As a victim of childhood abuse I learned to distrust people and this caused me to be acutely sensitive to dishonesty. There was no middle ground for me in this issue. If I caught someone being the slightest bit dishonest with me I wrote them off as completely untrustworthy. Many of my problems throughout my life have tied in to this because pretty much EVERYONE will be dishonest under the right circumstances.
For me, as a young person there was nobody I could trust, nobody I could turn to for help. Everyone who tried to help me failed the honesty test that, sooner or later, I would put them to. The first time they evaded a question or fudged an answer or did anything that I could interpret as dishonest I wrote them off and shut them out.
When I gave birth to my first child I vowed to be honest with him at all times no matter what. The first test of this resolve came during his first Christmas. I was not willing to see him miss out on Christmas so I followed tradition but I did not lie. I put presents out for him to find on Christmas morning but I made no mention of santa. Over the next couple of years the rest of the world told my son about santa, the easter bunny and the tooth fairy and I did not make a point of telling him the truth so he sort of slid into believing the myths.
When he was about three he finally asked me if the stories about santa were true. I did not lie to him. I said Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ by giving gifts to each other. I said some people believe there really is a santa but, as far as I knew, the presents really come from parents who act as santa’s helpers. My son accepted that. He did not really care if there was a santa or not – he was only concerned about whether he would get presents the same as all his friends.
That ended the matter for him. He forgot the information I gave him, assumed there was a santa and never asked again until he was about eight. At that point I said it was up to him. If he chose to believe there was a santa the fun would continue – if not – would “santa’s helpers” have to stop giving him presents? He laughed and said he liked the idea of santa and thought he would believe in him forever. Santa was, from that day on, our private little joke.
He is 30 now and still insists that santa is real and he has been a good boy when Christmas comes around. I still try to give my children “santa” presents when I can afford it but santa usually only gives them lollies, socks and undies now.
The next test of my resolve came when he was about two. I never toilet trained my children. I didn’t know I was supposed to. I simply allowed them to follow me into the toilet when I went. They saw me use the toilet and they copied me as soon as they were able to climb onto it. When I saw my infant son perching on the edge of the toilet, at risk of falling in, I bought a potty. He refused to use it so I bought a childs toilet seat insert and a footstool.
One day my son, who had never taken any notice until then, took notice of the fact that I removed a tampon and put a clean one in. He wanted to know what the tampon was and what I was doing with it.
The urge to shoo him out of the room and say he was too young to understand was so overwhelming I had to bite my tongue. I looked at him and thought how the hell am I going to explain THIS to a TWO year old without telling some kind of lie!?
I said boys and girls are made differently as you have already seen. You have a penis and Mum has a vagina. Mum also has something inside her called a womb. A womb is like a sort of room inside Mummy’s body that babies go into and live for a while until they grow big enough to live outside in the real world.
He seemed to be understanding it so far. He wanted to know if the room had a bed or anything like that in it and I said no but the baby didn’t need it because the room was very soft thanks to a special lining mummy’s body made for it.
Then I told him that mummy’s body lines the room every month just in case a baby comes to live in it. If a baby does not come mummy’s body cleans the room out by turning the lining into blood and sending it out of mummy’s body. I then let him examine a clean tampon and see how it absorbed water. I said mummy uses these to soak up the blood so it won’t make a mess.
By the time I had explained that much I felt like I had run a marathon so, when he asked me how babies got into the room in the first place, I said that was a little bit harder to explain and he would have to ask me again when he was a little bit older. He accepted that and ran off to play.
A year later a baby came to live in my womb and I remembered how I felt when one of my friends told me my mother was expecting. I decided my son was going to find out from me about the coming child and not some other kid.
I waited until he was well rested, well fed and not distracted by anything else then I said I had something important to tell him. He had forgotten some of the details about the little room in Mummy’s tummy by then so, after telling him he was going to get a little brother or sister in about six months time, I had to explain the baby was going to stay inside me until it grew big enough to live outside me again.
That, of course, led to the big question of how it got there in the first place.
I was ready for it this time. I said to make a baby you need two things – an egg and something called a sperm. I told him girls have eggs and boys have sperm. I said Uncle X (my daughter’s father) gave mummy some of his sperm and it got together with one of mummy’s eggs and the two turned into a baby.
