person is able to ask a question, they need to hear an answer. This morning it became necessary to point out that the world is not an inherently fair or just place, and that the people, bodies, institutions we should be able to rely on to treat us fairly, are not always reliable. It didn’t come as a shock to the lad, I think I was confirming what he’d already suspected, but it’s better to talk about these things.

So we talked about institutionalised racism, which he thinks is crazy because people are people and judging them on skin colour is stupid. Allow me a moment of happy pride over this. We talked about the history of laws, and where they come from. Because go back a few hundred years and in most of Europe, there wasn’t much legal protection for poor people against rich ones. The UK was better than average. We talked about the way in which the crimes of poor people still seem to be taken more seriously than the sneakier financial and environmental crimes of the wealthy. We didn’t get round to huge corporate tax dodgers, but we could have done. We talked about libel laws, and how your likelihood of being taken seriously depends on how rich and famous you are. To be poor and maligned is still to be maligned. It is a life no less damaged.

There are a frightening number of things around us that I can point to, to illustrate institutionalised stupidity and unfairness. Of course he needs to know, this is the world he is poised to inherit, the one he’s going to need to survive in. The odds are increasingly stacked against the poor. The desire of consumerism still gets priority over the needs of the environment.

What I feel is overwhelming shame. This is the world I get to pass on to my son. Ugly with corruption, cruelty, and systems that cannot be trusted to deliver fairness. And ok, most of this I have not created, or planned or supported in any way, but how much time have I spent trying to make it better? Not nearly enough. Every day there is something in the news where the short-sightedness, the inhumanity, the greed and horror of human choices shocks me. And no doubt my child too, because he’s listening. A bus full of people who, between them, didn’t have twenty pence to save a girl from a ten mile walk at three in the morning. She was attacked as a consequence, by a guy high on cocaine. The small evils we commit against each other on a daily basis go to make up such wrongs.

The latest one to be grating on my nerves is this: Plans that mothers who defy court orders over access to their children, be punished by having their passports taken away. On the grounds that it’s not fair to the child to be denied access to a parent. If a guy doesn’t want to have anything to do with his children, he’ll still have to contribute financially, but he can walk away. Never see them. There are no suggested sanctions to make reluctant fathers see their kids. It’s not a gender thing. Reverse who has the kids and it still holds up. We collectively abuse the parent who undertakes to do the parenting, and let the one who is disinterested do as they please. That’s no kind of fairness or justice.

The temptation is to keep my head down and not fight the many wrongs that I run into. The fear that I live with is that by protesting, I will draw adverse attention. What, after all, is to stop any of these systems from crushing me? If I call a government body out over unjust behaviour, what is to save me from unjust treatment at their hands? And yet, to stay silent, to refuse to notice, to keep my head down, is to tacitly support any wrong I turn a blind eye to. We have a conspiracy of silence. All of us. For the sake of a quiet life, an easy life. We don’t complain, we don’t draw attention to ourselves, we don’t invite the unfairness we know perfectly well is out there, to come round and pick on us for a change.

Dear children, this is the world we have contrived to make for you. We are poisoning it, and many of its structures are corrupt. Close your eyes and ears, pretend it’s all shiny and happy. Don’t look at anything that hurts. Play this game instead. Watch another TV program. When you get older, you can use alcohol to blot it all out.

And they all lived happily ever after.


Tiger mother growls

One of the most natural things for a mother, in any species, is to protect your offspring. Be it the mallard flying at seagulls to stop them eating her chicks, or the fox running to draw you away from her cubs, mothers protect. Millions of years of evolution, survival and instinct are behind us when we do it. Of course for the modern human mother, it’s not quite the same, but all the drives are still there. The urge to protect and defend can come out in all kinds of ways, some more helpful than others.

You can’t wrap a child in cotton wool and insulate them from all risk, harm, or danger. Not if you want them to grow up and be viable, independent adults. They need to learn which risks are worth taking. They need the space to run and play, which can mean falling off bikes, and out of trees. Bumps, bruises, cuts, scrapes and often broken bones ensue from the natural process of growing up. Knowing when to hold them safely in the nest, and when to let them explore the rest of being alive, is hard. Apparently it doesn’t get all that much easier with practice.

I have heard it said that dads do not experience the protective urges in the same way and are better predisposed to support the child in the risk taking aspect of their development. This makes sense to me, and the idea that between two parents, or the wider culture of family and tribe, there should be balance between protection and support. Getting the child to cycle is usually a dad/uncle/granddad sort of job. It’s not to say men aren’t protective too, but I think they risk assess in very different ways.

There are things we cannot protect our children from as they grow. They will go out into the world and make their own mistakes. They will get hurt. Bad things will happen to them. We cannot individually make all the world as safe for them as we could when we were toddler-proofing the house. All we can do is equip them with stories, ideas, skills and confidence so that when the inevitable happens, and they hit something hard, they have the means to cope. And then try to be there if they need us to help them pick up the pieces. My son does not have a defensive layer of cynicism of apathy. He cares. I know that when he gets out there on his own, either the world will break his heart over and over again, or he will grow the kind of skin that doesn’t let him feel much. But he’s grown up with my shortage of skin, and he knows it can be lived with, and maybe he will dare to keep caring.

