By Kelsie Dove
My husband and I have made this pledge to our sons, but within the last year, I’ve realized what an important, yet difficult-to-keep, promise this is. At age 8, my eldest son is moving from the black- or-white, right-or-wrong and easy-to-navigate part of childhood into the gray, murky areas of young adulthood — where answers often are complex, and finding them requires considering things from multiple perspectives. And the influences around him have increased, from friends, teachers and coaches to media and popular culture, our parental voices have been joined by many others eager to weigh in on important issues.
My youngest, at age 4, faces some of these influences at an even earlier age than our eldest did. This is simply because he has an older brother — the ultimate influence on a younger sibling.
Obviously, this progression is a normal and proper rite of passage. My husband and I can’t hope to be the only influences in our sons’ lives, nor should lament that fact. Human beings grow and develop by taking in new information and experiences, and good parents want that for their children.
However, parents ultimately are responsible for shaping our children into successful adults, and I don’t want to outsource that responsibility. I want us to be the main influence in the development of our sons’ worldviews.
That level of influence requires a commitment to honesty and a willingness to engage with all topics, from silly to difficult and everything in between. The fact is, if we as parents won’t be available to and honest with our children, someone else will.
Make no mistake — being honest with our children is difficult. I’ve always known that hard and uncomfortable conversations were inevitable. Yet somehow, it always seemed like those conversations would happen later. I never anticipated having them so soon, and I certainly didn’t expect to have them spur of the moment with little to no warning. However, that is how they have happened because that is how life goes.
At the dinner table, we got, “How do babies get into a mommy’s tummy?” One day while heading home from school, our eldest son asked, “What does the word ‘racist’ mean?” This year after visiting Santa at the Harbor Lights Festival, he asked quietly, “Is Santa Claus really real?” Earlier this year, as we were preparing for my grandmother’s funeral, my youngest son tearfully asked, “Where do we go when we die?”
Each time they asked one of these questions, I fought the urge to blow it off, belittle it or sidestep it. My heart rate accelerated, and I began to sweat on the spot. Then, I took a deep breath and decided to do the hard thing because it also happened to be the right thing. I chose to answer the question.
Sometimes I had to say, “That’s a great question. Let me think about it for a few minutes, and I’ll get back to you.” This gave my husband and me a chance to confer and an opportunity for us to craft an age-appropriate response. Sometimes I had to say, “I don’t really know because that is a hard question. But here is what I think.” And sometimes, I had to swallow the lump in my throat and tell my sons truths about the world that I wish they never had to learn.
But every time, no matter how hard the conversation was, I have never regretted having it. Truthfully, I am grateful for each question my sons have asked me because it means they trust me to tell them the truth. They trust me to teach them about the world. They trust me to be their parent. So, I hope they’ll keep asking me the tough questions, and as long as they do, I’ll keep answering them.
Kelsie Dove is an English teacher at Gulfport High School and a founding contributor for Gulf Coast Mom. She can be reached at email@example.com.