He wanted to know how the sperm got together with the egg. I said there is a little passage between the outside world and the little room babies grow in. I said lots of sperm gets made in the mans testicles and they all come out of his penis into the passage where they race each other to the egg. I said it is the biggest, fastest, smartest, strongest sperm that wins the race and makes each baby. I said he started life as a winner and he was still pretty darn special in my eyes.
He wanted to know if he could help his little female friend make a baby. I said no because the little room inside her was not big enough to hold a baby yet. I said her womb is not old enough to make the special lining that protects the baby and her eggs and his sperm were not old enough to make babies yet anyway.
I said making babies was for people who were old enough to take care of them and if he tried to make a baby with anyone he would only hurt the little girl and get into a lot of VERY big trouble from her, me, Uncle X, the girls Mum, her dad and even the police. He said what if she asks me to help her make a baby? What do I do then?
I said you tell her no. I said you tell her you are both too young and you do not want to hurt her. I said even if she does not think it would hurt her it will. I explained that even grown up ladies get hurt the first time someone tries to make a baby with them. I told him that girls are born with a little door made of skin that closes off the passage way. I said the skin door gets torn the first time someone tries to make a baby with a girl. I said if he tries to make a baby with any girl who still has her little door he will break the little door and she will bleed and it will hurt her. I said the blood would tell everyone her little door had been broken and EVERYONE would be mad at HIM because he broke it.
He nodded and started asking questions about the baby. Will it be a boy or girl? How big will it be? Will it be able to play with him and so on. Easy questions to answer and I was relieved. I told him he would be able to track how big the baby was getting by watching how big mummy’s tummy got. I had no idea that little bit of information would cause such a fuss.
It was not until after his next play time with the little female friend he had asked about making a baby with that the proverbial hit the fan.
No. He didn’t try to make a baby with her. He simply told her he was going to get a little brother or sister one day soon. He then answered HER questions and the two of them played at being pregnant. They put pillows up their jumpers and pretended they were having a baby.
Her mother came steaming to my doorway to tell me off. She thought I was utterly disgusting to have told such a young child such disgusting things and he had told her little girl. In her opinion I had no right to allow my child to tell her child such things. She felt her daughter did not need to know that babies were not found in cabbage patches until she was many years older than three.
I said when you chose to tell your child a lie you took the risk that she would find out it was a lie. I said I am not prepared to tell MY child lies to protect YOU from being shown up as a liar. She said she was not going to let her child play with my child ever again. I said that’s your choice and I will respect it.
When my son asked why he was not allowed to play with the little girl I said her mum told her lies and she was angry that he had told her the truth. I said he had done nothing wrong – some people don’t like their children being told things like where babies come from. He said he was glad I was not one of those people.
When the little girl turned up on our doorstep a couple of days later I sent her home. I told her she could not play with my son until her mom said it was ok. She came back an hour later with her elder sister. Her sister was a friend of mine and she said her mother had calmed down and was sick of the child nagging to be allowed to play with my son so the ban was lifted.
I said I hoped her mother knew I would not lie to my son so there might be other things her daughter would find out about. She said her mother was aware of that and thought my son had already done all the damage that could be done in that area.
My son never did try to make babies with her, or any little girl, but he told me she did ask him to. He said he told her he didn’t want to hurt her or get in trouble with the police. He said he reminded her how mad her mum was about them putting a pillow up their jumpers so what would she do if he made her bleed!
Several years later I learned this same little girl was being sexually molested by an older brother from the time she was born so ignorance, it seems, did not protect the child from anything.
Knowledge, on the other hand, may have protected my son from being accused of being the molester!
A lot of people expressed their disapproval of my parenting at this time. Most had a lot of objections to the fact I told my son more than, in their opinion, he needed to know. I said if he is old enough to ask the question he is old enough to get some kind of honest answer.
Others felt I had been unfair to my son to tell him so quickly. At one point I did wonder if they were right. Six months is a very long time to a three year old and he quickly grew impatient to get his baby brother or sister.
I used this to explain to him, over and over and over again, that babies are very precious and very special so it takes a long time to make them. I said I had to wait this same long time to get him but it was worth it. By the time his sister was born he was so sick of waiting he did not even care that she was not the brother he had been hoping for.
