My daughter turned six last year. My son turned four. At these ages, kids start to ask questions – questions that differentiate between make-believe and reality: “Is Santa Real, Mommy?” ”Does God put wings on you when you are in heaven?” When someone gets seriously hurt, “Was there blood, mommy?”
All too often I struggle with the concept of make believe vs. reality. How much should I really tell my children? In an era where parental control is crucial for TV, movie watching and Internet surfing, at what age do you start to be brutally honest with your kids — so honest where it won’t have a detrimental impact on their mental and physical well being? I’m a direct person and have found myself on several occasions crossing the line between make believe and reality, providing answers to questions that are sometimes better left alone.
Almost a week ago in a community nearby, I learned that a three year old boy was fatally injured after he was hit by an SUV. School had just let out. He was in his car seat while his mom was across the street talking to the mailman. The child unstrapped himself and got out of the car and was struck almost instantly by the car. It literally sickens me to think about it. My heart goes out to his family.
It goes without saying that as a parent, when something like this happens it’s hard not to think, “What if that was my child?”
When tragedies like this happen, how much do you tell your children? In my opinion, it’s not a question. I tell them as much as possible, providing as many details as they will understand. With this real-life example, there is no boundary between make believe and reality. When it comes to your child’s safety, I believe you can never be honest enough.
I have told my kids repeatedly about the rules of crossing streets and watching out for cars in parking lots – to the point where I sound like a broken record. But honestly, do they really understand? Of course not. Does my six-year old understand consequences more than my four-year old? Absolutely. But for most children, including my own, when do they really “get it”? When do they truly understand the realities of life? Not for some time I’m sure. The questions that I ask myself will only become more complex as my children get older and reality replaces the make-believe. But, for now, I will be “real” with my children when absolutely necessary and engage in the “make believe” as long as I am able. As a mother, I want to maintain the innocence of childhood as long as I can. Before long, it will be swept away.