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The Holidays Are Here, So What Do We Tell Our Youth When ….. ?

So, it’s the holiday season and it never fails. Because many of us have more time on our hands during the period of December 25th and January 1st we find ourselves trapped, cornered, with no escape from the whimsical wonderings of young minds. At some point as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, older cousins, basically as adults we will be asked certain questions from our younger family members or neighborhood youth. What do we tell them when they ask that probing question? For that matter, what did your parents tell you when you asked those questions?


Come on, it’s happened to you, so don’t act as if you can’t recall an incident. You have either been on the questioning or answering side of this equation. Just last night my eight year old daughter asked me a question that completely silenced the table. She has the ability to do this often and it makes me wonder sometime does she have a vendetta against me, or is she just being like her father and making me pay for all those times I have done that to others. Anyway, I know I am digressing and you want to know what’s up, what did she ask. She said, “Daddy, why don’t you like Christmas?” Wow! Somehow I have morphed into a Scrooge-like character. I know my answer needed to be clear and concise enough to not lose her. More importantly, I knew I had to answer her. I do not succumb to ageism with my children. Yes I am older, have more life experiences, more education, and make more money. But this world is more hers now, or not as much mine as it used to be. She has a perspective that I want to hear and know. Our relationship is balanced in terms of our communication expectations. Since I know that I want her to respect my voice and hopefully the wisdom that comes along with it, I listen attentively to everything she says, even the lighter fluffy things that occasionally travel out of her mouth without much consideration. When she puts something out there that isn’t as thoughtful as it should have been, I call her on it. So, I knew I was traveling on tenuous territory as I collected myself to give her an answer.

She has asked me other questions not any less challenging as well. My son, who is now 12 years old also tries to crowd me from time to time. Some of their better questions have been:

-- Do you believe in God?

-- If you aren’t homophobic then why don’t you have gay friends?

-- Why were you and Mommy arguing?

-- Why do some White people hate us when they don’t even know us?

--Will you always love me, no matter what?

-- Are you ever afraid?

-- Why do we have a nice house while some of my friends live in apartments or trailers?

How did you answer these questions? What other questions from your children, or our youth have you been challenged to answer? To what extent do you take the answers? I know I may impress some of you with my ability to engage the difficult conversational topics, but I can make an argument that there are no more challenging questions than the ones are children ask us. Our answers are huge to them and have the power of shaping them and their thought for years if not the duration of their lifetimes. So, I'm awaiting your responses, and don't get it twisted, a brother could really use some help on this one. Consider it your holiday gift to me, or reciprocal "love" for all the blogs that I have written (and will write) that might have made you think!

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It is interesting to see this blog posted on the heels of the blog about “truth.” Was this planned or was it just a coincidence?

I’ve always been a believer in telling the truth when it comes to discussing issues that our children may pose. Telling the “truth,” however, doesn’t always mean being straight-forward with a “yes” or “no” or a “black” and “white” answer. There are ways to phrase these innocent inquiries without generating false information that will only create more confusion. Most questions children pose can have an age-related answer that will satisfy their curiosity and leave them with a feeling of contentment as they continue to go about their daily activities.

I remember growing up and questioning the whole mystical Christmas miracle. When I inquired about the truth I was told, “As long as you believe, there will always be something for you.” I contemplated that response for a while and then realized how true a statement it was. Christmas doesn’t have to be about a fictional character running around in a red suit and magically entering homes or shimmying down soot-covered chimneys. Nor does any other holiday or event that entails a fairy-tale individual generating happiness among the young at heart. It is about the spirit of the holiday and the excitement it generates. Granted there are many who get caught up in the monetary aspect of these celebrations and tend to forget the true meaning of these festivities. But, I tend to adhere to the traditions and the answer that I received many years ago, and when my children posed the same question to me at that inquisitive age I answered them with the same response that satisfied my curiosity. Their reaction to my reply was similar to the feedback I had when I received my answer.

As my children grew older and wiser and the discussions turned to issues about life, family, and personal matters, I always tried to answer them with an honest response that their maturity level could comprehend. The challenge was keeping it simple enough that they understood, yet still instilling a sense of security knowing that their question was answered honestly. I find as they become older, the questions become more challenging and the responses are much more thought-provoking. As difficult as it gets though, I still manage to give them a truthful answer so the lines of communication will remain open and future discussions will continue.

