I promised a parenting post. I did not say that I would be telling you how to parent. Aside from some specific circumstances, I think parenting is extremely subjective to a huge variety of context. I am neither qualified nor willing to tell you how to parent.
I will talk some about how I parent.
Jarreg and I have two children. The younger one, we will call her W, is too young to have any interest or understanding of politics. Right now her biggest goal is to become the Universe Champion of Snugglempics. She is well on her way to winning that title (I’m talking weapons grade snuggling). The older one, whom we will call J, is edging super close to being in double digits. You might think he isn’t ready to remotely understand the concepts involved with something like abortion. You’d be wrong.
J, from the moment he started talking, has been extremely advanced in all things language. His ability to understand and communicate beyond his years, is sometimes contentious in “polite society.” People don’t know how to handle a 4 year old with a greater vocabulary than they. So initially, I know that I can discuss this topic, and my 9 year old will have little trouble (if any) knowing what I mean by the words I say. That is one of the biggest hurdles discussing complicated subjects with your kids. If their frame of reference in language is to narrow, you find yourself at a loss in finding the best words to convey your meaning. That is luckily not a problem for me.
I didn’t start talking to J about abortion out of nowhere. He wouldn’t be remotely interested or attentive if I tried. Instead, the fluid transition into such a heavy subject came well into a discussion that began with J asking me “What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?”.
What a question.
I can’t remember the whole conversation ,and this won’t be a transcript. Instead, I am going to give you a general gist of how the conversation went once I said something akin to, “Another issue that typically Republicans and Democrats differ on is access to abortion.” After which he proceeded to ask what abortion is. It isn’t that he hasn’t heard the word before. Jarreg and I don’t shy from discussing sensitive subjects in front of our children. This time he had a vested interest in the conversation. This time he was paying attention.
So I explained what an abortion is. I didn’t bother to drown him in technical jargon about the difference between a embryo and a fetus. I just explained it in terms of when a woman was pregnant and for a plethora of reasons might feel the need to terminate that pregnancy. I still have to explain to him what terminating a pregnancy means and I don’t shy away from using the term “baby” or phrase “ending the life of a baby.” I reminded him though that pregnancies don’t start out with babies that he would recognize as a baby. That they start from a single cell. If a woman has an abortion very early she may just be removing a bunch of cells. If a woman has an abortion late in pregnancy she may be removing something that looks a lot more like a baby. We discussed some on the stages before he ever asked why someone would want to end a pregnancy.
When he did, I told him for a lot of reasons. I told him that some pregnancies are super dangerous for the mother. I told him that sometimes a baby is so sick inside the womb that their life would either be super short outside the womb or they might not live at all. I told him that sometimes women have abortions because the simply don’t want to be pregnant anymore. I told him sometimes a person hurt the woman in such a way that the thought of having a baby by that person is too much for the woman to handle. I gave him a lot of scenarios, and I didn’t try and make it pretty.
He gave me the responses I expect of a 9 year old. He could completely understand why it might be ok “to kill a baby inside you” to save your own life. He could even understand abortion when the “baby” probably won’t live or would have to live a medically very difficult life. He didn’t however agree with me that abortion should be legal for any reason at any point in the pregnancy. He did not accept my premise that bodily autonomy trumps the right to life of any “person” that may exist inside another person.
Despite this whole long conversation and complicated explanations, I found one part to be the most important:
The part where I let my son know that it was ok that he didn’t agree with me on this issue.
For most of his life, J has generally fallen in line with our way of thinking about things. If he has a different position, I typically expect him to defend it with evidence, but this time was different. I knew that his age limits his capability to defend his position. He is physically incapable of seeing this issue from my perspective. I knew this, and I responded accordingly. I did not force him to struggle with a futile concept. I gave him my version and told him that not only did I expect his answers, but I also thought they were perfectly ok.
To me, the conversation about abortion pales in comparison to the opportunity to let my child know that I respected him enough to not coerce him into agreeing with me.