Monday, February 23, 2009

Tough stuff

"You know, I'm thinking about getting some piercings," Jensen announced at the dinner table on Saturday.

Specifically, he was thinking about his eyebrow, his nose, and his lip. And maybe his tongue.

He's seven. And, ever the optimist, he looked hopefully from Jeff to me.

This was easy, obvious. No. You can't [pierce, tattoo, smoke, swear, fill in the blank] until you're old enough to understand the consequences. Easy. And he accepted our answer without protest.

"That's okay. Maybe when I'm a teenager," he said, giving us a few years' reprieve.

He won't accept "no" so easily when he's seventeen.

Already, the questions are getting tougher. Some are philosophical, some are (um) mechanical, some are moral. Some are yes/no questions. Some require reference materials. But regardless of their nature, the things he thinks about are becoming more challenging, and he's thinking more critically about our answers. Gone are the days of, "How come my hair is curly?" or "Why is the grass green?"

Now it's this:

"Is God a person?"

"What is sexual maturity?"

And, sickeningly, after a recent local gang bust, when all the suspects' photos were published on the front page of the newspaper, "Why do so many people in gangs have brown skin?"

Our approach to the Big Questions has always been to give as much honest information as he seems to be ready for, to be open to further questions, to try to communicate our moral convictions. And to be honest when we don't know the answers.

It's worked. So far. But I'm not naive. His growing mind and his growing conscience are going to start pushing us more.

Truthfully, I think most of what we teach him will be passive, will occur in day-to-day life rather than in some grand pronouncements. But I like the Big Questions. I like the gray areas. I like having to resist the temptation to answer questions with overly simplistic black and white answers. There are times when black and white applies, of course. No hurting other people. No stealing. No piercings on a seven-year-old. Some things are wrong, and some things are right. But a lot of things are somewhere in between, and he's starting to venture into the gray.

And the questions are going to keep getting tougher. The innocence is ending. There are times when I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge, or if I will be in the years to come.

So, I'm looking for some input. What is the hardest question your growing kids have asked? How did you respond?


  1. I have an 8 year old who asks the hard questions too. He has asked recently about who we will see in heaven and if it's such a great place why can't we go now? We have also had the same types of questions about God. He has hardly ever noticed skin color and we've worked hard to make it a non-issue in our household. But just this weekend during his B-ball game he asked why the opposing team had so many players with brown skin? My answer? I don't just worked out that way. You're right, the questions are getting harder to answer.

  2. It wasn't a question from my own child (I'm not quite there yet), but from me, myself at the ripe old age of 8. Sitting at the dinner table on an innocuous weekday evening, I decided to ask my mom where babies came from. Having the same "honesty is best" attitude you seem to have, she said, "well, if you're old enough to ask, you are old enough to know." At this point, my 13 year old sister picked up her plate, muttered "I don't need to hear this again," and sheepishly left the room.

    My mom, in all of her crazy wisdom, proceeded to tell me where in fact, babies come from. And not the stork version. I remember being slightly embarrassed - not because I asked, but because she said "penis" and "vagina" - hehehe.

    All was well, except for one golden mistake my mom made. She didn't tell me that not every 8 yera old needed to or was ready to know the answer to that question. So, I, in my 8-year old wisdom, decided to impart my knowledge on an entire slumber party full of girls. The only thing I remember from that is the mother of the host crying/laughing and saying that her oldest son still didn't know.

    The moral: be honest. Field the tough questions, but know that the answers you give are not secrets!

  3. My 10 year old daughter and I have a very open relationship about everything. No matter the topic I always tell her, if she has a question, she should ask me and not rely on what her friends may tell her. They may not really know the true answer and she could run into trouble that way. Just keep the communication open! That's the best way. You're on the right track!

  4. @Jackie: Sounds like our kids' questions are very similar. Some days I feel like I need a seatbelt and maybe a crash helmet, because they're growing so quickly.

  5. @Anonymous: Your story made me laugh a little. But in all seriousness, you make an excellent point. I would never have even thought of it, either. There are no secrets. Good advice; I will use it.

  6. @lauren: It's good to hear from someone with an older child. We think we're doing the right thing... but with him being our oldest, we have no way of really knowing if it's right. Thanks.


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