“Why do we have belly buttons?”
My six-year-old asked me, while staring down at his own naval during bathtime.
I explained to him that his belly button is the spot where his umbilical cord connected him to my placenta, which is how he got nutrients inside the womb. I told him how after babies are born, the umbilical cord is cut and what’s left is the belly button.
I went on to talk about how his younger brother’s umbilical cord might not have been cut properly, which is why he got sick when he was born.
We talked about how he had to go to the hospital, and my six-year-old commented on how lucky his brother was to have good doctors working on him, and I agreed.
My son followed up by asking me if doctors still had to help patients even if they didn’t have money. I explained how doctors have a sort of “code” which demands they care for anyone, no matter the circumstances. I told him that afterwards, the hospital or doctor’s office sends a bill saying what is owed to the patient or the patient’s family.
We talked about how our family fortunate to have the means to pay for his brother’s procedures and NICU stay, and to be financially well enough to afford quality healthcare for our family.
I told my son that some families aren’t so fortunate, and many have to do things like sell their homes, or ask others for help because their medical bills are too expensive.
My son looked at me and asked with the innocence of a child, “Why can’t it just be free?”
I could have just said, “I wish, or, I don’t know,” but I believe our children deserve honest, thoughtful answers.
I told my son how the doctor’s need to be paid for the work they do. I reminded him about how things like medicine, the hospital machines, and even the food served cost money. I told him that one of the biggest discussions in our country is how to make seeing a doctor and taking care of our health more affordable for everyone.
The purpose of this post isn’t to debate healthcare policy, but rather to show how, even with young children, it is possible to have a meaningful discussion on tough issues.
Talking to my child about how others may not be able to afford the things he takes for granted isn’t easy. It’s hard to see him get upset and to watch the reality of the world set in.
Like most parents, a huge part of me just wants my kids to be in a bubble forever, but I know that isn’t healthy.
I know my kids are going to ask harder questions. I know they are going to challenge me to address issues which might make me uncomfortable.
And, I will do my best to answer them as honestly as I can, and in a way that best suits their age and development.
Because are able to process and understand more than we adults give them credit for.
They aren’t fragile vases, susceptible to breaking at the mere mention of something we find “controversial.”
I am impressed often about how well my six-year-old understands topics, many adults can’t comprehend.
Take, transgenderism, for example. When my oldest was five, we had a whole talk about gender, and how sometimes people who were born with “boy” parts might not feel like a boy in their hearts. We talked about how gender expression could mean wearing clothes that match how you feel, and how sometimes people take steps to change their bodies.
Some might say I shouldn’t talk to my child about these things, but I disagree. I need my child to know he is in a home where he can be open with his family.
Our children can handle these “tough talks,” I believe in a large part because they are children. They haven’t had the years of being jaded or confused by the complexities of life. They can process things in their purest forms.
I know each child is different, and it is up to us as parents to decide what and how we talk about various issues with our kids, but I will encourage you to not dismiss your children when they ask you a hard question. Listen to them, and find a way to respond in a respectful manner.
You may be surprised by how much your child understands.
Maybe I’ll Shower Today wants to encourage more families to engage in conversations, which is why I am launching a new series called, “Tough Talks.” Periodically on this blog, I hope to feature an expert on such topics as sexual abuse, gun violence and climate change who will offer insights on how to answer your child’s questions.
If you would like to be a part of this project, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.