Local Heart, Global Soul

January 5, 2011

Tricky Questions Provoke dealing with Thorny Issues…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

A few days ago, Matt, a fellow blogger who blog I enjoy following, wrote a very thought provoking post that has in part, inspired this one.

It was (partly)about how kids can sometimes take what appears to be a very everyday conversation and then drop a very adult deep-and-meaningful  question into it, and how as parents we deal with answering  these questions.

Matt’s experience  is a  familiar one  in our household and I’d like to expand on it because I find that even weirder, that fact that  kids  flit away from the subject like a butterfly (A) just as parent is getting into the full swing of the explanation  or (B) exit the subject  happily even before receiving any answer.

In the (A)  situation, as a parent you assume you are experiencing one of those very special ” light-bulb” moments, that your child is talking a step up the ladder of maturity right before your very eyes… and sometimes if you are lucky, they actually are.

But more often  it’s like they are just dipping a finger into the depths of the adult world, and finding that it might possibly be deep water, they just take a lick and then spring back to the safety of  the child world.

It usually goes like this: They are all kid babble as usual, stretching  and blowing the trivial into mega elastic mind boggling proportions as kids are apt to do,  then all of a sudden they throw a seriously deep question or statement into the conversation.

The question lands like a cup of water into a hot oil fire… i.e. the back-draft  engulfs the parent as they reel, trying to access how to best respond.

We as parents sometimes have a good answers,  sometimes even excellent ones, sometimes we make a right hash of it all….and if you are a parent reading this and nodding your head thinking “ Oh Yes, guilty as charged” …. ,  then you will also know that often you have probably been so overtaken by the depth of the question that you explained it to a level that went so much further than we realised that the kid wanted or required.

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Whilst we wax lyrical enthusiastically about the answer, the  kid has meanwhile skipped off to another ride on the mental playground and switched off completely. Then, all of a sudden they re-engage their thoughts, and plug back into the conversation having metaphorically not just changed clothes but apparently moved house as well.

The adult in this situation is still well and truly focused on a single stream of consciousness, blissfully unaware that in the kids mind we are no longer playing on the swings but have done the slide, skipped rope, played hopscotch and are now heading for the climbing frame. The kid plugs back into the conversation with a very clear vision of where things are at.. the climbing frame of course… and the  adult suddenly becomes strangely aware that somewhere the conversation is running in one direction but that the kid lost the plot/ moved on/took a detour ages ago.

Usually this revelation comes because the kid announces something else totally unrelated and it generally comes as a bombshell to the patent, who assumed that kid was on-board with the original question/answer until the illusion was shattered.

I’m relieved to report that this parent-child process is normal… but it’s not always without stress.

One of the earliest of these situations took place when Kiwi Daughter was about four years old.

The awkward question popped up whilst driving in the car to an appointment. I think Little Mr. was about six months old at the time. The conversation was revolving around us having passed a playground/park and her pleas to please now stop so that she could  play. We were explaining why we can’t and she was quiet… ergo we assume she is listening to the reason we can’t stop.

So, explanation to her question given, there was silence.. then her little voice in the back seat said: “Papa, How are babies made?

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Now, Himself was driving, and the question was specifically directed to him… I see him startle and I’m doing my best to not burst out into a fit of giggles at the thought of how he’s going to handle this one. He struggles a second and chooses his words carefully… ” Well sweetheart, first you have a lady (the Mama) and a Man ( the Papa) and they get together…”

Annoyingly for my evil sense of humour and delight at how he is squirming over this, Himself is saved by Kiwi Daughters small voice in the backseat as she interrupts… ” and can we take bread for the ducks too if we go to the Park?”

… and Himself…. off the hook , gives an audible sigh of relief that he didn’t have to explain the Facts of Life just yet.

It’s happened many a time since then. Often the kids want to hear all of the explanation… we as parents are learning to keep the explanations, short, to the point and as simple as possible. But it’s often not easy.

