One day my beautiful little seven-year old daughter, dressed in pink fluff and pigtails, walked in the room, flew me the bird, then asked me what it meant to hold your middle finger up like that.
After staring a moment at this little cherub with chubby cheeks and outstretched digit, I asked her where she learned such a gesture. “From a boy at church,” was her innocent reply.
I sat her down next to me for a little chat.
Children are naturally inquisitive about the world around them. Our children would occasionally ask us tough questions about things they had seen or heard but didn’t understand – usually it involved sex or violence. My knee-jerk response was often to gasp and say, “Where did you see/hear about THAT??!!”, like I did in the above “middle-finger incident”. Over the years, I mellowed in my sudden gasping, but I still struggled to determine what was the appropriate amount of information to share about this big, crazy world with a small, questioning child.
On the one hand, I welcomed their inquisitiveness; I wanted our kids to feel they could approach their father or me about anything. On the other hand, their questions were often loaded and deep, and the answers seemed too heavy and dark for their limited understanding. I fluctuated between avoiding those tough issues and addressing them head-on.
I saw these extremes played out both ways. Some of my fellow young mothers laid it all on the table for their children. Their rationale being if the child is old enough to ask, then they are old enough to hear the hard answer. Some mothers did the opposite and simply averted the issue when their child approached them with a difficult topic. Neither response sat well with me.
My answer for handling tough questions came while reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. In Chapter 2, young Corrie travels by train with her father, a watch maker, to Amsterdam to get the time from the Naval Observatory. On their way home she asks her father about a poem she had read in school that mentioned a man’s “sex-sin”. Instead of brushing off the question altogether or diving into the word’s unsavory details, Corrie’s father responded with a remarkable illustration:
He turned to look at me as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” he said
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
“It’s too heavy,”I said.
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger, you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.”
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied – wonderfully at peace. There are answers to this and all my hard questions – for now, I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.
That short passage forever altered the way I talked with my children about difficult subjects. When the children asked tough questions, I would tell them about this passage from The Hiding Place. Then I would answer as much or as little as I felt they could handle. I told them that I or their father would carry the rest of the answer for them until they were older and ready to handle more of the weight. This response brought peace to both me and my children. I felt content knowing I had answered their question, even though the answer was limited, and my child had the assurance that we would explain all when the time was right.
Childhood should be a time to explore and imagine and discover and delight. It should not be a time to be weighed down with excessive burdens.
Even though it grows increasingly difficult to keep the darkness of the world at bay, as parents we need to keep our kids’ loads as light as possible until they are stronger and have the maturity and spiritual muscles to begin to bear this world’s darkness.
Keep the TV limited.
Keep the internet off.
Be mindful of the music they hear.
When the kids were small I would turn around the magazines in the check-out aisle so they didn’t have to gaze upon which celebrity recently had breast augmentation, which Hollywood actor was cheating on his wife, or what the new sizzling-hot styles of the season were.
Unfortunately, we can’t protect our children forever, but, for a while, they can safely put things in our keeping.