Talking to Kids: Providing a safe space to unravel untruthsThursday, September 29, 2011
The Self-Aware Parent
Camryn and Skylar walked in the front door and immediately Camryn said, "Skylar fed the dog sand, but he didn't die yet."
I set down what I was doing and said, "Explain that again?"
She proceeded to tell me that Skylar had sand in her hand and a dog licked it. A little girl they were playing with said that her dad told her that if a dog ate sand, he would die.
As Camryn shared this story Skylar began to cry and say, "Don't talk about it, don't say it!"
I immediately sat down on the floor and asked both of them to join me. I put my arms around them and told them that none of it was true. I don't know much about dogs, but I do know their bodies can tolerate licking a little girls hand when there is sand in it.
Skylar continued to cry with her eyes closed, releasing the anxiety she had carried for that short amount of time as I said, "You did nothing wrong, the dog is fine, what you were told is not true."
I said this over and over and we all rocked back and forth. Camryn's body relaxed, seemingly relieved that this story she shared did not have any validity.
This small simple untruth could have stayed with them, but Camryn's decision to share allowed it to unravel before it became imbedded into their belief system.
Not just the part about a dog eating sand, but that they somehow participated in an event that could have led to a dog's death.
Maybe it wouldn't have affected them at all, but maybe it would have showed up as a fear of dogs or a belief that they aren't trustworthy enough to handle animals. Who knows?
But as I sat there thinking through these what ifs, I also accepted the fact that I can't protect my children from every untruth they hear.
They will hear so many in their lifetime and I can't keep it from happening. From the simple to the grand they will hear and experience things that scare them, and I know I can't be there to unravel all of it.
But it made me more aware of how important it is for my children to feel comfortable sharing with me. How important it is for me to listen and accept.
I realized how important it is to live in an environment where any question can be asked and any mistake can be revealed without a long lecture, guilt trip or threat.
I realized how important it is for me to be quiet with my children instead of constantly talking so they have space and time to share.
I realized how important it is to have a calm house so when the girls feel rattled they can come home to peace.
I realized how important it is to look them in the eye and smile at them on a daily basis so they know that I see them and love them.
I realized why I want to be with them at the most open and vulnerable times - right before bed and first thing in the morning - so I can lay down with them in quiet and they can share their fears, observations, worries, or joys.
I want them to know they can release these things from their bodies and I will listen, love and support them so they can easily let them go.
I never want them to sit in discomfort or fear and not share because they are worried I will think less of them.
I want them to fully integrate that no matter what happens love will always be the constant through our conversations. But this can't be taught with just words, it's something they need to experience consistently.
I can't control what my children hear and what scares them, but I can offer myself to them.
Not by prodding them with questions or holding on too tight, but by letting go, trusting them, and having open arms and ears when they return.
I can work through my own untruths, so many of them ridiculously old, and clear out space so I have the room, patience, and clarity to handle whatever they need to share…
And midway through this thought, Skylar stopped crying and I stopped rocking.
I looked both girls in the eye, held their hands and said:
If you are ever afraid, if you ever hear something that makes your insides hurt, if you ever think of yourself as bad or question something you have done, please come talk to me, your dad, or somebody else you trust. Don't carry the burden on your own. Come home and let it go.
They nodded and ran outside, back to the real world. I remained on the kitchen floor and had a brief cry.
I felt the untruths that I used to carry as a child. I felt relieved that I could support my girls through this one. And I felt scared that in the future they would make the decision to not share, that their fear would be greater than their trust.
But I also felt soothed by the awareness that the best thing I could do for them is know myself. The best thing I could do for them is release my fears, let go of my untruths, and find my own personal safety.
The best thing I can do for them is love myself so I can be available, patient, open, calm and loving for them.
That's the energy I want them to feel when they walk through that door.
That's the kind of security I hope to provide.
Read Cathy's Mindful Parenting column in October's issue of Chicago Parent.
And give a listen to Cathy and her husband Todd talk about her column on being in the moment on Zen Parenting Radio.