A few weeks ago, I was walking to lunch with a coworker who has a son about Ruby’s age. He mentioned that he and his wife have been trying to avoid using spelling or oblique references in their son’s presence. For example, if there’s a debate about whether to have ice cream for dessert, they won’t start spelling I-C-E C-R-E-A-M while they hash out the details. Instead, they try to involve him in their conversations even if the subject might be one they’d rather avoid or where their decisions might not mesh with their child’s easily predictable desires.
The notion of transparent parenting stuck with me as an interesting ideal, and it’s something I’ve thought about a lot since then. Part of it is giving Ruby an honest presentation of how the world works; before decisions are made there is a conversation that is a critical part of the process. Exposing her to the complete process teaches her about compromise and empowers her by bringing her into the process. Decisions don’t spring fully-formed from Papa’s forehead; instead there is back and forth where we talk about feelings, desires, how close it is to bedtime, and whether we should save the treat for a more special occasion.
But transparent parenting isn’t an absolute ideal.
Kate, Ruby and I were driving back from a camping trip and about an hour down the road we stopped in a little town to stretch our legs and explore. As we were getting back in the car, with a three-hour stretch of driving ahead of us, Kate suddenly realized that we’d left Ruby’s water bottle back at the campsite — and stated as much. Ruby’s favorite water bottle, the only water bottle she’d ever known her entire life, with the cute picture of the backpacking dog and handy protective cap, was now gone.
Ruby cried for an hour. She’d compose herself, grow quiet, and then think about her lost water bottle and start wailing again. If you’ve ever been cooped up with a crying toddler in a small car you’ll know what kind of a drive that was. So yes, there are times when you want to withhold information from your young charges.
It’s certainly easier to be a less-than-transparent parent. Involving a toddler in decisions can be frustrating, exhausting, or just plain cruel. Three-year-olds in particular are just beginning to learn about their own independence, and their psyches can be frail as a result. I know that mentioning the words “ice cream” or “playground” will immediately fix those conclusions in her head, even if they are just remote possibilties in mine. There is a tricky line one needs to negotiate. But as parents, I think we can lean towards the convenience of opacity a little too often.
We were sitting around the breakfast table this morning and Kate was telling us about her previous evening, when she’s spent some time with friends at a bar. Apparently some of her friends had gotten pretty “drunk“. That was just how Kate said it: whispered, under her breath, so Ruby wouldn’t hear. But really, saying the word “drunk” around Ruby isn’t a bad thing — it’s exactly the kind of information about how the world works that we want her to have.
Transparent parenting isn’t a hard-and-fast philosophy, or even a general rule of thumb. It’s just something to consider as your child matures and becomes more appreciate of the world of adults around her. It adds a new challenging layer to parenting, for sure, so it is best applied judiciously. But keep the idea in the back of your head; soon you’ll find yourself spelling less and dealing directly with your child more often. After all, isn’t that what parenting is all about?