Sustainably Single Parenting

Making the most of life's journey alongside my three!!!

Get Real: Tell Children the Truth December 10, 2012

A lot of parents, in an attempt to make children’s lives less burdensome by shielding them from “adult things,” are simply prolonging and complicating the inevitable explanations of living.

Asking-QuestionsI never saw the point in telling my daughters ridiculous stories of storks dropping babies on porches, fabricating the use of sanitary napkins, or downplaying the difference in the size and shape of our chest lumps. Children will only be confused by and embarrassed about their bodies and its functions if we teach them that they should be.

It’s not as though I go out of my way to remind my daughters about puberty. “Just wait until you’re 13 and bleeding every 28 days!” I don’t quiz them on the function of testes; “But where does the semen come from?” That would be overkill, and quite possibly considered child abuse. I learned a long time ago to treat children’s questions respectfully and age-appropriately, without making the mistake of giving answers that are too long or too deep.

So how does one answer the big scary questions being asked by a blank-faced toddler, an inquisitive preschooler, a skeptical kindergartener? It ultimately depends on the maturity level of the child, and the adult’s ability to control the cards in this game. Children want answers, but they aren’t always the sit-you-down, hour-long, life-altering answers you think you’ll have to give them. They may not dig too deep; I don’t dive in before knowing.

StorkThe first time my daughters asked me where a baby came from I didn’t divulge all the details of intercourse. In fact, they still don’t know exactly how a man and woman’s cells come together, but it will only be so long before they ask. Simple, candid answers are all they’re after. “From their mothers” lasted them quite a while. When they got wise enough to ask how the babies got into their mothers, I answered that the babies grew there. How did the babies come out? Well, the mother either pushes them out of her vagina or the doctor opens the mother’s belly to pull the baby out. Sure, they were squeamish about my answer, but I’d told them the truth, and perhaps it will kill that I-can’t-wait-to-be-a-mommy childhood fantasy.

As any mother knows, mothers get absolutely no privacy. Some time ago my daughters witnessed the retrieval of a tampon or a maxi-pad from beneath the bathroom sink. After their attempts to berate me for hiding what they thought were big-girl craft supplies I kindly informed them that those weren’t big cloth stickers they’d just stuck to the walls, and that we would not be painting with the cylindrical cotton balls. Of course, this led to more questioning. What are those things? They’re called maxi-pads and tampons. What are they for? They’re for women who are on their menstrual cycle. What’s a menstrual cycle? It’s when a woman’s body sheds some endometrium and bleeds a bit from her vagina for a period of days every month. Does it hurt? Not the vagina. Will I get it? Not until puberty; it will probably start for you around age 13. What does it mean? It means that your body is physically capable of producing babies. But trust me, you won’t be ready.

http://www.brightonandhovepct.nhs.uk/healthprofessionals/hplibrary/detail.asp?id=3553These questions don’t typically come all at once. Children may only ask the surface question. Weeks later you may get the second, third, and fourth ones. The trick is to know when it’s appropriate to elaborate, and to always give honest explanations, without making the subject seem scary or dirty or wrong. It’s not just with womanly issues that I practice these methods. The tactic works the same for any type of question. What are we eating? Beef. Where did it come from? The farm. Was it alive? Most certainly. Did you kill it? No, but I would’ve had it been necessary. My daughters know from which animals or methods of production all of their food arrives which has given them an intense appreciation for what they eat. However, my three year old still refuses to consume “the nice fish.”

I feel bad for the children who are told comforting, yet fictitious stories about the facts of life. My children know a lot about being human: the way we came to be, the things we eat, the natural world with which we interact. They’ve begun to understand human significance because they’ve been given the opportunity to embrace it. I have not spared them from the fact that all living things die, and though this saddens them it also teaches them to value their lives. They ask to eat vegetables, do yoga, meditate, all things that I’ve associated with being healthy and living for a long time.

I wouldn’t be doing my children any favors by sugar-coating their realities. Kids don’t have nightmares because they’re going to start puberty around age 13; they have trouble sleeping after their parents tell them that the family pet “went to sleep” and it wasn’t ever seen again. Tell children the truth.

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4 Responses to “Get Real: Tell Children the Truth”

  1. Combat Babe Says:

    Maybe your vagina doesn’t hurt when your endometrium sheds from your body, but mine surely does! 🙂 I hope your children’s will also lack pain during that time of the month each month or you’ll get some very angry girls, “Mom! I thought you told me it didn’t hurt!”

    Either way, I am glad this was what the post was about. I thought for a moment, however brief, that it might be about them questioning (I want to tread lightly here, but not make it seem flippant) the current family dynamics. I think I thought that really because of how Alice will have to explain her relationship (read: lack of relationship) with their dad. I guess we could say my brain was projecting the subject sparked by the title. I may be over-explaining now.

    PS. I think there is an end to a song that I can’t remember is punk rock or hard rock/metal, but all I remember is at the end the male artists screaming “tell the children the truth”. I hope this earworm doesn’t last all day. 🙂

    • Jet Says:

      I hadn’t thought of that, lol. I suppose I should prepare them for the possibility of pain 😉

      We’re actually at a good point with being able to discuss the “the family dynamics” openly these days. Well…they don’t know what occurred during The Big Incident…yet, but we’re able to talk about their father and his absence and our feelings about it all, which is really good and healthy. Play-therapy has been AMAZING.

      Has Alice not told her children anything yet? I don’t recall her children’s ages, but my girls (who were 3 and 4 at the time of The Big Incident) didn’t last half of the next day (after The Big Incident, and them noticing that Daddy wasn’t home) before the barrage began!

      It certainly wasn’t an easy subject to broach, but it was so necessary that they know. Really it was their therapist who helped me put it to words; “Daddy broke the rules of anger and he cannot live here anymore. You didn’t do anything wrong. Daddy still loves you and you will see him again, it just might take awhile.” and things like that.They miss him, but they’re thriving, and it’s not a mystery or like, something they’re kept from knowing/understanding/having some control over. It sucks, but…

      I don’t think I know that song 😛 if you figure out the title/artist let me know! Must be a good one 😉

      • Combat Babe Says:

        Um.. I found the song & you would definitely not like it. It’s The Truth by (Hed) p.e. The lyrics are extremely vulgar that I doubt it ever played on a radio station, whole song would sound like one big beep. lol

        I want to know more about the Big Incident if you ever want to talk about it. I don’t know if you’ve blogged on it or not. I think it’s excellent the way you are handling it with your girls.

        Alice’s 2 children are 5 years old and 20 months old. Their dad lives in Cali where he is stationed in the Military and Alice and her kids live here in Florida. She says it’s due to Molly’s heart condition, but I don’t know. They have been living apart for almost 2 years roughly so Matt doesn’t really get that mommy and daddy are divorcing. Matt senior actually has only seen Molly twice in her life — when she was born and just this past June. It’s a whole mess. Alice has Matt junior in a weekly group counseling session at school about divorce and separation, but doesn’t talk at all with him about it. Not a very involved mother by any means. And Matt senior never calls Matt. He is living with his new girlfriend and her two kids.

      • Jet Says:

        Thanks for finding the song (and giving me the warning…lol).

        I have yet to blog about The Big Incident. There will come a time when it is safe to do so. For now I’ll just say that he has felony charges against him from that night 😦

        Talking with children about divorce and separation and all things absent-daddy related can be scary (even for the adult), but I think it’s so necessary to try to answer their questions and make them feel included and help them to feel like they have some control over the situation (even if their control ends at them being included in the process through having knowledge of it occurring). That’s really sad for her kids. I hope she learns to talk with them about relationships.


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