My parenting philosophy is rooted in always being open and honest with my kids.
If they have a question, I provide them an honest, truthful answer. My hope is they will learn that while they might not always like my answer, they can always trust me to provide them with accurate information.
At this point they’re only preschoolers so I’ve had it fairly easy. If my kids want to do something and I don’t think it’s an appropriate time, I just tell them they can’t. I don’t make up a lie about why they can’t do it, we just say no and move on. For example, if they want another ice cream bar – I wouldn’t say they’re all gone just to get them to be quiet. There have been screaming fits of protest but my answer is still no. They’ve learned to negotiate their terms, which impresses me and wasn’t a side effect that I had considered would happen. But I like it.
Well, we hit a speed bump yesterday and I had my first doubts about whether my philosophy was a useful one. While we were in the car, my son asked me if “people like us die?” To which I said, “What do you mean, people like us?”
My son: “You know, people that talk and breathe.”
Me: “Well, sometimes people get old or sick and yes, they die.”
All was quiet so I thought the conversation might be over, until I turned around and saw that my son had tears in his eyes.
Me: “Buddy, what’s wrong, its ok, I’m sorry.”
At this point, my heart was breaking, I felt so badly.
My son: “But mom, I don’t want to get old and sick and die.”
Holy cow, how did we get here so fast? Can I back up and start over? I need to think about this for a second.
Me: “Sweetheart, you’re fine, nothing’s going to happen to you. You’re ok, okay?”
My son: “Ok.”
Again, all was quiet but inside I was panicking wondering how to stop this train wreck.
My son: “But I’ve never seen any bones in the city before.”
Me: “You’ve never seen any what? What did you say? Buildings?”.
My son: “No, bones. People bones. I’ve never seen any people bones in the city before.”
Holy crap, seriously?! Just stop! Stop this conversation!
My son: “Mom, why aren’t you answering me? Why haven’t I seen people bones?”
Me: “Well no, sweetheart and you won’t see any. It would be very odd for someone to find a person’s bone.”
My son: “Well where do they put people’s bones when they die?”
Oh my word, get me out of this car. Or quick send a fire truck down the street so we have a distraction.
Me: “Well, when people die they usually get buried in a graveyard. They don’t really have very many in this city but we can go and see one sometime if you want. They’re really pretty.”
Ok, finally we’re home and pulling into the garage.
My son: “Can I see what a people bone looks like on your computer?”
Oh no, really? I don’t want to do that right now, I think it might make me sick.
Me: “Ok, maybe a little later.”
Like when its just anatomy and not associated with death.
I came home and relayed the story to my husband. I told him I was sorry, that I was totally caught off guard and did not know how to handle those questions appropriately. That I tried to be as honest and gentle as possible about it but I’m worried I traumatized the poor guy.
What should I have said? We both know my son well enough to know that the only thing he wants is a real answer; he won’t take any beating around the bush or distractions. So I know for him, I did the right thing. But we need to get that poor kid into Sunday school quick so he can learn about heaven. That topic is too abstract for me to try and broach.
I still think honesty is the best way to go. But I hadn’t considered how hard it might get. I thought fits of screaming were tough to deal with but I suppose there’s a lot more in store for me down the road.