Monday, March 4, 2013

Sharing vs. Secrets

Last night we went out for dinner as a family. Over beer for the grown-ups, and home-made blood orange soda for the kids, we talked about the stress that we’re all feeling right now. It’s been a topsy-turvy year, as we’ve been faced with having to make major decisions about what’s best for our family. Everything has been up for discussion: schools, communities, shuls, neighborhoods, city, suburbs. The driving factors are economic, and out of our control. But we know we have to move to a new home, and the pressure’s on to work out where that will be.

We’ve been very honest and open with our kids during this process. Though I don’t feel like we had much choice about that, I do question whether it was the right decision. Wouldn’t it have been better, for them, to keep all of the unknowns a secret, and just wake them up one day and say, “Guess what? We’re moving to X.”

It’s always hard to know how much information to share with kids, especially when it comes to important decisions. I think there’s a fine line between honesty and over-sharing. When kids are privy to too much information about things they can’t control, they can get seriously stressed out. So can adults, of course. That’s part of adulthood—having no choice but to stress about things, and make decisions that have lasting effects.

But shouldn’t children be shielded from that stress? Isn’t that something of a right of childhood, or perhaps a privilege? To be able to grow and learn and become without the burdens of knowing how hard life can actually be.

I know my parents shielded me and my siblings from all kinds of stories and dramas of the adult world. They were very good at keeping secrets. My mother didn’t tell me and my brothers that she was expecting our youngest sister until she was well into maternity clothes—maybe in her sixth month. I was eight at the time, and had no clue. Her reasoning was that pregnancy took a long time, too long in its entirety for kids (who can become obsessed with anticipation) to wait. Also, she wanted to make sure the pregnancy would be viable before she told us. By that logic, had my mother lost the pregnancy, my parents would have likely kept it secret from us.

By the time I was three months pregnant with Louisa, many of my relatives and friends knew that I was pregnant, but I hadn’t yet told Bella and Ruby, who were 7 and 5 at the time. About two years earlier, I’d had a stillbirth at 23 weeks, which was a very painful experience for all of us.  Both girls remembered and talked about that missing sister, and I was eager to spare them from similar pain.  But I really had no choice but to share the news of my pregnancy. Chalk it up to apartment living—because we live together in close quarters, and because my daughters (particularly Bella) have “big ears”, there was no way to avoid them overhearing a conversation about my pregnancy. I just couldn’t lie to my own kids, or feel like I had to have two separate identities—one for the kids, and one for everyone else. My kids know me pretty much the way I am. And so we told them. And they were able to tell us that they, too,  were nervous about something bad happening to the unborn baby. When 23 weeks came and went, we shared a collective family-wide sigh of relief.

As for our home search, we've been sharing what we can with our daughters, as we're able to. They know, now, that we're staying in the city, and that they're staying at their school, which I hope is a relief for them (it is for me!). We're doing the property search without them--they don't have a say in that, nor do they need to know the details. We don't want to give them false information (or false hope, as of course they do have their own opinions about what's best). It's tough to wait, and tough to not know. I hope that there's a silver lining for them--patience and trust, perhaps? And that they won't think back on this year as the unsettling time when Mommy and Daddy shook the roots of their world.

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