Friday, November 16, 2007

on botany and telling the truth

I got email from a parent today asking me how to answer some difficult questions from her son. I told her that it was ok for parents to 'make up a story' for the short term if the real issue at question was too developmentally complex for the child to comprehend. Parents have a lifetime to be honest with their children, and sometimes it is ok to hold the truth for just a little while. The truth is hard for children to understand, sometimes.

I admit that I have a long history of 'telling stories' to children. I do this for fun, and to sometimes promote a fantastic world to them. The world is so much more fun when it is also fantastic. So although I 'stretch' the truth I also know that you reap what you sow (in so many ways). I know this intuitively.

This is something that I always keep in mind, hopefully in the forefront, as I go about the daily tasks associated with raising and also in working with young children. But inevitably, kids ask difficult questions and it is sometimes easier to answer obtusely rather than provide a real answer. Parents will know when they have to 'come clean' and make an adjustment in approach.

Case in point: My youngest, Casey, always wanted to know where things came from. For a very long time the brief answer "God made it" was quite satisfying to her - but that changed.

After a while the questions became a little more probing, as in "How did God make that?" Hm, this can start to get a little tricky.

Popular culture provides many easy outs that are reinforced by others without my having to make sure that everyone has the same story. So telling her that the moon was made of green cheese is something that I can count on others reinforcing (likely with a wistful smile).

One day she asked me where rabbits come from and I provided my pat answer "From God" and this was clearly not enough. "No Daddy, I mean HOW does He make them?" So I took her to her "secret garden" in our back yard and showed her the pussy willow tree and said, "God grows them on that tree."

Well she thought I was out of my mind, but the next spring I took her to that tree again and showed her all of the 'baby bunnies' that were growing on the tree. She was sold, and I immediately had a new way of explaining where things come from.

So for a long time when she asked me where something comes from (and if I was too pressed for time to give a proper answer), I told her that it grows on trees.

When she turned 6 I decided that I had to start being a little careful about telling her this as it may cause her some social embarrassment or ridicule from her peers. She truly believed that God grew many things on trees.

Why was this such a problem? One day, after coming home from McDonalds, I watched her quietly step into the secret garden with her Happy Meal bag and a shovel from the garage.
She was planting the seeds from the hamburger bun into the ground.

Why should I complain? She just wanted to reap what she was sowing.

Just like her Dad was.

So it is important to tell the truth to kids, eventually.

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