One of my favourite shows on TV these days is Parenthood. I started watching it because I love Lauren Graham as much as my sister hates her but I keep watching because there is a storyline that I identify with all too well. In the first episode Adam, the oldest adult child of the Braverman family, discovers that his son, Max, has Asperger's Syndrome.
I have watched this story play out over the past season and a half. I have watched the Bravermans meet wacky families, experience and explain Max's meltdowns and struggle to come to terms with what the diagnosis means for their family. Each step the Bravermans have taken I have been there with them, remembering similar times in our own history but last night something happened that was foreign to me.
Max overheard that he has AS and asked what it means. His parents froze, like deer in the headlights, panicking and scrambling for the 'right' answer. This is where they lost me. I have written before about my feelings regarding honesty about Aspergers. To us, right now, its no big deal so I was a little annoyed by how this show that I love portrayed this moment. I was annoyed by the panic and fear on the parents' faces until I thought about The Telling and not the topic.
As parents we all have conversations that we dread having with our kids, most of those conversations revolve around puberty related issue but there are other tough conversations. Anyone who has had to explain to their kids that they are getting a divorce, or that a teenage relative is having a baby or that a loved one has passed away knows that the initial telling leads to questions. Its those follow-up questions, for me at least, that cause me to hesitate when I get to The Telling.
I can control what I am going to say but I can't control what questions the kids are going to ask and for a control freak like me, that stresses me out a little. Their random questions demand thoughtful, age appropriate, honest answers and to come up with those answers on the spur of the moment requires some fast thinking, a cool head and a lot of coffeejuice!
But seriously, we can't let the fear of the follow-up keep us from having the tough conversations because if a kid is asking a grown-up a question then its a question they desperately want answered. I remember plucking up the courage to ask my parents what I knew where tough and uncomfortable questions. It wasn't easy for me and it sure as heck wasn't easy for them but I can't remember one time when I asked a sincere question that they did not answer it. They took things one question at a time and gave me all the information that I needed to know, no more and no less. And that's what I try to do with our kids now.
I strive to be honest with the kids, if I don't know the answer to a question I say so and either we google it together or I tell them to give me a little time to find the answer and we'll talk again, soon. If they ask something that isn't age appropriate or is beyond what they really need to know, I tell them. I tell them that as a kid, they have the privilege of not having to deal with adult issues and that the answer to this particular question is an adult thing and that when this situation has any impact on their day to day lives then we'll let them know and answer their questions.
I try to remind myself that I am teaching them about life, how to live, how to think, how to respond to the things that happen in the world. Its my responsibility to frame their world, to explain, to answer questions ... to tell.
Pretty much all the honest truth telling in the world is done by children. ~Oliver Wendell