As I conclude this discussion and in light of all the ‘hustle and bustle’ associated with the holidays, “Mr. Scrooge,” there is still time to get into the spirit and enjoy the final days of 2008. It may take some convincing, but what you may need to do is crank the holiday music up, indulge in some eggnog, hang some mistletoe, and get the family together to bake cookies and construct gingerbread houses. I can guarantee after participating in some of this holiday affair, you will be “hanging your stocking by the chimney with care” and looking forward to the celebration of the spirit of the holiday!! So, as you “hear me exclaim and blog out of sight,” I’m looking forward to hearing that your holiday turns out all right!! And hopefully you will be truthful!!! Happy Holiday, J.W.! It’s been a pleasure blogging with you!!

*** LMM, did you just refer to me as Mr. Scrooge? Wow!! Just because my daughter asked me why I didn't like Christmas doesn't mean I don't like Christmas. That very same daughter asked me if I wasn't homophobic why didn't I have gay friends. I do have gay friends but somehow she had an expectation that I would divulge my gay friends sexual orientation. I wouldn't do that, but the subject also simply had never come up, just like Christmas discussion in our household, until my precocious one decided to interpret my actions (prejudge) or lack thereof as an indicator of my feelings.

Now, having said all of that, I will take your advice and try to get more into the Christmas spirit, though time off with family and friends is always appreciated. The holiday could be named Margaret St. Day and if one of its overriding sentiments is for people to love and/or appreciate one another, I'm with that!

Thanks for the many postings you have taken the time to drop throughout the 19 months that I've done this. Janet Jackson was right when she sang "Funny How Time Flies When You're Having Fun." [You should you-tube that song, it is really nice]. Happy Holidays!!! *** -- J.W.

those are indeed large and engaging questions asked of you by your children and they are certainly a reflection of questions that you ask of others. Clearly this is evidence of grace in your life. Be still with this grace and breathe.

When my younger brother or sister asks me a question, it takes me back to what I was told by adults close to me when I once asked the same question, or something like it. First, I get excited that they are inquisitive as I once was and I want to give them every bit of knowledge I know on the topic so they will be better than I was at that age. However, like lmm, I would rather not overwhelm them. I have to remember to explain myself using terms that they can comprehend and relate to. Also, my experiences from when I was their age are not the same as they are experiencing and I have to remind myself of this so they handle themselves appropriately in the future.

I remember asking about Santa Claus but only because I found out about him through people outside of my family. Until then I would see my parents putting presents under the tree in late afternoon and knew they were for my sister and I…no questions asked until I was about five. I was told that he did not exist (big surprise) and that there was once a man named St. Nicholas and how he brought gifts to the less fortunate around Christmas time. I like this story better but what gets me is how it has flopped over the years and the less fortunate don’t get much, while the rich receive more than is necessary from St. Nick.

I believe the fictional aspect of Christmas was created for our happiness as children…to keep us innocent. Children smiling helps adults remember their childhoods, or what they didn’t have from their childhoods. Whatever the case, it reminds them of youth and youth is glorified in our society. Santa Claus and his reindeer continue to keep youth alive around Christmas time.

Happiness and youth…maybe these are fictional ideas in themselves. Why is it that we need the fiction to remind us of happiness and of youth? Is it something we can attain in reality…rather maintain? What do you think JW, honestly? Your answer may help me change the world!

The minds of our children should be valued more in our society. We discount their contributions because they lack experience and knowledge. I believe in teaching by example. If I value things like the truth and the opinions of my children, I am teaching them to value truth and consider the opinions of others. So often parents cut off their children's voices because they feel they are older and wiser. In doing so they send a message to their children that they are not important enough to contribute or express how they feel. As a result, how is that child going to communicate as an adult? It is easier for a parent to just say, “Don’t get wise with me.” (How ironic is that?) I think we should value the voices of our children more. Really listen because we might learn something from them or about them. Adult minds have been subject to many years of socialization whereas a child’s mind is free from much of that socialization, giving the child a more genuine perspective. Since a child may, due to lack of education and experience, have difficulty in articulating themselves, it is our responsibility as parents to be patient and considerate (Again, teaching by example) Do I always do this? No, I recognize that I need to work toward becoming a better communicator, myself. I also realize that the only way to become a better communicator is to engage in conversations. This is what we need to encourage, not discourage, our children to do.

