I come from the days when parents were adamant about children being seen and not heard. Oftentimes, my siblings, cousins, and I would combat this abominable rule during our families’ ritualistic Sunday dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s by hiding under tables or behind couches just to hear what was going on. It was, however, more common that we were clueless of the context and just excited that we were defying the parents than we were interested in what was actually being said.
I never wanted my own children to feel that same sense of exclusion and always did what I could to encourage them to contribute to conversations. If they asked questions, I tried to answer as best I could with as much information as was available (and appropriate) to quell any curiosity or even, in some cases, anxiety. I gave them guidelines so they were clear about when to chime in and when to let the grown-ups talk amongst themselves. I did what I could to stick to the G-rated version of most topics and diligently avoided the dirtier details. I’ve always been of the mind that the more information one has, the easier it is to navigate through certain situations. I had to remain consistent with this philosophy while raising my kids.
As they’ve grown more mature, the rules haven’t changed too, too much. The questions have become a bit more probing since their comprehension has expanded, and their radar is always active, especially if there’s ever tension in the air between my husband and me. “What’s happening?” or “What’s going on?” are frequently asked questions. My son, especially, is keen on honing in when I’m preoccupied, but then again, I wear my heart on my sleeve and every single emotion on my face (not to discredit his abilities!), so it shouldn’t really come as any surprise.
I’ll admit I tend to hesitate divulging too many details, especially on topics that won’t necessarily have any bearing on their lives. If my husband and I are arguing about a dumb remark one of us has thoughtlessly said to the other, the kids don’t really need to know what it was or when it was said or in what context. They do, however, need to get the bigger message, which is that everyone can and does argue—even over the dumbest things—but in the end one of us has apologized and the issue has been resolved.
There are always going to be moments of uncertainty: moments of deciding how best to present some new piece of information with good, positive intentions. If the news is unabashedly bad (job loss, illness, death), obviously kid gloves are put on and dialogue is tempered to assure that such unfortunate things are a part of life—unoriginal as those words may be. There will always be trying moments when a snap decision needs to be made: Will this next disclosure cause more stress than necessary? Will it provoke questions I don’t plan to answer? At that point, it all comes down to judgment and, yes, instinct—the only tool we were born with that kicks in to guide us when we need it most. Be sure not to ignore it; better yet, embrace it. I know I do.