I’ve got two kids who couldn’t be more different- one is seven going on 27, and the other is a very innocent 6. We have all kinds of discussions in our house, and I’m constantly *amazed* at the things they know. But despite their closeness in age, their maturity differences are staggering. Regardless, in our house, we have a policy of truthfully answering our kiddos questions. With age and maturity appropriateness in mind, it’s one parenting thing I wouldn’t change a bit.
Except for the one time we moved to a new house, and I was unpacking a velvet bag that contained my dog’s ashes. When my oldest asked, “what’s that?” I instinctively answered, “Piper.” I saw instant horror on his face, and so, SO wished I could take that one back.
Why do we tell the truth at our house? All sorts of reasons, really. The most obvious answer is that it models behaviors I want from them, which is definitely the case. But the most important reason for me is that I want to remain their number one source for information. If they want to know something, I want them to come to us. Not Google. Not their friend’s older sibling. Their parents.
Full disclosure- this can lead to some hard discussions, and it absolutely requires ground rules. Rule one has to be- if you tell your kids they can ask you anything, they really have to be able to ask anything without getting in trouble. I’ve gotten questions about bad words and if girl’s bathing suits are actually underwear, but I’ve gotten substantial questions too, like why do we celebrate Martin Luther King. Jr. Day (after a school holiday), why can’t our friend at daycare use his words, and how are babies born. I’m so glad my kiddos trust me with these, and I love the relationship and trust it’s building for us.
So for tips and ground rules, here’s what I use:
- “Do you really want to know?” – I always ask this before answering a potentially delicate question. (Lesson learned! See the “Piper” anecdote above…) My oldest asked how I knew a puppy was going to ‘go to Jesus’ while we were at the vet’s office. I asked, “Do you really want to know, because I’ll tell you, but it might make you sad. And once you know, you can’t un-know.” He’s mature enough that he thought it over for a few minutes, and decided he’d rather wait on this one.
- “What do you think?” – I had the kids in the car by myself on the way to meet up with Dad to go see Santa. Kid asks, “Is this the real Santa?” (THANKS, DAD) I replied, “what do you think?” He answered that he thought it was a helper because, at that time of year, Santa is too busy to be at every place to meet every kid. I told him that sounded smart.
- “What are you asking me about?” – I like to clarify what the real ask if, especially if we’re in tricky territory. The boys were asking about babies being born. I clarified what part they were really curious about. In their case, it was the science – how is a baby literally created and born? They didn’t care about the relationship stuff (my oldest would probably say “yuck!”), so I found a great book about the science of an egg growing into a baby. We’ll have more nuanced and detailed conversations as they get ready.
- “We can talk about this at home, but this isn’t a discussion for school.” – We watch quite a bit of news at our house, and also share information about current events, relationships, history, etc. that other parents may not be ready for their kiddos to learn about. We remind our guys that it’s important to give other kids a chance to talk about these things with their parents instead of hearing it at school. They’ve been remarkably good about this. For example, our dog was recently neutered, and they were a little freaked out about the surgery. They asked what kind of surgery it was and what would happen. We gave them limited details and then reminded them it wasn’t appropriate for school. One asked if they could do a “wish-you-well” for our dog at school. Sure, but just that he’s having surgery, and not what kind. Good enough for our kid.
We’ve found that being honest and open with our boys really encourages them to do the same with us. The kind of deep conversations it’s led to is amazing. Our relationships will have some bumpier times ahead as they get older, but I’m so glad we’ve established this foundation with them. I will likely make lots of parenting mistakes and missteps as we go, but I’ve never regret our honest communication.