As your child starts to get older, he or she starts to ask really good questions. It goes from “Why?” when they are 2 or 3 years old to “Why not?” to “Why is the sky blue?” to “Why are we here?” to “Why do we die?” and so on. The questions are sometimes really thought-provoking. Honestly, I’ve had some of the most interesting conversations while lying on my son’s floor at bedtime. These precious talks ensue when he’s groggy but hanging onto random tidbits of info from the day. It’s like he thinks if he can just get that one answer to his one burning question of the day, then he can finally relax and fall asleep.
As with every phase of their growing minds, some days are more difficult than others and some questions are more difficult than others. Let’s start with a light-hearted and easy example first shall we?
“Mom, is Jesus a zombie?” Well, let’s face it, this is actually a very smart question. There are many stories of Jesus dying and coming back to life and a lot of the images on TV and in churches showing him frail, very sad, and with blood in certain areas. I took this question and felt like I was able to answer it decently without having to really alter the truth in any way to soften the info.
Then came questions like, “What does it mean when on [the cartoon]Go Teen Titans they say ‘Mother Nature is evil’?”
This one was a bit trickier to answer. I chose to give an example of how we see jaguars (his fave animal) chase and eat elk or other furry creatures. I asked him if he would feel sad if he saw a jaguar chase and eat another animal. While these cute creatures can run fast, they can’t really defend themselves against a jaguar. This was my explanation of how Mother Nature is sometimes cruel. I may have also given the example of how mice sometimes eat their own babies. Was that too much? I know, I questioned that extra example myself, but sometimes I get carried away.
There are always some fuzzy adorable questions that are easy and fun to answer like “How did you and Daddy meet?” and “How did you know you wanted to have a baby?” followed up with the infamous question “HOW DO you create a baby?”
I recently dodged this gem with a horribly lame response, “Oh, you will learn about that in school and it’s a really long complicated story of science. When you do start learning it in school we will talk about it and I will answer anything you want, but it’s far too complicated to get into right now.”
Crisis averted temporarily. But he’s a thinker and I know that one will resurface again very soon.
Then there are the questions that you just can’t tell them the answers to yet. Let me rephrase that. You can tell them the answer, it just has to be a special version of the truth. I’m not going to tell my kid why I’m weepy after reading about the latest school shooting. I want him to think school is safe, so I don’t mention these things yet.
Instead, I’ll say “I read a sad story about a child”.
Then I leave it at that.
But how about the questions that we do need to answer that are tough? It’s not really nice or encouraging to push them off. Their inquisitive minds are flourishing and it’s healthy for them to want to learn about the world.
But MAN, some of their questions knock you upside the head when you least expect it!
Like this scenario here.
My sons both absolutely love Michael Jackson and his music. This was something they developed on their own. After watching Bad, Beat It, and Thriller videos they were hooked on him. Soon came the questions: Can we go to his house? Can we call him? Where does he live? How long does it take to get to his house?
I explained that whole annoying thing about how when people are famous you can’t really hang out with them, even though you really want to and just KNOW you’d be besties. I also broke the news to them that he had died. Well that prompted an onslaught of questions: HOW did he die? When did he die? Who was he with? Can we see him? Can we go to his house even though he isn’t there anymore? Can we see his dead body?
This is easy, I thought. I’ll go with the least amount of info is better in this instance. So I told them he died from too much medicine. It seemed to cease the storm of questions for that moment. Until one day when I had the news on the TV. I honestly try not to have it on when they are in the room because these days everything is so depressing. They saw a flash of Michael’s face and then the doctor in the courtroom that had been tried/was on trial for his murder. And my oldest son heard the word “murder”. So, naturally, then came the “what is murder?” question.
OK, I thought, this is heav-y for your 7 year old mind, however, in this moment I went with my gut and told the truth. He immediately brought up the too much medicine comment I had made a month or so prior. Damn, these kids are too smart for their own good!
I explained, “The doctor gave him too much medicine -on purpose-and he died.”
He chewed on this for a moment or two, his green eyes staring in serious deep thought. “There are actually bad doctors that can give you too much medicine?” Oh no, had I just given him a phobia of doctors now? CRAPOLA!
I tried my best to reassure him that doctors can be trusted, and this was a sad, unfortunate story.
How do you know when to tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help you God when you’re trying to tap dance around giving them too much info? Sometimes, depending on how heavy the topic is, I use my judgement and try the less is more style of answer. But the thing is, I don’t believe there IS a right answer to all this! Mostly, I think us parents are winging it.
So what could possibly go wrong with deciding which version of the truth to give your child…?
My oldest hops in the car after school and is all cranky at me out of the blue.
“What’s the problem?” I ask.
“You lied to me about how Michael Jackson died.”
“No, I didn’t honey.”
“Two of my friends said that their moms told them he died in his sleep. He wasn’t murdered by his doctor like you told me! They were arguing with me. They called me a liar Mom thanks to YOU.”
Well folks, we can’t win ‘em all.