In an effort to ensure he did not feel jealous of the attention the baby got I told him we would share the job of looking after her. I said mum knows the grown ups and which ones will be OK to hold the baby but he would be the best one to decide which kids should be allowed to hold her.
This made him the object of much groveling attention from all the children who came to visit as they all had to get his permission before they were allowed to hold her.
He refused permission to only one – the little girl mentioned earlier. This caused another fight with her mother who felt my son should not be allowed to make that decision. I stood firm. I told them both that my son had the say and she would not be permitted to hold the baby until he gave permission. The mother took offense and stormed off with her daughter. Ten minutes later the child returned with her big sister asking to speak with my son in private. I had a coffee with my friend while her little sister spoke to my son. A few minutes later the two kids came back and my son said he was ready to let her hold the baby now so she held the baby and then she and her sister went home.
I asked my son why he had refused permission and what the little girl had said to change his mind. He said she bites and he was not going to let her bite his baby. He said he only changed his mind because she had promised him, and convinced him she meant it, that she would not bite his baby.
My son adored his baby sister. He begged to be allowed to help me care for her and he happily ran her dirty nappies to the laundry room. He taught her to growl and made her laugh and carted her around with him everywhere he went.
When she was two she triggered my temper by refusing to say thank you. She had been saying thank you for some time so I knew it was defiance not inability. I got into a power struggle with her. I offered her a range of things she liked and refused to let her have them when she refused to say thank you. I got angrier and angrier with each failure to make her obey. Finally it was time to give her a bottle and I knew I could not withhold that from her. She would get her bottle with or without thank you but, if she did not say it, she would get more than a bottle.
My son knew danger was looming and he asked me to let him give her the bottle. He had been working hard to make a game of saying thank you and she was saying it to him. I didn’t really want to hit her so I allowed him to give her the bottle but she did not say it, not even for him, not while I was watching.
I exploded. It was time she learned who was boss. As I headed for her to give her the very first serious belting of her life my son jumped between us.
I looked down at this terrified little six year old boy as he defied me and told me she was still too little to be hit. I heard him beg me to hit him instead and I was ashamed. I hugged him tight and told him he was right – she was too little to be belted and she was a very lucky little girl to have such a brave and loving big brother. It was the start of a friendship between them that continues to this day.
The only difference between now and then is that, today, she jumps in to defend or protect him as fast as he does for her. They have a relationship nobody could ever destroy and I think it has at least something to do with the fact that she was no mystery to him. She was not a surprise. He knew about her as soon as I did. He knew where she was and how she got there. He watched her growing, felt her kicking, talked to her before she was born. He got attention because of her after she was born and he was as happy as me when the long wait to get her was over.
When he was a teenager attending classes on reproduction he knew more about women and how their bodies function than most of the girls in the class. He came home and said he had even had to remind the teacher of one or two things that she forgot to mention. He said all the other boys were sniggering and it was clear they were not at all comfortable with the whole thing but it was all old news to him and he felt sorry for them.
He thanked me for telling him so much and making it all so natural. He said his knowledge and matter of fact attitude towards the subject had impressed the teacher and all the girls so much it surprised him.
He doesn’t puddle jump either (see entry titled Love and sex). He has never been willing to take the risk that a child of his would have to grow up without him. He is currently one of the two people I admire most in this world.
My daughter learned about menstruation and babies the same way. One day she asked about the tampon. She was not as accepting of the whole thing as my son was since she knew one day it would happen to her. She wanted to know if it would hurt and she did not want to have to use a tampon. I told her every woman was different so it might hurt a bit or a lot and she did not have to use a tampon if she did not want to. I told her there were other things she could use when the time came.
When she was ten I bought several brands and types of tampons and a range of brands and types of pads and gave them to her. I said it was up to her which of them she wanted to use and all she had to do was tell me, when the time came, which one she wanted me to buy for her.
She was an intensely private sort of person so I knew she would not want to have to come to me and tell me she needed something when the time came. I was right. She kept the news to herself for several months. She is currently one of the two people I admire most in this world.
If being so honest with my children was as bad for them as so many people claimed it would be back when I was raising them how come it had such good end results?