My oldest was around three years old when he started asking me about where babies come from. I attribute this to the typical preschooler curiosity and the fact that he had a new baby brother. He was inundated with baby stuff — he even witnessed the birth of his sibling — so, naturally he had lots of questions.
Kids wondering about how babies are born sparks a range of reaction in adults, from humor to outright fear. Before I had children of my own, I thought the way they handled the subject in the movie, Knocked Up, was hilarious and brilliant. When their eldest daughter, reacting to the news of her aunt’s unexpected pregnancy, asks where babies come from, her mom responds by asking her daughter to share what she thinks on the subject. The girl responds with a graphic account of a stork drilling a whole in the mommy’s head and digging around a fallen butt for the baby.
At the time, I admired the idea of letting children figure things out for themselves. Once, I had my own kids, however, I realized I much preferred to be honest. If they felt comfortable enough to come to me with questions, I wanted to respect them enough to give them truthful answers.
Wanting to be honest with your kids and actually telling them the truth are two very different things. Certain subjects, especially those involving sex, can be really hard to talk about. Often, it is easier to just lie. Unless, you are me, than lying is extremely hard.
When I was confronted with the inevitable question about babies, I felt compelled to answer honestly. I told my son babies grow inside their mommies until they are ready to be born through the vagina or abdomen. He was satisfied enough with that answer, allowing me to avoid an even more awkward conversation about sex and conception — although those questions would come up later.
As my son grew older, his questions grew deeper and his mind thirsted for answers; answers I often didn’t have. His wondering about what happens when you die, for example lead me to question my own beliefs about the afterlife, and to the realization that there will always be questions I will never be able to answer. Other times, the answers were beyond my scope of knowledge, so we looked up the answers together.
My youngest is now three, and because of a language delay, he hasn’t been asking me such probing questions, but I know they are coming. He is an extremely curious child, and I can only imagine what he will ask me once he has the vocabulary to do so.
Sometimes, the questions make me uncomfortable. Sometimes, my oldest makes me wonder if the answers I have always assumed to be correct, are really right, after all. My son’s mind is working right up until bedtime, and, as shown by his constant sleep talking, often after.
I know the questions will get harder. I know soon enough my kids may come to me with more explicit questions about sex. I know I may be confronted with curiosity about their changing bodies, and why theirs might be different from their friends. They will learn about the drugs I know about, and probably many more I don’t. They will be bombarded with new, sometimes unsavory things all the time. And, when they have questions, they will soon turn to their peers for answers. Answers, which might not always best serve them.
And, I need to accept that. I need to accept that with each passing day kids will place greater value on their social circles. Soon, they may no longer view me as a trusted confidante.
While I can do little to change the influence of their friends, or force my kids to only talk to their parents and other trusted adults about the important stuff, I can continue to be as honest as I can and establish a relationship where the feel comfortable coming to me when he really needs me. This doesn’t mean becoming his friend and blurring the important line between parent and child. It just means being there if and when he has questions.
I believe when the truth is uncomfortable and difficult to speak, it is when we need to share it the most.