Friday, May 18, 2012

Facing Truth

(After yesterday's post, I thought it would be appropriate to return to this post from last December, edited for today.)

Daddy's gone.
My brother's out hunting
in the mountains.
Big John's been drinking
since the river took Emmy-Lou.
~Neil Young (Powderfinger)

When my daughter Josephine was 6-years-old she reacted strongly to learning that the catastrophe of 9/11 had happened during her lifetime:

"You mean it happened since I've been alive? Why didn't you tell me?" I explained that she had been too little, just 3-years-old. She scolded me, angrily, "I want to know these things! I want you to tell me the truth about these things!"

It's a story I've told before, and one I'll certainly tell again. It was a moment that changed me forever; my wee, innocent baby demanding truth. Until then, I thought I'd been the epitome of an honest parent, never shying away from her questions, but that moment, a moment that occurred as we approached the hole in the ground where once the towers of the World Trade Center had stood, caused my own conceit of integrity to collapse within me.

I hadn't told her about it, I thought, because I hadn't wanted her to be afraid. And now not only was she afraid three years removed, but feeling betrayed by her own father. I'm just glad she had the awareness or courage or whatever it was to call me on it. I don't want to ever again be in that position, not with my child, my wife, or anyone for that matter. It's one thing when the world is crap, it's another to make it crappier.

When we lie, either overtly or by omission, especially to a loved one, we might tell ourselves it's altruism, but at bottom it's almost always an act of cowardice. It's us who don't want to face truth. When we say, "She's too young," we're really saying, I'm not ready to face the pain or the shame or the fear

We skip pages in books. We fast-forward through the scary parts. We distract their gaze from road kill.

I'm not saying that we should, unsolicited, lay out the whole unvarnished horrible mess before them, if only because we don't need to. It will reveal itself to them soon enough. Our job is neither to distract their gaze nor draw their attention to it. It is rather, out of our love for them, to answer their questions, to speak the truth as we know it, and to say, "I don't know," when that's the truth.

What anchors our children is not a sense that the world is perfect. They already know it isn't. They don't need more happy endings. They need to know we love them enough to tell them the truth, and to accept their emotions, to hold them or talk to them or just be with them. 

It's adults, not children who worship the false idol of childhood innocence. It's only adults who don't want to grow up.

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1 comment:

Mary said...

I don't often disagree with your blog but this time I have to say I do. As a sensitive child that was often the recipient of many far too unvarnished truths, I can say that it is possible to grow up too fast, to be burdened with too much at a young age, and just as your theory goes that you are postponing 'hurts' until later, if you are hurt and alarmed too much as a child, you are also at risk to postpone your childhood until later. The brain of a three year old is a completely different structure than that of an 8 year old. I believe it is a parents job to provide a safe guidance, to observe the child and to know their temperament. As a connected parent, you know what your child is capable of containing emotionally, the same way that you would observe and determine that your early 2 year old isn't physically capable of riding a pedal bike. That is not to say that you never tell them the truth about the world and its imperfections and futilities, but as the parent I believe it is ok to be gradual in revealing this to a child. They will have decades to be exposed to all the murders on the local news, the terrorism, the fear. Babies are incubated in the womb until they can breathe on their own, children are in an emotional incubation period, it is why they need parents to take the lead, guide them, and to feel empowered to protect them when they need it.

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