I don’t know what it is about commuting in the car, but somehow my seven-year-old always finds a way to innocently lure me into complex conversations about life. I call it his backseat curious kid confessionals, and no matter how clever I think I’ve gotten at answering his myriad questions, he always finds a way to stump me every now and then.
“Mom, should I get married when I grow up?” he asked.
“Sure honey, if you meet someone special, someone really nice,” I said.
“How do you know if someone is special? I don’t like to argue,” he said. In that moment I thought to myself, “which should I try to tackle first, ‘the someone special’, or the arguing?”
“I think the person you marry should be someone you are nice to, and that someone is nice to you. You want to first love the person you marry, but I don’t know if love is always enough,” I said. It’s a good think I was driving and couldn’t see what I imagine was a perplexed look on my son’s face as I went on to say, “I think you should also like the person you marry. I think you should be friends with that person because honey, most people in relationships have disagreements or arguments sometimes. That’s just how it is. You can’t always agree on everything,” I said, “But if you genuinely like and get along with that person, you won”t hurt each other when you disagree on stuff.”
At this point in my explanation, I started second guessing myself. I wondered if I was over explaining, telling him too much. I wondered if the person I was really talking to was myself, that little girl thirty years ago when I was seven, or that big girl now, driving and reflecting. As a matter of fact, I knew I was probably over explaining all of this love and relationship stuff, but I just kept going.
“Honey, I think if you love and really like someone, it makes it easier to get along with that person,” I said. “When you disagree with someone you care about, if you are friends, if you love and like that person, you will want to be nice to them and they will want to be nice to you. You don’t have to be with someone who isn’t nice to you. And someone isn’t going to want to be with you if you are not nice to them.” “Nice” was the most simple and direct adjective I could think of at the time—remember I was driving and he’s only seven-years-old.
I can’t believe my son is already thinking about how relationships and love work. I thought just getting through first grade was enough; but here he is thinking about the qualities of a healthy loving relationship.
It was interesting to have that conversation with my son that day because it got me wondering if other parents are getting these kinds of questions from their young kids, and if those parents are also fumbling trying to talk to their kids about this stuff. When the time comes, how will our kids know what a healthy relationship is if we don’t sprinkle them with a little early wisdom to think about as they grow and mature?
Sure, I’d like to think that my seven-year-old is miles away from finding that special someone, but I also think he is curious as he watches the relationships around him, with my husband and I as front and center. I think naturally a part of parenting is modeling a healthy loving relationship for our kids, but I also think it’s about fielding their most innocent questions about love, friendship, and healthy relationships, that allows them a safe space to ask questions, even when those questions make us as parents speechless or uncomfortable.
How else will kids learn? Who will they learn some of these life lessons from? Sure there will come a time of trial and error once kids are old enough to date, but I’ve come to see that kids are curious much earlier than when they are old enough to start dating, and I think it’s healthy to talk about these kinds of things with kids when they ask. As a matter of fact, I appreciate my son trusting me enough to inquire about what makes a healthy relationship. It was a catalyst for me to reflect on how little I knew about the ingredients to a healthy relationship until much later in life.
Growing up, I just don’t remember having any conversations with my parents or a trusted adult about how a person should be treated in a relationship, and I admit, I stumbled and made quite a few mistakes before I finally got it right. As I remember, I think my mom tried to talk to me about the very basics of love and relationships, but I was much older before my mom and I could talk more candidly. It wasn’t until my thirties, before I realized what a healthy partnership, a friendship, a loving relationship could look like. And it wasn’t until I had some ideas about what healthy love didn’t look like before I finally started making some different choices in life. I often wonder had I had someone to impart wisdom, a few simple reflections on healthy love, maybe that might have saved me from a few rough years of heartache and pain. Then again, maybe the only way for me to have discovered a healthy love was to stumble through all the other, less than successful dating, “love”, and life experiences.
And while I wish I could impart enough wisdom to ensure my son won’t have to experience bits of love’s heartache, I know that’s not realistic. Naturally as his mom I want to protect him, but in reality I know all I can do is continue to talk to him, allow him a safe and healthy glimpse of love in all it’s beautiful complexity, slightly annotated with sweet honesty, and a few words of wisdom from mom.