The Pressure Of Answering Uncomfortable Questions From Your Children
I can say with certainty that with all the planning for and generally obsessing about motherhood, I’ve never actually considered that answering questions would be a parenting challenge. But here I am, absolutely knee-deep in that territory.
My small human is almost four. He’s at the stage where he speaks really clearly but we still get very excited and proud when he presents a new word or phrase to us. I must say that it is a particularly lovely phase of being his mother because the conversations we have are really special. They are fun and actually becoming increasingly more... meaningful? He’s asking me how and why things work the way they do and most importantly he is talking about how he feels.
In the midst of all the “good stuff” has come an unexpected challenge for me as a mum. I’m noticing that the questions that he is posing are becoming increasingly more difficult to answer. It started out quite mild shall we say. He might ask me why it’s important to eat healthily and where that would be an easy question to answer for an adult, it’s a little trickier when the sounding board is a three-year-old. Before you have even finished a sentence you are met with a “but why” and more often than not you end up discussing something so far removed from the original topic.
Recently the questions have scared me a little bit. The fear is steeped in the pressure of “getting it right” because the questions are connected to important things. Do you ever just have those moments where you stop and think about the fact that you are quite literally moulding a human being? A person who arrived on this planet as perfection and somehow you have to help direct them in to a happy and healthy future where their goals, morals and well-being is as high as possible. That is a serious task and every single time my son poses an uncomfortable or challenging question I find myself starkly aware of that responsibility.
This week’s question was about death and I truly was not expecting those words to leave his precious jam-filled mouth. It caught me completely off guard. I was tidying up after lunch and was greeted with a really casual “Mammy what does dead mean?”. I’ll admit that my instinct was to change the subject. In fact, I think I muttered something about it being something that he didn’t have to worry about until he was much older but that confused him even more and I immediately berated myself for such a poor approach. About ten minutes later he returned with the very same question phrased slightly differently. He was wondering if “die is when you keep fighting till it’s over?”. On the one hand, I wanted to laugh because actually what he said was quite poignant. But on the other, my heart started racing because I don’t know where he picked up the curiosity to ask about death, or perhaps more worryingly where he picked up his explanation. I immediately launched into guilt regarding too much screen time YouTube.
That night I found myself wondering how I might have explained it differently. I thought about the fact that parents might approach the topic very differently depending on their morals, belief systems and religion but I was none the wiser about how to frame our approach. For now, the topic hasn’t come up again but it’s just another example of one of those casual human-shaping questions that really stop me in my tracks.
Written by Tracey Quinn staff writer at Family Friendly HQ.