Amie Richardson: Why I don't take my kids to church
OPINION: "Are myths real," my eight-year-old son Oli asks me.
"I think if you believe in something, then it's real for you," I say.
On the fence. Job done.
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"Some people believe weird stuff," he says.
"Yeah? Like what?"
"One kid said that Jesus is the son of God when everyone knows it's just a word you say when something annoying happens, like you fall over or someone pulls down your pants."
"Well actually, lots of people believe that one, Oli."
I am the worst kind of lapsed Catholic. When it suits me – for instance when studying for a literature degree or travelling through Europe – I bring out the references, bible stories and learned responses from my years of Catholic schools and attending Sunday mass. I am drawn to the pomp and ceremony, to the incense and the gold chalice.
When times are tough, I revert to the rituals that gave me comfort as a kid. When I miscarried my second child, haemorrhaging at 12 weeks, I prayed compulsively every night of the next pregnancy for the baby that would become my son Jasper. When my husband Wayne was diagnosed with lymphoma, I prayed he would get better. When he died 18 months later, I stopped.
But it's safe to say I haven't passed on the knowledge to my children. That's not to say my kids don't know right from wrong – or that we don't make our own rituals and traditions that extol all the best bits of Christian teachings. But when I ask Oli what Easter is about, he tells me there's a bunny that hides chocolate eggs for kids to find. He's more sure of Santa, the Tooth Fairy and Tane over a Christian God, telling me he thinks God is some guy who stops meteors from hitting the earth.
For me, Easter meant an ash cross on my forehead, the smell of palms on Palm Sunday, giving up lollies for lent (only to gorge on them from the jar they had been saved in on Easter Sunday), watching Alexandra's local priest wash the feet of my friends' dads on Holy Thursday – or locals playing out the road to Calvary and the Crucifixion on Good Friday. On Easter Sunday, I felt genuine joy as I sang 'He is risen from the dead and he is Lord' at mass before competing with my brothers over who could make their chocolate eggs last longest and whose egg foil was pressed best.
Like every aspect of my Catholic upbringing, Easter also came with a bucket load of guilt. I felt it intrinsically – I had too much, I was a sinner, Jesus had died for me and I was undeserving of this magnificent gift – but, if I said 50 Hail Marys and 30 Our Fathers, I could be saved.
And there's the rub – and the reason for my resistance to bringing my boys into the Catholic family. Because finding chocolate eggs hidden by a do-gooder bunny seems a whole lot more straightforward.