The truth, or the whole truth?
Last week, while visiting John's grandmother, she took Superhero to visit the grave of one of her pets that had died since our last visit (for the record, I wasn't consulted first, and I'm not sure what my reaction would have been if I *Had* been asked. Sometimes, I'm glad the decision is taken out of my hands--reduces my second guessing and anguish immensely). This week, one of my aunts died. So Superhero has been asking us lots of tough questions about death and dying. Once again, some of our basic parenting philosophies were called into question, specifically our beliefs that you should be as honest with your children as possible, and what I call the Jim Lile rule--never answer more question than the child has asked. The second part is generally the easiest--just remind yourself to answer exactly what you've been asked, get a clarification of the question before answering if you're not sure how much the child wants to know, and give the child lots of open air after your short explanation, because if they want more details, they'll ask for them. Surprisingly, I'm finding the first half more difficult. I never dreamed I would WANT to lie to my children, but I find that my instinct is to protect them at all costs, even from the harsh realities of the world. I was in a funk for weeks after having to explain to Superhero a few years ago that there were people in the world who would hurt him--for the first three years of his life, it honestly never occurred to him that every single person in the world wouldn't want to love and care for him, and as his mother, it was horrifying to me that *I* was the one who took that belief in the inherent goodness of the world and the people in it away from him. I had a similar dilemma when talking about death this week. Especially when he said 'I'm glad I'm never going to die,' and after a gently delivered statement that all living things die, and therefore he was going to die at some point, it was agonizing to hear 'but mommy, I don't want to die!!'. I'm ashamed to admit that I chickened out a little--rather than delivering the 'None of use knows how much time we have, so we should make sure every day that we have lived a life we can be proud of, rather than waiting until some point in the future to do all those things we want to do' which is a basic tenant of my own life, I simply explained to him how old and sick the people he knew who had died were, and reassured him with a child's belief in the infinite nature of time. In his reality, the 57 years my aunt lived and the nearly-90 years John's grandfather lived before dying is such an incredibly long length of time that he didn't have to be concerned with dying, as a nearly-six year old would take two days past forever to be 90. I didn't LIE to him, exactly, I just left out the possibility of illness or accident or one of the other things that keep me up at night with the knowledge that they exist, they could hurt or kill my children, and there's really very little I can do to protect them. The truth, but not the WHOLE truth. So, I followed both tenants--I told him the truth, without answering a single bit more of the questions than he had asked. And yet I worry. I have built an insulated world for my children, a world where the news is read on laptops so that they won't overhear more than I want them to, a world where they are safe and protected. A world where death is an 'other' event, effecting their lives only marginally. A world where I tell them the truth, always--but rarely the whole truth. I tell myself that I am giving age-appropriate answers, but in reality, I'm not just protecting them, I'm protecting myself. The truth is important, but it's also harsh and often painful. While life is about fear and pain, and the measure of a person is how they deal with all the harsh realities of the world, I still hate to see my children hurting or frightened. And so I tell them the truth, and I leave the whole truth to be discovered at some point in the child-time-version of the future. I guess only time will tell if the truth is the best course of action, even though it leaves out a world of knowledge, or if the whole truth would have been a better choice.