The hardest thing, is seeing something I cannot protect him from. However much I may want to be the tiger mother (he’s a tiger boy) there are things I cannot do for him, things I cannot get in front of him to shield him from. And I would. Seeing fear in a child’s eyes is an awful thing. Seeing deep emotional pain that you can’t take away, and knowing that the only possible way forwards means that those young shoulders have to lift a heavy burden, and there is no way to carry it for him. All that can be done is to give him words of love and support, to be there, to listen, to trust him, to remind him that he is a brave and bold sort of tiger and that he will come through. Nine is a very young age at which to be tested to your limits and beyond. It’s a very young age at which to have to stand up to adults, fight against a system and bear responsibility for the shape your future is going to take.

There are plenty of children who face far worse. The ones growing up in war zones, or who have to watch famine and disease kill their families. The ones who cannot do anything as their father beats their mother. The ones who live in fear, in pain, with hunger and all the misery the world can inflict. And there are also the mothers who are not tiger mothers, who have succumbed already to despair. In nature, mothers eat their offspring when they feel too threatened. Human mothers get that most dreadful impulse too. There are the mothers who kill, the mothers who neglect, or who are so damaged that they simply cannot do the job. There are tiger children who do not have anyone to growl on their behalf, and because I have no skin, that thought makes me want to weep.

There are days when all I can offer him is my tiger growl, to tell him that he is not alone, even if he does have to deal with some very hard things for himself. I can only hope it’s enough.


Adult druid, with child

Negotiating the relationship between adults and children is challenging enough at the best of times, but once you get courts, social services or any other facet of officialdom involved, the complications are many. I’ll stay away from the legal side, but felt obliged to flag up that there is one.

My approach to parenting has always gone like this: Children are complete people with their own thoughts, feelings, needs and ideas that could well be entirely different to mine. They are also not adults, in the sense that their minds and bodies are developing, and they don’t have much life experience to fall back on. Therefore while they need treating with care and respect as unique beings, they also need help, support and guidance.

There is a school of thought that separates ‘adult issues’ from ‘things children need to know about’ and postulates that children should be protected from said adult issues, that they do not need to know, should not know, even. I think there is nothing more frightening than having no idea what’s going on or why. I also think that children tend to grow up and become adults themselves, and things they have not been allowed to understand along the way can easily come back to haunt and torment them. Information has to be tailored to the individual in a way that makes things better, not worse. Finally, I do not think that children in a family situation are ever oblivious to ‘adult issues’ and never unaffected by them. I do not, fundamentally, believe in simple isolation of one generation from the next.

As a child, the things that I was most afraid of were the things I could not get anyone to explain. Knowledge was always less frightening than ignorance. Knowledge is power, always. I have observed that when my child does not know what’s going on, he is far more likely to be anxious than when he has some kind of decent explanation to work with. He also asks a lot of questions. It is my belief that if a person is able to formulate a question, they need a good answer. Fobbing them off is not enough.

I also think about the longer term. I don’t want my child to work out, five, ten years down the line, that I lied to him to ‘protect’ him. How can you trust someone you know has lied to you? It’s all about dealing with the child as an individual, as I see it. Here’s an example. Yesterday I found a dead swan in the canal. I sent the boy inside while we checked to make sure the bird was dead, and what condition it was in – I would have spared him anything horrific. He knew something was up, so I explained what had happened, and we grieved together for the dead bird. It was still on the water this morning – we had no way of getting it out and nowhere to appropriately dispose of it. So he has seen the dead swan, and pitied it, and not seen anything he couldn’t handle, and he has learned a thing or two about life and death. Sheltered, but not lied to, he knows he can trust me.

Learning about the harsh realities of the ‘adult’ world is not an easy process, but I think it’s less of a shock if it comes slowly. Adulthood is not a state that is magically conferred when we hit 18. We grow towards it, striving, learning, maybe always carrying that sense of lost child on the inside. The ‘normal’ way of raising a child is to lie to them. Hide all the nasty bits of the world, all the thing that fill us with shame and despair. I have come to this conclusion – if you feel ashamed of something, or horrified by it, the answer is not to pretend it isn’t there, not even for the sake of your children. The answer is to do something to fix it. The world is only this way because we are all allowing it to be so. We could do differently. But if we start out lying to children to keep them in a fantasy world of imagined safety, we teach them that the only thing to do is pretend the bad stuff doesn’t happen. We also teach them that adults lie, and that nothing can be trusted. That doesn’t sound very honourable to me.

Being a druid parent does not make me popular some places. I can live with that, not least because I have a brilliant, bold and realistic child who is not being set up to be horribly disillusioned.


Magic for Children

I want to juxtapose two thought forms today and then work up a third.

