Difficult Conversations, Part 2

by Lisa Rosen on March 29, 2011

Yesterday I told y’all about the death-and-dying conversation I had with Toby and Delaney over the weekend.  But I didn’t tell you how that teachable moment came to pass, and I feel like I should.

One of Delaney’s best friends lost her grandmother over the weekend.  She’d been ill for a couple of weeks, and it became clear, by Friday afternoon, that the end was nigh.  Delaney was at her friend’s house, keeping her company on their day off from school, when the call came saying that Grandma wasn’t expected to make it through the night.  Delaney (obviously) came home, and the family headed to the hospital to say their good-byes.

When Delaney got up Saturday morning, she was surprised–and a little confused–to find out that the grandmother was still living.  This is what she said:

“I don’t understand–if she’s on life support, it doesn’t really count, does it?  She’s not really alive.”

Ah.  The challenges of raising a very literal child.

I could’ve brushed it off, given some flippant, noncommittal answer and changed the subject.  I could’ve pretended not to hear.  I could’ve been too busy, or too distracted, or too tired, or found any of a dozen different ways of avoiding a challenging topic.  But that would’ve been unfair to the child who was doing exactly what I’ve always taught her to do:  asking the questions.

So she made herself a piece of toast and joined me at the kitchen table, and soon Toby wandered in and sat down with us, and we talked about what “life support” means for an elderly grandmother, or a fragile premature baby, or a robust young adult.  We talked about “vegetative state” and Terry Schiavo and funerals and sadness.  We talked about living life to the fullest, and saying goodbye when it’s over.

It was, in the truest sense, a teachable moment.

Several weeks ago, I got an email from a friend saying she needed to have “the talk” (the periods/puberty/sex talk) with her daughter, but she was dreading it.  I cast back in my mind, trying to remember how I had that talk, and I realized that I never sat either of my kids down with some grand intention of explaining the birds and the bees.  That wouldn’t have been comfortable for any of us, and if kids are busy dealing with sticky emotions while you’re talking–they probably aren’t listening very carefully.

It (it being menstruation, or masturbation, or abortion, or alcoholism, or death, or condoms, or whatever other topic makes you cringe) is just part of the daily conversation at our house.  We talk about what I hear on the radio, what they see on Youtube, what Lee reads in the paper–everything is fair game.  No matter how much I’m squirming and dying inside, I force myself to take a deep breath and stay neutral.  Sometimes I have to start by saying, “You know, I didn’t think we’d be talking about this till you were older, but that’s okay.  We can talk about it now; I just need a second to gather my thoughts.”  Sometimes I have to admit I’m a little embarrassed.  Sometimes I have to admit I don’t know the answers.

The hard part is recognizing the teachable moment, but more often than not, it’s just a matter of being willing to answer their questions and be honest.  Sometimes the questions are really hard, and they’ll make you uncomfortable, but in the end?   That’s the true center of this parenting gig.


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