Keep it simple ! What do we tell our kids - and when???

As our kids get older, we have to adjust our antennas to their more evolved perceptions and understanding of life. When previously asked by Leah at age 3:

Where is my tummy mummy now?

I could simply reply

"In Paarl " and she won't give it another thought - as the next interesting subject presented itself in form of a dead beetle on the stairs (why is it not working mama? Humph .... Why indeed?) .

Where at first I stopped and thought and stammered my way through much too involved answers, losing her after the first imaginary comma, I quickly learned to give the simplest and most obvious answers to her questions. ("In Paarl" and "it's dead" ) .

I also learned to leave all judgement out of my answers. When she asked (shortly after the dead beetle question) where did I drink milk from - a bottle or a breast? My first instinct was to over explain because I felt I had to compensate: ...the poor child sees mothers breast feed their babies and now I have to tell her, she was bottle fed, but that this is also ok, because I love her just as much and so on and so forth...

Then it suddenly struck me that this was entirely my issue and not hers.

She did not have the mindset yet, where one is better than the other. This is something she would learn from me as I attributed certain qualities to the information I was about to give her. So when I kept my voice neutral and simply gave her the information:
- You drank from a bottle -

We went on to a fun 10 minute conversation going through a list of relatives and friends and dividing them into breast fed and bottle fed. There was not even a hint of "I missed out" in her little mind. To her they were just two equally important means of getting food into a baby and an interesting subject to ponder. In fact I think in her mind the bottle has certain advantages to a breast, as it can be detached from mum and makes a handy object in - say - a car seat or a bed.

This was maybe the first of many important lesson Leah taught me: to leave my judgements out of the equation - and in fact to review my opinions and prejudices and look at my own issues with topics like breast-feeding vs. bottle feeding or adoption vs. giving birth or hetero couples vs. two mummies (or two daddies) .... And the list will grow as my girls will find out more about the world they live in and question what they see.

My biggest challenge yet is to not cloud their fresh and totally non-judgemental attitude towards all aspects of loving and living by my own learned pattern of "better than..." It also is a great opportunity to become aware of all the hidden and sometimes quite obvious labels that we stick onto all sorts of subjects from relationships to religion to professions.

To a 4 year old being a doctor in a hospital is just as interesting and worthwhile as riding on the back of a garbage truck emptying dust bins - on second thought riding the big truck is probably a lot more fun!

They also have no positive or negative concept - yet - of skin colour or religion or family other than a growing awareness of all our differences. It is our task as parents to help them keep this non judgemental approach to new experiences and learn from them a new and fresh perspective on life.
Having said that: Do I not want to teach them about right and wrong? Good and bad?

Of course I do! But it is my responsibility to question myself and my motives first. Do I want to influence them to think like me for my own sake or do I teach them something that they need to know about life?

To find and keep the balance between keeping our children safe and making them scared, between teaching them and indoctrinating them - is our most sacred task as a parent- next to loving them for who they are! And just in case you are wondering: If my girls would find their life's joy and beauty by riding on the back of a big truck, I hope and pray to whoever is in charge of me, that I will find the grace and wisdom to draw on my love for them and support them with all my heart.

(am I allowed to secretly hope that this too will pass..... :-) :-)??)


Charisse said…
This was extremely helpful. Simplify simplify. I remember I cried the whole day my daughter turned one at the prospect of the pain this day may bring her in the years to come. My husband (also wise ;) said: 'Don't put your head on her shoulders.' As you say, at this young age so many things that are complicated and weighty in our minds, are neutral in theirs.

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