Raising Devotee Children Among Meat-Eaters
How can I raise my children (ages six and ten) in Krishna consciousness when we are surrounded by close family who are nondevotees. It is a constant challenge for me. I teach my children about Krishna consciousness at home and take them to the temple so that they can associate with other devotee children. My other family members are meat-eaters. Associating with close family who eat meat can be very confusing for my children, as they will sometimes want to copy other children and adults in the family. It’s very difficult because we can’t just stop associating with close family who live nearby.
Our reply (written by Srila Prabhupada’s disciple Laksmimani Devi Dasi, one of Krishna.com’s Live Help volunteers): Your problem is certainly a common one, especially in today’s society. Often children find themselves at odds not only with family, but also with classmates and even teachers. Although vegetarianism is becoming more popular, it is still not the norm, and thus vegetarian children can be challenged and even taunted. Your task is to give them confidence and ammunition to answer questions and understand differences and still remain strong.
Your children are at good ages for you to begin giving them the training they will need to live as devotees and vegetarians in a nondevotee family and society. The training needs to come on several levels. First they need to feel good about what they are doing. Your telling them that Krishna said that meat-eating is bad won’t necessarily make them feel good about what they are doing, especially the ten-year-old. The children should develop a love for life – whether human, animal, or plant. Often overlooked in our training of children is the need to impart the understanding of the deep connection between animals and life. They should know what happens at death, and what killing animals – or any life form – means. The consequences of loss, killing, hurting, and death are often neglected in movies, cartoons, video games, and our own training of children. Death and dying are not comfortable topics, but their lessons are profound. In movies and games, people and animals “die” and return to life, and one never sees the lamentation of the parents or siblings. The ramifications of death are hidden.
Help your children love life and understand the deep relationship between animals and the animals’ children, and between animals and human beings. Let them know animals and see them up close. And let them experience the pain and sadness of death. They can do that through quality books and videos of animal stories – movies about animals and children, for example. This will help them to get a real picture. And then help them make the connection between what people are eating and the animals the children respect and have affection for. Help them understand that meat-eating means that an innocent animal has lost a family member.
They can also learn about health reasons for vegetarianism, and other arguments as well. There are many sources of this information that can be very helpful. This type of training and learning will give them strength and conviction to defend themselves against those who taunt or challenge them. It will help them feel satisfied with their diet. They may even feel sorry when they see family members doing things contrary to their own conviction.
On another level, they must learn to be respectful and tolerant, especially with family. Unless asked they should not challenge anyone (although as the ten-yearold becomes a teenager, that ban might slacken a bit). That said, they should be prepared to speak their mind if asked or challenged. They can learn to speak to people willing to hear about why they are vegetarians. If they are educated and well spoken, you will see that they can have a very powerful effect on others.
So far, I have spoken only from the material side of things, and certainly there is more to our vegetarianism than just the material point of view. But it is essential that young children have a strong personal conviction about what they are doing. If what they convey to others seems to be well thought out and makes sense materially, it will have more impact and greater success than spiritual arguments written off as “brainwashing” and met with pity for the child.
For the children to have success in standing up for themselves, they must be able to defend their spiritual beliefs with rational and even passionate conviction. They must be strong and not attracted to degraded habits.
They should see the connection between their strong convictions and such things as reincarnation, nonviolence toward animals, the sanctity of the soul, protection of the environment, and God’s compassion. Then they will have a dynamic, powerful defense that will strengthen their own beliefs and change the hearts of others.