How I Learned to Talk To My Kids About Graphic Anti-Abortion Signs
BY j wallace skelton
Photo © Sasi Ponchaisang/123 RF
Sep 4, 2018
As a parent, I am committed to teaching children about their bodies, consent and how babies are made. My kids are eight and three and ask many questions about many things, and I try to answer in clear and honest ways — and if I’m not willing to answer, I say that. I probably should have been ready to talk about abortion, but on that midsummer morning when a red light brought us beside large posters of aborted fetuses, I felt profoundly unready. And uncomfortable.
Their first questions were about the signs themselves, then why people were out protesting. And then came the questions about pregnancy.
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I had a lot of questions myself. And after sharing my experience with other parents, it turns out I’m not the only one who has been having these conversations. And I'm definitely not the only parent who wishes they had done more advanced preparation.
And since every parent will approach this subject — and most subjects in the world of parenting — differently, I can only speak to how I approach talking to my kiddos about these graphic signs and the subject of abortion.
A heavy task, I know. So here's my advice, with a little help from other parents and experts:
1. Keep your emotions calm.
Social worker Gaela Mintz advises that when children encounter something new and possibly upsetting they often turn to a parent or attachment figure and mirror their emotion. “If you can remain calm it will help calm them and regulate their reactions and emotions.” Your calmness gives them room to process what they are feeling, rather than needing to figure out how to respond to your reaction.
2. Pay attention to your children’s emotional needs.
Some parents shared that their children worried that the images meant that babies were being murdered, and maybe they were at risk. Those children needed reassurance. Others wanted to know about the motivations of the people holding the signs. The questions that children ask will give you a sense of what they need. You can also ask if there is anything else they are thinking about.
3. Answer the questions they are asking.
It’s OK to answer their questions in a simplified way, because too much detail or information may be harmful. Because this is probably not the only time you will get to talk about this topic, you can add details and layers later. Several parents shared that even when their children asked about the reasons someone might seek an abortion, they left out some of the more painful examples. Instead, they gave some reasons they believed their children could handle, and ended with “or other personal reasons.”
4. It’s OK not to answer questions.
In fact, it’s helpful to model that not all questions get answers. For example, some parents may feel comfortable sharing if they have had an abortion, or if anyone they know has had one. Others might want to answer “for many people, that’s a private medical decision.”
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5. Help children think about the humanity of all the people involved.
My friend Brooke shared the language of “There are people that we care about who think this way, and your father and I feel differently and here’s why.” We’ve talked about how the people with signs are sharing their opinions on a topic important to them.
6. You don’t have to have the conversation alone.
If you are finding that the conversation is too emotional for you, you might suggest your child ask someone else; a trusted family member or a leader in your community who can answer questions for your child that you may not feel equipped to.
7. Be prepared for your child to have their own opinion — and that it might not be the same as yours.
Several parents shared that their children felt differently about abortion than they did. For some, this was a sign that their children were exercising their autonomy, while for others this was distressing. Sharing your views, listening to your child and asking each other questions is likely to be more fruitful than a heated argument.
While I may not have planned to talk about abortion with my children, it became an opportunity for us to engage in the world around us. It provided an opportunity for me to listen to them and answer their questions as they form their beliefs, but it also provided a moment to share mine.
Ultimately, no matter the subject, I want them to know they can always ask me questions and count on me to listen to their needs.
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