As parents, we tend to answer certain questions from our children with a bit of elusiveness. This is because we want to protect them from becoming insecure in this volatile world we live in. We are afraid and don’t want them to know that we are afraid. We don’t want them to feel the fear we feel. As parents, we instinctively want to protect our children, allow them to live as long as they possibly can in a secure environment. So, we make up or support lies or half truths (if there is such a thing) all the while knowing some day they will be smart enough to figure it all out and know we have not been completely honest. We do this because our parents did it to us and while it probably hurt to some extent to discover they lied, we forgive them because we know they did it in an effort to contribute to our happiness. That doesn’t necessarily make it a good policy.

I remember my son at a very young age, maybe four or five, witnessing an argument my husband and I were having. It was not fair for us to be having a disagreement of that nature in front of him, but it happened, as it does in so many families. My son was noticeably shaken by the fact that his parents were at odds and I immediately regretted it and felt like a terrible parent. But I could not take it back, it was done. My son asked through his tears, “Mommy, are you and Daddy going to get a divorce?” I immediately, without considering the options, said “No, Daddy and I will always be together, I promise.” It made him feel better and it made me feel better too. But I was not being honest. I knew that there was a chance that we would not always be together. I chose to take Easy Street and pacify my child. We had that same conversation a few times over the next five years. Mommy and Daddy are no longer together.

In hindsight, I wish I would have given more thought to the question before I answered it. Granted it is difficult to say to a five year old that there are no guarantees when it comes to relationships, but somehow, I think I could have provided a more realistic answer.

So, I wonder how this has affected my child. We haven’t talked about it, but perhaps this has made me realize that it is a conversation worth having.

J.W.

I think you bring up a great point, that has direct and indirect implications.

One of the central issues that is brought up about the holiday season in Christian (or non-Christan to a lesser or at least pertinent extent) is: Does Santa Claus exist?

While I hope all the Virginias aren't reading this, we know there isn't a magical white bearded man flying around on one day, delivering presents to children who meet his Orwellian standards of morality while whipping his non-unionized elves into a frenzy days before the big day.

Christmas in of itself brings up a great many questions. The episode of “30 Rock,” written mainly by the amazing Tina Fey, delved into the issue of white guilt, class, race, and gender all at once in an amusing way. You can check it out on Hulu.com for free and I suggest you do. The central premise that is: there may not be a Santa Claus but how do we give back?

I could describe the episode but it would get off point and we're kind of past Christmas anyway. My point is that holidays of all stripes bring up central questions of identity and meaning. We look to Christmas and we see Christian faith intermingled with capitalist co-optation. We look to St. Patrick's Day and we see celebration of Irish culture intermingled with stereotypes and commercials for beer. We look to the Fourth of July and see RED WHITE BLUE coupled with not necessarily agreeing with what our government has done. We look to Martin Luther King Jr. Day and see a celebration of a historic civil rights leader coupled with store sales and also counter-identity expressions (see the police officer who dressed up in KKK pics to “impersonate” a Dave Chappelle skit the day before the holiday).

We will always have questions from those who want to know about the broader world. They may be family, they may be friends, they may be co-workers. They can be anyone wondering about OUR self-identity with something that has been identified on a broader level as acceptable. Do we as United State's citizens wonder what our perception of Boxing Day is? Not really, but given the circumstances we might.

The central point, I feel, to what J.W. wrote is that while holidays bring up questions about ourselves and how we relate to others, the broader questions of identity and action can come up no matter what Hallmark says. We should constantly be questioning our interactions with each other, with popular culture, with authority figures, and with especially with ourselves. If Christmas at its heart teaches us anything, it should mean we need to give back to each other without regard of the gain. Then I might begin to agree with Virginia.

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