When Children Ask Hard Questions
Orginally featured at Masalamamas.com
I have turned a corner in motherhood. Until this point, I’ve been doing the “basics;” insuring the kids were getting three nutritious meals with few snacks in between, using their manners especially around adults, and, above all excelling in their education.
It seems that now my skills as a mother are being put to the test. My not-so-little-kids have brought me to the podium and I am on a bright spotlight to answer questions about morality and the world around them. I am fully aware that I have to answer thoughtfully and carefully, because these answers will be imprinted in their hearts and minds forever.
The other day, my older two kids came home from school to tell me about Rosa Parks not being allowed to sit in the front of the bus and how Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
It was their first real exposure to racism, and I was struck by their innocence and confusion. Their little hearts could not comprehend how a woman (whatever her color) would not be allowed to sit wherever she wanted on the bus. They couldn’t understand why one human being would kill another human being because of the color of their skin. Terms like unfair, hurtful, and sad seemed to strew along their conversation.
This was my moment. I had to tread cautiously. I made sure I didn’t give any of my opinions, but rather sat and listened to them consider their own opinions and feelings on the topic.
By the end of the discussion, their views rested safely on the side of justice. I didn’t have to coax them to feel a certain way or inform them of my stance. Somehow, it seems, human instinct nestles itself comfortably on the side of justness.
On another occasion, the topic of war came up. This, too was a touchy subject. My kids asked important but, complicated, questions. They wanted to know why one country or religion would fight another, and why one group of people would want to take land from another. Once again, I allowed them to deliberate, making it a point not to give away too many of my own opinions.
There was, however, a moment when I interjected. One of them said, “This isn’t fair, if Group A is taking away land from Group B then Group B should do the same thing.” I didn’t want my kids to have this notion that life was about treating others with mutual disrespect and exacting retribution. I delicately suggested another plausible approach, posed it as a question, and asked them how they felt. In the end, they concluded that people should stand up for what is right, but they wished war and death wasn’t a consequence of standing up for justice.
I will say this new phase of motherhood is rather daunting. There is a fine line between sharing one’s own beliefs about the world and morality, and hoping that your children are able to form their own rational, dignified opinions.
In the end, I hope that the kids will form opinions based on notions of justice, fairness, and equality. In the meantime, we will keep the podium open and continue the dialogue on these most vexing questions.