Recently, I posted on Facebook that I was trying to stop yelling at my kids. There wasn't one rock bottom moment but there were enough bad days that I woke up one morning and thought, "I'm not going to yell at my kids today." Then, the next day I made the decision and the next and the next. Some days are harder than others but none was harder than that first day.
I could not be more excited to welcome my dear friend Kristen Johnson to the blog today to share about her new passion project that so closely aligns with my values when it comes to raising boys - it's dang near scary.
My boys love dolls. My almost-four-year-old carries a baby doll regularly with him to school. He loves to dress dolls, talk to them, give them milk, and dance with them. His dolls are in his toy set and just another part of his pretend play routine. No big deal to him.
Over the past few months, several people have asked me to share my thoughts on school. When did I start sending my children to preschool? How do I feel about half day versus full day? Why did I choose to send my children to public school instead of private school?
In a way, it's hard to talk about education and the choices I've made for my children because I feel - probably incorrectly - that it locks me into the decisions I've made. I've chosen public school for my kids, and - if I share why - then I can never take another route.
So, let me begin with this disclaimer. If at any point this path doesn't work for one of my children or stops working for one of my children, I will not hesitate to return to the drawing board and look for a better solution.
Now, let's begin at the beginning.
A while back I asked y'all if there were any subjects you'd like me to tackle. I got so many great responses but there was a common thread among many of the answers.
How do I talk to my kids about race? How do I talk to my kids about different abilities? How do I talk to my kids about sexual identity? How do I talk to my kids about gay people?
And if you want all MANNER of wisdom on interacting and helping your child interact with someone different than them, you really need to go hang out on Annie's blog for a while.
The more I thought about it. The more I realized people weren't just talking about specific subjects. They were asking about something more general.
How do I talk to my kids about hard things?
Look, I'm not a psychiatrist. I'm not an expert on child development. Half the internet is dedicated to parenting advice and half of that is dedicated to advice on how to talk to your kids about difficult things such as death and sexuality.
So, I'm not going to give advice. I don't think that's what you're asking for anyway. I think what you're asking is - what's it like to talk to your kids about death? how does it feel to answer your kids' questions about sex? how do I know I'm not screwing it up?
That I can speak to.
Tackling tough subjects with your kids is as hard as you think it is and easier at the same time. We try to keep the world so black and white for our kids. We try to make things simple and understandable. Hitting is bad. Sharing is good. When they get old enough to understand harder subjects, it feels a bit like we've sold them a bill of goods. They look up at you with their wide eyes and their "What do you mean bad things happen?" face and you feel like a fraud.
Or, at least, I did.
It's hard to be vulnerable with your kids. It's hard to acknowledge you don't have all the answers and you never did. The first time Griffin asked me about death I wanted so desperately to assure him nothing was ever going to happen to me and I was going to live a long time. But that is not true and it would dishonor those I have lost if I pretended it was.
It's hard to say, "I don't know" - to anyone much less your own child.
Say "I don't know" anyway.
Vulnerability really is the only way. Every time I've tackled a tough subject with my kids I realize how much my own opinions and ideas are tied up in how I feel about a subject I thought was universal. It's hard sorting out my own perspective so that my children have the chance to form their own.
But by exposing ourselves and our insecurities to our kids, we're teaching them something so much bigger than lessons about death or identity.
We're showing up. We're saying, "It's more important to me that I'm honest with you then that you believe I have all the answers."
We're saying, "I'm here for your tough questions." We're showing our kids that being present through the tough stuff is all we can really offer those we love.
Know you'll get some stuff wrong. I've had to back up on things I've told Griffin about race and about sexuality. I've had to say, "You know I told you this but I thought more about it and I think I was wrong. What I really meant was..."
And that's a good thing in a way. I'm showing my kids that they don't come to me for answers. They come to me for conversations and those conversations get easier. Nothing is as bad as we anticipate it to be and that's what I mean by these talks being hard and easy at the same time. Once you've taken a breath and just started, the current carries you along and you realize you and your child are staying afloat together.
I want to have conversations with my kids - about tough subjects - about ANY subjects. I want them to trust I'll be honest. I want them to know I'll get things wrong but that I'm doing the best they can.
I want them to know hard things are hard but that the hardest things offer opportunities for growth and insight and connection.
I recently found some old imported Google Notebooks. When I was pregnant with Griffin, I used one of these notebooks to organize the baby products I wanted for my baby registry.
Wait, that’s a lie.
I used one of these notebooks to organize my desired baby products before I was pregnant with Griffin. That’s right. I had everything picked out for my registry before I was even pregnant. Yes, it is very, very sad. Yes, my obsession with baby products knows no end. Yes, I’m the person you go to if you are setting up your own registry.
However, did I actually use any of these products? Heck, no!
Several years ago, before Griffin was a twinkle in my eye, I stumbled across an interview with Stefan Shepherd on NPR. Shepherd writes Zooglobble, a blog dedicated to reviewing and sharing the newest children’s music. When asked by the host why kids couldn’t just listen to The Beatles or Rihanna or whatever their parents were listening to, Shepherd explained he thought it was important that his daughter listen to music that explored subjects and issues she understood. He didn’t want her only listening to songs about romantic love (the primary subject of most pop music) or other adult subjects any more than he wanted her only reading Jane Austen or Michael Chabon.