Thought form number one is that childhood is supposed to be a magical time, and that children should believe in magic. Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and anything else fantastical that you care to toss their way. Babies being brought by storks featured in my childhood. As children grow up, they realise that this is all a pack of lies, created by adults. I remember feeling really let down when I found out, and I resented having been lied to in the first place. Others I know have admitted to huge feelings of disappointment and betrayal. Finding out that the magic you’ve been told about, was a hoax, sucks. Ok, so you get the years of happy belief, but are they worth it when the time comes for disillusionment?

Thought number two is that no responsible person teaches actual magic to children. They aren’t equipped to deal with it or make good choices, there’s the whole turning into teenagers issue, and the desire to wait for psychological maturity before magic gets thrown into the equation. One of the consequences of this is that younger folk who find out there are adults who do spells and won’t teach them, go online, buy books, or start messing about for themselves. The allegedly responsible solution to children leaves them even more alone and vulnerable if they get the urge to start experimenting. Forgive me if I am uneasy about this.

So where does that leave a pagan parent? I want my child to trust me, so I don’t want to go through a process of lying about the existence of tooth fairies, having to admit that one and then going ‘but you can trust me on this other magical stuff.’ I don’t want my child to think it’s fine for adults to mislead him, even if the motivations are cute. And if he stays pagan, I want him to be able to trust me enough that he’ll talk to me about magic, not go off on his own, thinking it would be fun to try and summon something, or that a Ouija board would be a really great toy to get for a drunken party. I talk to my son a lot about all kinds of issues, the nature of reality included. He’s an information hungry chap.

We’ve had a series of bizarre experiences happen one after the other over the last few months. The kind of series of disasters that leaves you wondering which deity you’ve offended, or if they’re just trying to get your attention for some reason. So I ended up trying to explain to him (he’s 9) how you hold a dual perception of reality, maintaining awareness of what the rational, logical interpretation of events is, whilst simultaneously being able to explore a less ration, more intuitive perspective that allows the possibility that things happen for a reason and random things can turn out to have meaning. It’s a hard combination to hold at the same time, but I think it’s vital. No matter how pagan and magicky you feel, general survival depends on being able to interact with consensus reality.

I think when it comes to children, there is much to be said for working with the magic of awe and wonder. Children are perfectly capable of experiencing the numinous. In many ways, having spiritual experience and perceiving the numinous depends on being open to it in the first place. Greeting the world with both an enquiring mind, and one that is willing to be impressed, moved, delighted, frightened and exited, sometimes all at once. A jaded psyche will never be open to magic, cynicism will not allow us meaningful religious experience.

I’ve just asked James what he considers to be magical He’s thinking hard about it. It turns out that his current understanding of the word ‘magic’ is very Harry Potter led. That has a great deal to do with how we as a family tend to use specific words, I think. James is also someone who believes that spirit is manifest in all things, and it’s only just crossing his mind as I write this, that it could be magic as well, that everything we do might contain a little bit of magic. It’s a good way of viewing the world, and I hope he manages to hold onto it.


Celebrating my pagan child

It’s my son’s 9th birthday. He’s working on a monster right now. 9 years feels like a very long time ago, of course to him it’s a lifetime. My tigerboy started going to rituals when he was a few months old. While being pagan informs a lot of how I am and how I live, I did not, in the early years, seek to raise him as deliberately pagan.

When he started attending a Church of England primary school, he found Christianity was being taught as a factual subject in the same way he was learning science, maths and reading. For him, there was no discernable difference and this caused him some trouble. I remember a conversation on the way home from school. “Jesus saves us,” James announced. “From what?” I asked. He had no answer, and recognised that he had no idea what it was supposed to mean, or why it was a good thing. Dealing with Christianity at school and talking to me about what he’d learned, he eventually decided whatever he was, he wasn’t a Christian. He asked “what am I?” and I said “what do you want to be?” So he asked what it is that I do, and we started talking about it. That autumn, aged 6, he opted out of acts of worship in school, whilst deciding to do all the cultural and social aspects of Christianity. He also decided that he wanted to learn Druidry so I set about teaching him.

We’ve done the teaching slowly and in an informal sort of way, as and when things come up. He has a keen appreciation of nature, a questing mind and a passion for philosophy. My tigerboy will happily spend chunks of time contemplating the nuances of ethical dilemmas. He likes to ask big questions, and ‘why?’ is a regular feature of conversations.

At the moment, my boy is doing druid stuff no doubt in part because it’s what’s there. I think there’s a lot about pagan religion that resonates with him. The ethical values and green consciousness will, I think stay with him as he grows. It will be interesting to see how he develops as a spiritual person.

I think many people who grow up in religious backgrounds have the experience of being directed, given one truth. I have no idea where my son will go, given support to be a spiritually aware person, but no pressure to manifest that in any specific way. If he decided to be an atheist, or pick up some other faith, I’d respect that decision. In the meantime, we have a birthday to celebrate, and monsters to draw.