We’ve all been there, it’s 3:00AM and the baby starts screaming. He or she cares not that your alarm is going to go off in 3 hours and you are going to have to guzzle gallons of coffee to make it through your day. Babies don’t care, they can’t care, because they lack the tools. They lack empathy and they lack perspective. They believe they are the only player….the only actor in everyone’s play (hell, I know some adults like that). It takes years for children to realize that what they see, may not be what everyone else sees. Years to go before they realize that everyone is the leading role in their own play.
Children operate under the “egocentric fallacy”. Babies learn, “if I cry, they feed me”. As they grow, this turns into, “if something bad happens, I must have caused it”. As parents, it is our job to teach our children that they are not responsible for things that are beyond their control. Further, children make things bigger than they actually are and they know more than you think they do. This is a bad combination. A white lie can turn disastrous in a child’s mind should it be left to fester. They will believe that everything from divorce, to death, to mom’s crappy day at work was caused by them.
How can you help? Be honest with your children, even when it sucks. I’m not saying you need to explain things above their comprehension level. You don’t have to explain infidelity or that their other parent was a terrible spouse. A simple explanation of, “there are different types of love and the type you need for marriage just went away for us”. If they get into specifics (usually from a parent who shares too much or from a conversation they overheard), just tell them that “those things happen when that love disappears. People behave differently when they are not happy”. It’s not an excuse, but it is a graceful way of not disclosing things that are either too old for them to understand, something that is simply none of their business, OR something that’s not true because someone is running his or her mouth. This protects everyone. It is often extended family that does the most gossiping and therefore, the most damage.
By the time people I knew played telephone, the version of why my ex and I split up was very freaking creative (and much more adventurous than I am), by the time it got back to me. There were so many versions, I couldn’t keep track. Kids hear these versions. People are hurt, and they talk. I promise the kids are listening.
We forget how much is going on in those little minds or how much they understand. My girls are often processing something profound while I’m in the front seat craving chocolate, and thinking how I like the color yellow and kittens.
Just the other morning I come into the kitchen and said, “how are my two favorite people today?” My oldest took on an astonished tone and asked, “what about daddy?” I calmly explained that he is my friend and always will be, but my kids are my favorites and they have to be my priority. She seemed satisfied with that answer, but let me tell you I wasn’t expecting to have that conversation at 6:30AM before my tea. After this, why don’t you ask me where babies come from and what my net worth is?
When I was a kid, my mom was super reserved and didn’t like talking about things that made her uncomfortable. From telling me she didn’t know what tampons were (when asked while watching a commercial), to telling my sister that gay only meant happy when someone called her that in school. Needless to say, she was not a huge source of information.
Allow me to demonstrate: I once went camping with my dad and his girlfriend. I started my period for the first time and I thought I was dying. I thought I was bleeding to death and since my mom had had a hysterectomy a few years prior, I assumed I had caught Ovarian Cancer, and was actually dying.
So, his girlfriend, (this nice lady who was effectively a stranger), had to explain to me what was happening and while in a campground bathroom, I had to figure out how to use feminine products….thanks for that. I learned very quickly to go elsewhere for information than to ask my mother. As a result, I heard plenty of colorful explanations for everything, much of which I cannot unknow. Someone is going to teach your children. Do not give away that opportunity.
I am always honest with my kids and have been from day one. I don’t need to tell them adult versions but when my kids ask how you physically make a baby, I am honest and open with them. Even when I’m uncomfortable, they deserve to know what’s going on. I don’t have this kid:
because no one wants the weird kid (don’t lie, everyone loved Kindergarten Cop). But still, they know the basics and therefore, they don’t run around asking other people. So be honest with your kids, even when it sucks.