Talking About the Big Stuff


June 10, 2007 by multiracialsky

My kids ask a lot of questions. To the best of my knowledge, and at a level I hope they can understand, I answer all of them.

Who was the first person born on earth? (This question inspired a brief lesson on evolution. It turns out what she really wanted to know was: Who took care of the very first baby born, if there were no other people? Where does she come up with these ideas?)

Do Nazis live in our town? (No, I’m pretty sure they don’t. I hope.)

How did the baby llama get inside the mama llama’s uterus? (To make a baby animal or a baby person, it takes an egg from the mommy and sperm from the daddy. There have been many subsequent conversations clarifying and expanding this particular topic.)

Why would someone shoot a gun at Martin Luther King Jr. if he was helping people? (Some people didn’t want the African American people and the European American people to be able to be friends and get married and be neighbors; this idea made one man so angry that he made a very bad choice.)

How come Lily’s skin is tan, if her daddy’s skin is brown? (Lily’s mommy’s skin is tan. People who have ancestors with different colors of skin–like you–can have the same skin color as either of one of their biological parents, or a color in-between, or the skin color of one of their ancestors.)

Why didn’t the Native Americans grab the guns away from the Europeans and shoot them? (The Native Americans hadn’t seen guns before and didn’t know how they worked.)

Are hunters bad? (It is okay to hunt for food, or for other things you need. I think hunting just for fun is a bad choice.)

Did the rabbit cry when it got hit by a car? (It probably died right away when the car hit it, but I bet it was sad and scared. This is why we are careful around roads and cars.)

How do you make water? (Water cycle science lesson, followed by 2 hydrogen atoms + 1 oxygen atom explanation, ending with where the water that flows from our kitchen faucet comes from.)

Why did Jimi Hendrix die? (Sometimes people make bad choices and do things to their body that feel good for a little while, but then hurt them. Jimi put some chemicals in his body that made him so sick that he couldn’t get better; his body stopped working and he died.)

Can I marry my brother when I grow up? (You can live next door to him if you want to, or even in the same house. But if you want to get married, you have to marry a man or a woman who is not in your family.)

Is Iraq a good place to live? (It is not a safe place to live right now.)

If I’m on earth, where is space? (I used an apple to demonstrate this one, and then pictures from a book about our solar system.)

Were all the people that owned other people mean? (No, I don’t think so. But they made a very bad choice by choosing to own another person. People are not animals or cars; people should not be bought or sold, or have other people always be able to tell them what to do. It is wrong to own another person.)

I was talking with a friend and her dinner companion (another mother) last weekend. My friend and I discussed where our kids are–and are not–going to school next year. She complimented my t-shirt and I told her about my new website and all the research and writing I’ve been doing on the topic of race. This other mother said, “Do you talk to your kids about race?”

“Yep,” I replied.

“That’s one of the topics I avoid,” she said. “I just don’t think my four-year-old is old enough to really understand.”

“We’ve already talked about sex, Nazis, slavery, assassination, dying…”

She broke in, eyes wide, “Wow. We stay away from all those topics. There was a Reading Rainbow episode about that [she didn’t specify which ‘that’] and I skipped it.”

Growing up, I definitely was not comfortable–nor was I encouraged–to ask my parents whatever questions were on my mind. The sex talk came when I was nine (a few months before my youngest brother was born). The explanation involved a heterosexual married couple who loved each other very much. That was it; my mother only told me once. It’s more than some of my friends though, who never heard about the birds and the bees from their parents.

My door is completely open: whatever my children are wondering about, I want to talk about it with them. My husband and I will answer any questions they have, if we can. If we don’t know the answer, we look it up–in a book, at the library, online.

We started this pattern early, I believe partly because we have open adoptions. We have talked to our children about adoption from before they could speak. Our children know that every child has a birthmother and a mama, and for some children they are the same woman and for some children they are two different women. (We have also covered our friends with two daddies, and the concept of birthfathers. We haven’t made it to orphans yet.) Talking about adoption and birthparents led to our first discussions about where babies come from.

