Murphy’s Love: Advice on Intimacy and Relationships
My husband and I are at odds on how to talk to our 5-year-old son about my brother, who died when I was 12. I think he is too young to hear about death. We have another 2-year- old son and I am really worried our 5-year-old will start to wonder if his brother will die. My husband is very religious and is not willing to lie to our children for any reason. We are about to spend a vacation with my family who always say a prayer for my brother at dinner. My sib- lings love to talk about my brother, and usually I do too. I don’t want to fight with my husband. I am considering not going, but that can’t be a long term solution. Help!
–Honesty the best policy?
You’re right – not going is not a great solution for this problem. But I fully empathize with your flight-so-as-not-to-fight response. Who wants to argue with Husband, especially when he holds the moral authority?
My personal opinion is that “Thou Shalt Not Lie” is absolutely not a mandate for full disclosure to a preschooler. Is Husband explaining the Boston bombings in specific, political terms? Are graphic photos being used to answer the question of “Where do babies come from?” What about his annual take-home pay, is #1 Son aware of that number? We have to be mindful of the age group we are working with and adjust our language accordingly.
My advice is that you go about your vacation and answer #1 Son’s question as matter- of-factly as possible (e.g. “We say a prayer for Brian because he died a long time ago and we still love and remember him.”). You follow up with the point that you are available and open to talking to him about this whenever he wants to or needs to. Don’t be overly emotional or dramatic – he will mirror your response – and don’t put words in his mouth (a la “Don’t worry, Little Brother is very healthy and is unlikely to die young…”). Reassurance and unconditional love are all he needs from you.
Now to the real meat of your question – the way that Husband used the giant “religious/ moral values” trump card to halt a healthy debate about parenting. This has happened before, right? Unless you create a map for dealing with such disputes, you are going to be cowed and minimized for the foreseeable future. Calm, connected, and balanced conversation about this is the only way to craft a game plan for your individual family. Get started by taking a meeting with the clergy member of Husband’s choice – I think you might be surprised at the discussion that develops.