Just a few weeks ago, with Christmas Day fast approaching that we were in this situation again…

(photograph © Kiwidutch)

Hubby was telling the kids to not fight and to behave themselves because remember Santa comes for all children who have been Good and  later in the day I was answering kid questions as video flashed onto the TV screen  (The News) about child poverty in developing countries.
All of a sudden the question was sprung by Little Mr:  “ Mama, Have all those kids  been really really naughty, that Santa isn’t bringing them toys or nice things to play with?”
Ouch… I was still reeling, frantically trying to find a good truthful but diplomatic, five-year-old- friendly answer when all of a sudden in the pause, his voice  interrupts: “ Mama can I go in the bath FIRST tonight?”
Huh? where did THAT thought come from?

For once  I’m delighted to be off the hook, but I’m still mulling over the question,  not knowing how to answer it if it comes back.

How DO you explain world poverty and the plight of starving, helpless children, those who have been abandoned or neglected or who live in war zones to a five year old? and how do you do it when said kid passionately believes in a Santa who travels the world dishing out gifts to all children who have been good?

We have children that we sponsor each month, one in Brazil and one in Colombia and  our children know that we do that because these little girls are poor so we help them buy clothes, school books and because it helps their families.

This is when telling  them either about the Christian story of Jesus or about Santa gets tricky… does Jesus love some children more and others less? Why are we so lucky to be born where we are?..  with food on the table, clothes on our backs and hopefully not afraid to venture out because there might be violence or a hail on bullets on the streets.

Little Mr. Had a very deep thought… for him it didn’t settle but for me it has been deeply thought provoking. I’m also amazed that he had the insight for this question to appear in the first place.

I don’t know how to answer Little Mr’s. question (The first one not the bath one, naturally)… so if anyone has some thoughts that could help me if he brings the subject up again then I’d be delighted to hear them.

(note: The artwork has been kindly supplied for this post by Little Mr. (aged 5) and depict Santa, his reindeer, sleigh and he assures me LOTS of snow both in the sky and under foot, which are  represented in black pen, because otherwise “we wouldn’t be able to see white snow on white paper, silly” … and yes, the Santa in the first drawing does appear to be sporting earings LOL)

I would also be remiss if I did not include a link to the post that inspired this one .. Thanks Matt!

http://bythedarkofthemoon.wordpress.com/2010/12/28/the-arc-of-the-moral-universe-is-longer-than-the-attention-span-of-a-five-year-old/

4 Comments »

  1. Oh yes indeed, I know this one well.

    THAN…there are the times when you think they are not listening to your grand wisdom and words and somewhere like three years, 2 months and 19 days later they repeat it out loud as their own.

    And as you question them on their line of thinking and crazy thoughts they claim loudly and gleefully, “I got it from you!”

    Good post…Cheers!

    Comment by Denim — January 5, 2011 @ 1:31 am | Reply

    • I laughed out loud at this, as it is SOOOOOO TRUE! It just shows too that if you aren’t careful then it might NOT be your “wisdom” that comes out of the moths of babes at a later date!
      As parents we DO have to watch closely what we say, since our little parrots may be silent at the time but they stash the strangest of thoughts away for later!

      Comment by kiwidutch — January 5, 2011 @ 9:06 am | Reply

  2. Great post, KD! You’ve really taken the ball and run with it here. I love what you say above, how the child senses “deep water” and retreats. That’s it exactly. We too have found that short answers are best. We tell the truth about what they ask, and if it involves private body parts we use the correct anatomical names, and if it’s about where babies come from we try to answer only what they ask and no more. We’ve found that Mara can usually handle the answer to the question she asks and is satisfied with very short answers. As for the dilemma of Santa, the Naughty or Nice list, and starving children…yikes! The questions are uncomfortable because the truth is uncomfortable. But we’ve never used the terms “good” and “bad” about children, and when we read books (Eloise!) where children wonder if they have been good enough to get presents we stop and talk about the differences between what’s in the book and the way we do things in our house. We believe all children are good and we’ve always told Mara that, so presents are not tied to performance and we don’t have to blame the victims of poverty to maintain a consistent story. This is where I think people (adults) get confused. When they tell children Santa only loves the good, they sometimes believe Jesus operates the same way, which leaves a lot of innocent hungry deprived poor children out there wondering how exactly they were bad. All the foregoing is only my opinion, it should go without saying. Thanks for this post and for the reference!

    Comment by jstwndrng — January 5, 2011 @ 4:54 am | Reply

  3. P.S. I love the red Santa with earrings. Biker pirate Santa.

    Comment by jstwndrng — January 5, 2011 @ 4:58 am | Reply


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