This week's Blog Buzz question involved explaining extreme poverty to children. Here are my thoughts.
We have some interesting conversations in our family. I think the natural tendency with children is to shield them from difficult things when they're young--death, disappointment, suffering. That instinct is a good thing.
But as kids grow they ask questions. And in OUR family, we have two sons who come from a country where the average life is expectancy is between forty and fifty years old. They have another mom out there who is HIV+. They have an older sister too, and I have no clue if these women are even alive.
We made the decision a long time ago to be honest with our kids. Pretty much anything can be explained in an age appropriate way. Our kids know if someone we love dies. We allow them to experience being disappointed about things.
And we talk about Yosef and Biniam's mom. We've explained to our kids what HIV is, and why the boys' birthmom could not care for them. Our kids know that many, many people in Ethiopia are hungry and sick. I have no desire to keep these things from them.
How do we do it? Well for one thing kids are inquisitive, and they ask. I would pray aloud regularly for Yosef and Biniam's mother and sister. World AIDS Day, we prayed about all the people all over the world with AIDS and HIV. Anna wanted to know exactly what HIV was. So I explained in kid-friendly terms about our immune systems, and what happens when your immune system doesn't work as well, and how some people have a germ in their blood. I explained that in our country, HIV is very manageable because of the medicines available, but in places like Ethiopia, it's harder to get the medicine, so people are very, very sick.
Just recently Anna wanted to know if we could take her medicine, so she would be well. Anna also asked some more questions about HIV. It's just part of what we talk about sometimes. It's not forced, or unnatural. These conversations aren't morbid, or awkward. They're just honest and genuine.
During prayertime before bed, the kids each take turns praying before I do. Each one of them usually (all on their own) prays for Yosef and Biniam's first mom, and that she would have medicine, etc. etc. It is amazing to see their sweet hearts, and the earnestness of their prayers.
I've told our kids that some people don't have enough to eat, and that God wants us to help them. I've also told them that even though we may not understand the "why's", there is great suffering in our world, and it makes God sad just like it makes us sad. But that we have hope in Jesus, and there are ways we can help, and that someday there will be no more suffering, and everything will be made right.
Yes our kids are young, but they "get" more than we think they do. God is growing them into sweet, empathetic, compassionate people. Many families can go awhile, I think, without having to broach these difficult topics. For families like ours though, we don't really have a choice. There is pain and suffering woven into the very fabric of my sons' lives. I cannot tell them how we took them out of Ethiopia without telling them why. I cannot teach them about their first mom without sharing about her illness and about how she could not care for her little boys anymore.
So, if you are looking to do this, keep it natural, don't overload your child with information, don't underestimate them either, and find comfortable ways to work it into daily life. (Do you sponsor a child? Use that as a launching board. Read through the World Vision newsletter or Compassion magazine with your child. Do you donate to a local food bank or homeless shelter? Talk about that.)
God will use all of this in my sons' lives for good. I believe that. I believe that while extreme poverty and suffering are not "fun" or "happy" things to talk about per se, they are reality for much of our world, and reality found in my childrens' not-too-distant past. I trust the Lord to work in their hearts and pray that they will grow into compassionate, loving people who can embrace God's plan for their lives, and who will grow to take Jesus to a hurting world.