In a relatively ancient Motherlode article, Lisa Belkin asks the question that we all ask ourselves at some point:
How much should you tell a small child? What is honesty and what is crossing a boundary?
I suppose, like the age of that article, it is all relative. For some families telling your child that you feel sad because a friend died might be crossing a boundary and, yet in a neighbour’s house you might hear a parent comfortably tell their child that they are feeling depressed and in need of some personal space.
I tend to be pretty free-range with my son when it comes to content that is in the ‘right now’. He doesn’t need a wide open door to my past, but what is happening right now in my life tends to impact him, so why not be honest? Emotions or situations that I am experiencing are most usually up for conversation with my soon to be 4 year old. Is that because I am wickedly boring or because I have a more relaxed approach to my relationship with my son? Both, is more likely the answer.
I admit to not telling him any sexual information.
This last weekend, we got some, relatively, upsetting news: my dad has developed diabetes. This shook me up a bit. My biological ‘father’ died when I was 20 and I can still recall the phone call from my mom when her words of “your dad has died” were processed in my head as my dad, the dude who had raised me since I was 8, not the sperm donor who emotionally abused my mom, brother and I. The visceral memory of hearing those words is obviously still inside me, because I needed a cry after talking through the fairly positive prognosis with my mom. My son saw I was upset, and he had questions, like:
Why was I sad? Is his Grampy going to be ok? What is diabetes? Will he get diabetes?
Lots of parents will likely point out that I had over shared because, why else would he ask that last question if he wasn’t feeling anxious? He probably was feeling anxious. I was too. But it is a real situation that is effecting his family. The other options of hiding my emotions, or telling him that I just shut my hand in a drawer, doesn’t ring as authentic parenting to me and I didn’t sign up for anything else.
There have been other examples. Moments when I have questioned myself and my decisions to share. Two months ago, rushing home from the museum on the subway, I turned to see I was face to face with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a decade. Seeing me and seeing Aodhan (and the obvious resemblance), she started gushing about how great it was that my [ex] husband and I had finally had kids, and by the way how was [ex husband]? A keen kid, my son informed the old pal that she had his dad’s name wrong and with obvious embarrassment, she quickly made an excuse to rush off. I didn’t pursue the conversation with Aodhan. At bath time, when it was just him and I, he quietly (so quietly) asked me who [exhusband] was. Ouch.
With the speed of a hopped up Lance Armstrong, I decided to just tell a truthful ‘version’:
He was someone that mama had loved. He was someone that I had lived with and been friends with.
He really doesn’t need anymore information than that, not now, not in twenty years. I’m not about to share that we married after only knowing each other for 8 weeks (groan) or that we couldn’t have been less suited for each other, or that despite all the tears I have cried over it, I don’t actually regret any of it because it brought me to where I am right at this moment.
I think kids need us to be as open with them as we possibly can be. By being open and honest with our children we show them that we are humans who face more in life than the piles of laundry they see us fold. It also calls upon families to help children build their own emotional literacy skill set. But, they also need us to stop and think through how much of a situation we are going to share with them and how we are going to share it. They need us to be the responsible adult and not burden them with information that they simply don’t need, equally they want to be included and deserve to have explanations for our emotions and actions.
How much or how little do you share with your kids? Have you ever over-shared and wished you had kept quiet?