Too honest?

Cate asked a question in the comments recently that I find really important:

"Laura, could I put another query out there along a similiar line? - this time regarding honesty when answering our children's questions. I know everyone's gut reaction will be that you need to answer your children's questions openly and honestly. But if we've already agreed that there may be something to this topic of planting ideas in their heads, then is it possible for parents to add to this problem by being too honest? - especially with those children we may already fear to be genetically predisposed to this (and especially if we are ansering questions about our own eating issues). This isn't something I've thought about before (my own children are still too young), so I would be really interested in hearing other people's thoughts on the topic"

I believe in parsing "honest" with "wise silence." Particularly for Americans, and most particularly in our psychotherapy-Oprah-express yourself culture, there is a premium on expressing everything and a sense that leaving anything out is equivalent to lying. I used to be much this way. But getting older and having 22+ years of parenting behind me I'm seeing that talkingtalkingtalking can actually be the lazy way out. If everything must be said then there's no need for judgement, for parenting. We're not parents, we're parrots.

I'm not sure exactly what kinds of disclosure you're talking about here, but I can imagine some particularly around disordered eating. Like, how to deal with different types of food if you can't use the idea of "good" and "bad." Or "do I look good in this dress?" or "Do you ever worry about being fat, mommy?"

Psychotherapists have some good tools for this. Like reflective listening, like "hmm" and "mmm." Like "you seem very anxious about that issue. Do you want to talk about it?"

A lot of the questions our kids give us, especially when they're ill with anxiety, depression, dysmorphia, or OCD, don't HAVE answers. Or at least the answers aren't the point. "Do I look fat?" is such a question. "Am I a bad person" is also not a real question as in having a yes/no answer. "Is this enough food?" may HAVE an answer but if the question is being used as a "checking behavior" then answering it may not be a good idea.

These are some of my thoughts. Yours?


  1. Thanks Laura so much for these suggestions - especially the one about reflective listening (particularly when, as you say, the actual answers are not the point).

    I think for the most part I am concerned about the fact that it was NEVER discussed in my house (even when I first got sick, and didn't know I was sick, I was never offered any help - it was never talked about), and I now look back and realise that my mother was tackling the same issues. So although I'm very wary about answering too many questions, I do not want the same complete lack of communication.
    It has taken me 18 years to realise that I have this problem and now that I'm quite unwell again, I have to tackle it on my own. I would never want that for my own children.

    So I suppose it's going to be the same as answering any of those awkward 'growing-up' type questions - sex, drugs, rock & roll and Eating Disorders - a case of using parental judgement and answering the question you were asked (where appropriate) without too much extra information, and a lot of listening.

    Thanks again for your thoughts, Cate


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