As a parent, I’m fully aware that I have a slew of difficult, but necessary, conversations with my son ahead of me. We’ve already tackled one of the toughest: Where do babies come from? Despite reading a variety of parenting books and blogs, I still wasn’t sure how I would handle it when the time came, but at 3.5, when my son started asking questions, I found it was actually pretty easy.
Using anatomically correct language for body parts and a story about how it takes an egg and some seeds to grow a baby, I was able to explain the process at an age-appropriate level (with minimal giggling on my part!), and provided enough information to answer his questions. Since then we’ve revisited the topic a few times when he thinks bits of my explanation through and has had follow up questions. We’ve had these conversations during bath time, while stuck in the car on long road trips, and yes, even once at the dinner table. What I thought would be a tricky conversation fraught with lots of “um…” and “er…” turned out to be pretty easy in the grand scheme of things.
Maybe it helps that we’re pretty body positive in our house, so talking about a penis or scrotum isn’t shameful or embarrassing. Or perhaps it’s because the act of sex itself is one that can be associated with love and family, and is actually a life-affirming (and producing!) act that has the potential to be both special and wonderful. Who knows, my outlook on this conversation with my son might differ once he hits 13, but at 5.5 (the age of playing doctor, non-discreetly adjusting oneself at any given time, and fart jokes) we somehow have managed to make the necessary but potentially awkward conversation about our bodies and babies seem pretty manageable and normal.
While that tricky conversation is out of the way–for the time being–there are still many others ahead of me, like parenting stumbling blocks, waiting to trip me up. Conversations like how best to explain to my son what divorce is, and why his friend’s parents have gone that route, or why a neighbor was arrested after physically assaulting his wife. These types of talks are difficult and, thankfully, don’t happen all too often. But, if I want my son to grow up with a solid understanding of how the world works so he’ll be prepared for whatever might come his way, then they’re absolutely necessary. So, we take them on as they come and have managed to traverse them pretty decently, I’d like to think.
But sometimes? Sometimes there are the really, really hard conversations I have no idea how to even go about explaining to him. The biggest one looming for me is the subject of the Holocaust. I’ve shared some parts of it with him so far in bits and pieces. One time, while visiting my grandparents he couldn’t stop staring at an old, grainy, black and white picture of two little boys.
“Who are those two boys, Ima? Do I know them?”
I had to explain that they were his great-grandfather’s younger brothers, lost during the war.
The questions kept coming, and I did my best to answer. I stumbled for ways to explain why children were ripped apart from their families, and what type of “camp” I meant, exactly. Struggling to find the words to describe the hate expressed and the fear felt wasn’t easy, and almost made me long for more questions about how babies are made.
Thankfully, there are some excellent resources out there that help in explaining this atrocity to children. And I do my best to find ways to make these discussions less painful and soul-sucking on my end. I share stories that happened in our own family and focus on the parts that show the good in other people, like the righteous non-Jews that allowed my grandmother and her family food and shelter while they hid from the Nazis in Poland.
I know that as he grows up, my sons questions will become more nuanced and probing. Perhaps we’ll get to a point where I’ll share with him that I still have questions about how something this devastating could happen. But, while I will always welcome and support his questioning and curious nature, I truly feel a heavy knot form in my stomach anytime I think about delving into this topic with him.
In the end, though, I know that all of these difficult conversations with my son will be worth it, and I would never quell his inquisitive nature just because of my own discomfort. In fact, one of the aspects I love most about Judaism is the encouragement to learn, question, and grow. So while I’d probably rather be explaining just how the seeds find their way to that egg, I will still be there, answering every question he has, no matter how heart-wrenching it may be.