Lately, my t h r e e year old has been talking serious talk, and asking difficult questions. He's currently intrigued by death, heaven, marriage, body parts, and more.
My biggest focus for these sometimes difficult topics is to never lie. I don't want to ever misguide him, so I tell him the raw, unedited, unplanned, most PG version of the truth that I can think of at that moment in time.
BABY MAKING ~
Hudson first alarmed me last summer when, at 2.5, he started asking, "Who made you, Mommy?" I told him that Papa and Grandma did. He then proceeded to ask me, "And you and Daddy made me, right?" I answered with, "Yep!" He continued, "So, how did you make me? Like, you painted me?" I did not expect to be faced with the birds and the bees questions so early. I immediately giggled, because damn it's just so cute the way their brains think (making things, in their minds, obviously consists of colouring or painting something, duh), but then I was quick to recover. I didn't (and still don't) want him to ever feel uncomfortable asking me any question, so I replied, "Sort of, honey. It's an adult activity that you'll learn about when you're older." Thankfully he didn't pry more.
Hudson's inquiries to death began when my cat passed away last summer. Trying to explain to a 2.5 year old what happened and where Mommy's cat had gone sure was difficult. I explained the concept of heaven to him as this:
"When people and/animals have lived a long, memorable life, they float away up into the sky, way up into the clouds to relax and rest. Also, if people or animals are very sick, their bodies tell them that it's time to go to heaven to get the rest they need." They never come back to where we live down here, so it's very sad for us because we will always miss them."
Since my cat's passing, Hudson has been consumed with the idea of heaven. He recently asked how old my Dad's cat was, and was quick to say, "Wow, Papa, that's old. Will Peppy go to heaven soon?" To which my dad replied, "Eventually, when the time is right, yes, he will go to heaven." Later that evening when I tucked Hudson into bed, he was so sad when he relayed this information to me. His eyes were welled with tears and he has such deep hesitation in his words to me. "Poor Peppy, Mommy. I'm going to miss him. He's so sweet." I almost cried.
One night later, I was again tucking Hudson into bed. Knowing that I had been fighting the stomach flu for 2 consecutive days, he was reluctant for me to leave his room because he had a burning question. He held my hand tightly, and placed his other hand on my cheek and stared at me directly in the eyes. "Mommy, are you going to heaven soon because you are really sick?" I don't think I've ever had a more sinking feeling in my life. I, of course, reassured him that it was only the flu and that I'd be healthier and stronger in the morning. I couldn't help but, in that split moment, think of people whose reality is that very question Hudson asked me. No one should ever have to face that, especially with small children. Life is so unfair.
So, back in the summer, my brother proposed to his long-time girlfriend. I explained to Hudson that Uncle Lanny bought a pretty ring for Auntie Mina to show her how much he loves her, and now they are going to get married. It was about 1 week later that Hudson returned to my house from his Dad's and said, "Oh no! I bought a ring for you, Mommy, but I forgot it at Daddy's house! A ring because I love you and I want to marry you." I mean, * m e l t * !!! I didn't have the heart to break it to him that he couldn't marry me, and to be honest, I just broke this news to him the other day. (P.S. there was no ring for me, as my assumption of him fibbing was accurate, a habit which we are still/currently working on eliminating.) He has since been constantly spreading the world that he's saving up his money to buy a ring for me from "the ring store" at the mall, and then he will marry me. He has told friends, family, people at school, you name it.
As cute as it was for a while, I finally round up the courage to let him down gently this week. When he held my face to kiss me, and called me his sweetie, he proceeded to tell me how excited he was to marry me one day. I said, "Hudson, come sit here for a minute. I have to tell you something." He sat patiently (for once) and listened. "Did you know that people aren't allowed to marry their Mommies or Daddies?" The look of shock and terror in his face was intense. Silent and confused, I continued, "It's not allowed, my love. You have to find someone who is not in your family, fall in love, and marry that person, not Mommy." Heartbroken, I could see the beginnings of tears and a slight chin quiver, he finally found some words to reply. "But I don't want to marry anyone else. I want to marry you." I explained to him that I will, no matter what, always love him, and that he will always love me. "You don't have to marry someone in order to love them." He liked the sounds of that, but I could tell he was still very confused. I told him to just think about if for a while and let me know when he had more questions.
Body Parts ~
Hudson has known about penises and vaginas since he was a mere 2 years old. He used to ask a lot of questions about why things look differently, etc., which is to be expected, but now his questions are getting more complex than that.
Because Hudson is so inquisitive these days, I'm starting to try to shower and dress in private, however a few days ago he came into my room while I was changing. He took a long, hard stare, and I knew a deep thought or question was to follow. "Why do your bobbies move so much, Mommy?" (Ughhh, just what every female wants to hear, right?) I had to think quickly, although devastated that a 3 year old has noticed that I've lost my 20-something year old perky boob game. "Well, ladies' boobies don't have any muscle in them. You know how Mommy can exercise to work out her arms and legs and tummy? Well, ladies can't do that with this particular body part. Also, when you were a baby drinking milk from them, that made them a bit softer." He (thankfully) had a very short reply: "Ohhhh, so you can't exercise them? I get it."
As the saying goes, there is definitely no instructial handbook for parenting. Likewise, there is definitely not a "Responding to Your Childrens' Difficult Questions For Dummies" available on Amazon. As parents, all we can do is try our very best in that moment.
I think my biggest piece of advice is to aim to stay as close to the truth, while kid-proofing your answers. I think accepting each and every question as they come in is ideal. Avoid telling your kids to ask that question later, because maybe later they won't feel comfortable. Or maybe later someone else will have already given them an answer, which could be perhaps an answer you wouldn't want them to hear. Likewise, avoid those traditional, "You better ask your Dad that" type of responses. I strongly feel that both parents should be able to at least attempt to answer any question thrown their way, with perhaps a suggestion that the other parent may know a little more insight about that particular topic. This just ensures comfortability with asking any type of question with either parent.
With Hudson, I strongly encourage his questioning and curiosity. I always check for understanding and even praise him for formulating such good questions about life. I always want him to feel like he can talk to me about anything, so I always aim to stop and pause and have a chat when the questions unexpectedly surface. I don't ever have a prepared script, nor do I research what I should say when he, in the future, asks about certain topics. I go with my gut, I go with information I feel he can handle (knowing his age, intellectual abilities, and maturity level), and again, I go with answers as close to the truth as I can get.
Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.
- Kofi Annan
Your kids will thank you later,