The questions about Nazis came from The Sound of Music. The questions about Native Americans and Europeans came from Rico looking at the cover of a book my husband was reading: Guns, Germs, and Steel. The questions about Iraq come from hearing NPR, and from talking about our family members who are serving in the Middle East.

I believe that each one of my children’s questions deserves a factual, calm answer. They are figuring out the world. They are just seeking information. Even if it makes me suck in my breath or makes my heart beat a little faster (and there have been a few of those), I take a deep breath, try to think clearly, and answer them as simply and honestly as I can.

I don’t want there to be the ‘ah-ha’ moments later in life, the breath-holding seconds where a long-withheld piece of information or family history suddenly makes the picture clear–at the same time shifting their perspective enough to give their foundation a firm shake. I know those little earthquakes come to just about all of us. I don’t want to knowingly construct those cracks in my children’s foundations.

If my children grow up knowledgeable about the more hidden sides of history and science, they can treat them as just another piece of information–which is all war and sex really are. I am not devaluing the importance of these subjects, just putting them in context with the rest of our lives. Both race and death have affected each of my children, and when they ask questions about these complex topics, it is my responsibility as their parent to answer them honestly.

The big subjects turn up again and again. Each time I give a little more information, answer the newly angled question, add something I’ve thought of between now and the last time they asked.  

My older kids regularly blow me out of the water these days with the stuff they are thinking about. Who was the first person born on earth? How do you make water? They are four and five, for crying out loud. I wonder what my children will ask, and we will be talking about, next.


8 thoughts on “Talking About the Big Stuff

  1. Amrita says:

    Nice post, Kids are full of quetions.

  2. Kathy GG says:

    Because of good writing and an accessible, conversational tone, these types of parent/child conversations sound possible. I’ve got to believe kids benefit from a connection to the truth, through their parents.

  3. I have struggled with the idea of hunting for sport since Mason hunts ducks. On the surface there doesn’t seem to be anything good that comes from hunting. BUT American hunters are the largest group of wildlife conservationists our country has. Which of course makes sense, if you want to hunt you have to have the land…. So although I don’t agree with hunting on ANY level besides survival…and the people who hunt with deer feeders and captive animals makes me sick to my stomach…. I can take solace in the fact that they way in which Mason hunts and the groups he supports supports conservation and protects hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat.

    I told Mason that if the boys want to hunt with their Dad that I couldn’t stop them… but a mandatory watching of Bambi must occur before each trip 🙂 LOL I’m horrible !

  4. We’ve been having Big conversations with my 4.5 year old lately too. She is clearly ready to know the answers because she is asking the questions. The more we talk, the more she will understand our version of the truth rather than all the messages the rest of the world sends through the media, etc.

  5. Susan Raffo says:

    Thank you for this blog posting. I just found you through Anti-Racist Parent. We, too, talk with our daughter (at this point, only one child, five years old) about everything, depending on her questions. I am always startled by comments that 5 is “too young” to hear about sex, slavery, racism, white privilege, photosynthesis, etc. I really liked your response about Jimi Hendrix. Luca still gets a bit confused about the difference between drugs that help your body and drugs that hurt your body. I like the way you put it into choices language. I will definitely borrow from you.

  6. Kathy F. says:

    I’m so excited to find this blog! I’m about to become a multiracial family member when I complete my adoption of my son from Vietnam this summer! I’m looking forward to reading more!

  7. Tisha says:

    Very good answers!! I remember some of these from my nine year old; can’t wait to see what my 13 month old comes up with in a few years. Bet they’re doozies!!

    I have found that, if maintaining age-appropriate vocabulary and boundaries, open and honest communication without undue stress or drama is best.

    Love this blog…just found it. Kudos!!

  8. Mary says:

    I thought my husband was the only one reading that book, with me listening to NPR. 🙂

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