A mother and daughter sitting on a dock looking out over a pond.


Answering My Kids’ Questions About My Less-Than-Stellar Youth

Sep 15, 2017

What are some of the toughest questions kids ask? (And ask, and ask, and ask...)

The birds and the bees? Doesn’t phase me. Why they can’t do what some other kid does (play on screen more, play the violent game, stay up later, etc. etc. etc.)? No problem, I’m all over that action. Ready to don my philosopher’s hat or ask Siri at any given moment, I am definitely up to the challenge of helping my kids understand why they can’t have cake for dinner, why unicorns aren’t real, and why grown-ups have hair ‘down there’.

I have no qualms outright lying to them about how their dad and I were wrestling when one of them walked in on us NOT wrestling. (Door locks, I know. You’re better than us.) You bet I miss the days of their adorable questions like, “why don’t I have a tail?” and “where does my poop go from the toilet?”

Out of the hundreds of questions that my kids ask me every day (not an exaggeration), it’s the personal questions about me and my past that really get me. I’m not alone in this, but I’ve yet to see articles with any kind of popularity about how parents with ‘shady pasts’ answer their kids' personal questions. 

“Why didn’t you meet your dad, mama? Where is he?”

“Why don’t we see our other grandma as much?”

“Is your step-dad your dad?”

“Do you have other brothers and sisters?”

“Where did you live, what school did you go to?”

“What’s foster care?”

Recommended Reading: Teaching Kids How to be Resilient

Questions like these have answers. And my answers spur more questions from them. At least they’re not asking me *yet* if I did drugs. Or how did I eat, or who helped me, or what happened to me when I lived on the streets. There are no easy/acceptable answers that involve “tried once” and “happy endings”. They have yet to connect the dots between my being an advocate for Violence Unsilenced and the movement that is I Believe Her. But I know they will.

The truth of it is, there are lots of us parents who roamed WAY wild back in the day, for perfectly natural reasons and perhaps, more uncomfortably, ‘unhealthy’ (yet still natural) reasons stemming from childhood/youth trauma, abuse and neglect.

As tough as it often is to admit, the choices and mistakes I made and the reality I lived all those years ago affects my kids today.

I’m not necessarily conscious of my own childhood, teen and young-adulthood stories day to day. But kids? They are SO keen, I tell ya! Kids focus not only on their own experiences, but those of whom they love the most. It’s part of how they learn about relationship dynamics and how they work through the mysteries and confusion they have about growing up. They are compassionate, caring, curious little sponges. It is a mighty task, answering these questions, and I do my best to walk that line of not sharing it all (because they just don’t need to know it all), and helping them navigate my responses.

It is quite the emotional wham-POW, to have your own child’s heart hurt for you, mirrored through their furrowed brows and sorrow in their eyes. I don’t want my kids to feel sorry for me. They’ve no reason to, but I have to respect their feelings and help them move through knowing me (as much as I share) the best they can. I’m not going to fib about every little detail. As tough as it often is to admit, the choices and mistakes I made and the reality I lived (which was often, but not always out of my control) all those years ago affects my kids today. How come no one ever told me THAT? Well, okay maybe a few wise souls did when I was a bit older. 

These days, I am a firm believer that everything we experience has the power to move us forward. Having kids has been a great example of such to me.

I keep a few self-appointed reminders in my arsenal for dealing with tough questions about my past and they have served me well, perhaps if you have similar questions to wade through with your kids, they will serve you well too.

  • Information vs. Honesty: Keep it age-appropriate while still being honest. If a simple yes or no answer will do, go for the gold! (You lucky devil!)
  • Intuition: Tap into your parenting mojo here and get hip to what they’re really asking. Try and think from a kid’s perspective, not how you might be triggered by their question.
  • Emotion: Try to answer matter-of-factly and don't make light of something that might be serious. We want our kids to trust us and feel comfortable talking to us and asking us about the tough stuff.

After all, it can't be be questions like 'why does the moon follow us home' all the time, can it?

No seriously, I’m just wondering.

Article Author Selena Mills
Selena Mills

Read more from Selena here

A multidisciplinary creative professional and artisan, Selena has over 10 years of experience writing and editing for acclaimed publications, B2B content creation, social management, brand building, design and VA services. Passionate about elevating Indigenous and FNMI stories, perspectives and voices in digital media, she strives to build bridges renegade style. When the chaos permits, Selena is an avid four-seasons permaculture gardener and a hobby “chef” who looks for other parents to revel (and or kvetch) in motherhood with. Clearly, she doesn’t like rules, most visionaries don’t.

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