Sunday, 16 June 2013

When my kid has questions . . . . I answer them.

http://www.canada.com/life/Telling+nothing+truth+truly+difficult+most/6981988/story.html
Tonight Mr. CL and his brother & sister-in-law had a conversation that really agitated him. I wasn't there, but he relayed it as follows. The conversation started around feelings re: lying to one's kids. Mr. CL's brother explained that he has no problem lying to his kids, and, for example, his five year old, does not know about death or how reproduction works.  This would have been fine with my husband, except the tone of the conversation quickly turned to a  critique of "those people" who tell their kids things they are "not yet developmentally ready for" (i.e. a thinly-veiled-us). Because parenting is so personal, it's difficult not to respond defensively to the criticism, so I apologize in advance if this post has a defensive tone. (I'm glad I wasn't there for the conversation because I also would've gotten annoyed, and really it's not worth it. To each his own - they parent their way, we parent ours, it's not really even worth discussing because we're into going to change each other's ways.)

In any case, openly answering questions works for us. My five year old knows that people die. He knows that people are alive as long as their hearts and brains work. He knows about nerves and blood vessels. He knows that men have penises and women have vaginas, and that sperm and eggs begin the process of making babies. These facts that are a part of life have been explained to him in response to his questions as he asked them. He is inquisitive, and seems happy, and well adjusted.  Though we have simplified explanations such that he will understand the responses, to the best of our ability, we don't  sugarcoat or lie.

There are certainly challenges in our honesty-is-the-best-policy approach. "Mommy, why did our family leave Israel/South Africa/Poland/Russia?" "It became dangerous to live there." "Why was it dangerous" . . . Enter political landmine here . . . My son is at a secular/multicultural school. I'm very concerned that any race-relation answers will be misinterpreted by him, and then relayed improperly at school, and reflect poorly on us. But, questions about dinosaurs or biology - bring it on!!

 Mr. CL's brother and his wife are frum (BTs), and I'm not sure how much this distinction in our parenting styles is reflective of us as individuals, or results from our broader secular vs. religious worldviews. For me, my parenting style in this instance definitely reflects some broader values:

1. Honesty and Integrity:  I want my kids to be honest, so I am honest with them. We also want our children to trust us, and  believe that trust is built on - among other things - a foundation of honesty. In as much as possible, I want to avoid my kids having a realization that we've been lying all along about something, and then question everything else we've told them. For me it seems easier to just be honest from the start. My parents had the same philosophy, and I am so grateful to them for that.

2. Knowledge: My five year old is in tune with the fact that the physical world is a fascinating place. There is so much to learn about the world, and so much about the world that we don't know yet.When my son asks questions that we actually have answers to, I am really happy to answer - and to have the resources to answer (yay Google!) -  those questions. My taking his question seriously, reinforces his curiosity, and usually fuels more questions/learning opportunities.

 I'm not saying that as frum people my in laws don't value these things, but I wonder whether some other values in their religiously influenced worldview supersede the ones above.  In any case, I recognize that just because my approach reflects my broader values,  does not mean that their approach is similarly religiously influenced. Your thoughts?

P.S. For a funnier take on atheism + parenting, I enjoyed Laughing in Purgatory's Priceless Gifts for an Atheist Dad.

7 comments:

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    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, absolutely. I wouldn't even give it a second thought.

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  3. I do think there's such a thing as age-appropriate knowledge, but I also think in terms of sexual reproduction people are unnecessarily secretive about the mechanics of it - as well as the terminology of private parts. (Though I will say we've had some embarrassed laughs over our kids talking about vaginas in public - so be forewarned!)

    I can't understand though how anyone could hide the idea of death from a five-year-old. Aside from it sounding a bit obsessive, how is it even possible without totally sheltering the child from media, pets - from life?

    As far as frum people, there is more of a "control of information" awareness in the religious world, the notion of knowledge being dangerous, or heretical. And in terms of sexual knowledge, there's also the ever-present "tzniut" concern. Put those together and you have a recipe for withholding information, if not actual coverup/lying. So, yes I think religiosity is a fair point to bring up as a factor. (Though it may or may not be a motivating factor in your brother-in-law's case.)

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  4. I love your approach. I agree, children need to see parents as a source of honest, reliable information. I also found that the "facts of life" talk doesn't get less awkward as children get older - quite the opposite, in fact.

    As for your relatives - I wouldn't call it just religiosity. Some of it may be personality, some of it may be trying to fit in. With many BTs - they have somewhat rejected their original lifestyle, so they can't just rely on their own experiences and instincts. They may buy into this notion that kids today are growing up to fast, and romanticize the idea of childhood innocence. They may be more likely to rely on advice from others in the frum community. These topics can be uncomfortable for any parent, and maybe in makes a parent feel more comfortable to avoid them and justify it on the basis of a new religious lifestyle.

    Personally, I stress to my kids that they can come to me with ANY question, esp. the hard ones. Kids will learn about sex. The only question, to my mind, is whether they will feel comfortable talking to me about issues, whether they will learn things that are correct and whether I will be able to transmit my values and advice.

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  5. I found an interesting article against sheltering, from an Orthodox POV:

    http://blog.campsdeichemed.com/2012/11/sheltering-our-children.html

    I agree with it.

    I know that over-sheltering kids is a trend in some religious circles (including fundamentalist Christians), but I get the sense that it will produce a generation of hot-house flowers - children who are unable to cope in normal conditions.

    ReplyDelete

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