“Mommy, why are you crying?”
“I am not crying.”
“Mommy, why is daddy so mad about the new couch?”
“Daddy has a lot on his mind.”
Simple questions, simple evasions. But kids are not that simple – they have incredible imaginations. It’s like this: Have you ever read a best-seller and then watched the movie version? No matter how big the film budget is, the movie is never as good as what you envisioned while reading the book. In your mind, as you read that novel, the images are vivid, the plot is captivating, and the uncertainty is nail-biting. That’s because our imaginations allow us to fill in the blanks of a story. And have you noticed? Our imaginations have no limits.
So, when we’re not open and honest with our kids in a positive manner, we are giving them permission to use their imaginations to fill in the blanks of our ever-changing story (daddy getting laid off, moving, financial distress, divorce, death, health issues, a new baby, etc)—not good. Because whatever your child’s imagination provides in response to your story is likely to be much scarier than what is really going on. So give them the security they crave by being honest, open, and optimistic—even if it means exposing the harsh reality of mommy’s hormones.
Your answers don’t need to be complex when they are little, just honest. When my children asked “Mommy, why are you crying?” and it was because of hormones I explained that once a month my body had the chance to make a baby – a good thing – and if it didn’t my bottom would bleed. This always makes me feel a little weepy. Sounds silly but to this day when I am weepy the kids just nod to each other and say “her bottom must be bleeding.” No worries, they just give me a hug!
Some things like financial distress are more serious, but we are kidding ourselves if we think our children are too young to sense our fear. They do! And their fears will grow as they imagine the worst. If money is tight, talk about it with the kids. Make them a part of the plan to save instead of getting frustrated when they want to spend because they don’t know what is going on.
Protecting our children from the realities of life isn’t really protecting them at all. It is setting them up for unnecessary insecurity when they imagine the worst or unrealistic expectations when they are sheltered from the truth about life.