How to talk to your child about death

I may be making a big assumption here, but I would say that most people’s first memory involves something pleasant—being held by someone who loves them, riding a fun ride at an amusement park, meeting a new sibling, getting a puppy, receiving toys for Christmas, riding a bike, etc. My first memory involves nothing of the sort. In fact, it involves death. Death laid next to me and filled the air with dread for days as I struggled to get better.

When I was around four years old, I got very, very sick. To this day, I still don’t know what it was that made me so sick. Was it malaria? Meningitis? Typhoid fever? Or some other tropical disease? My parents wouldn’t tell me. All I know about that story is my parents’ decision to take me to the hospital which is what ultimately saved me.

I had been sick for about two weeks when they took me to a local clinic. The nurse there took one look at me and said, “If you don’t take her to the hospital, she will die.” My parents were poor. We didn’t have health insurance. In fact, we lived in a country that had literally no concept of healthcare—it was lackluster especially in our areas; thus, whenever one goes to the hospital for treatment, they would have to pay out of pocket. Never mind that, the nurse said. Her prophecy that I would die put my parents in a tough spot, and made an impression in their minds. “The prognosis is not good,” she told them. Finally, they decided to take me to the hospital where I stayed for several weeks.

While I stayed there, I remember seeing a little boy laying on the bed next to me. He didn’t move for hours. I thought it was strange so I asked the nurse on duty why that boy wasn’t moving.

“Oh honey,” she said with a painful look bordering on pity. “He’s gone.” It was my very first experience with death. I understood right away what she meant—her saddened face gave it away. What I didn’t understand though was why he was laying next to ME. After all, I was still alive.

Later, I learned that the hospital kept all of the really sick kids in one area, regardless of whether or not they were dead or alive. The dead ones were simply waiting for their families to make funeral arrangements and once that happened they would pick up the body.

So yes, I lived in a hospital that doubled as a morgue. The experience never left me feeling anything but sadness. I feel sad for that little boy, not so much older than I was, perhaps five or six, who died before he had a chance to become somebody. Many children died in Vietnam from poor healthcare and lack of nutrition in the late eighties / early nineties, and I was just one of them. But luckily I didn’t die. I got better and life moved on.

Fast forward to present day. It’s June 2019, and I have a six year old daughter now who’s never been really sick thanks to preventative healthcare that she was rewarded with from the moment she was born. (So lucky!) She comes to my husband and starts bawling because she’s been thinking about death.

“Huh,” I said when my husband told me of this conversation. He said that Lily went to him and asked him if when she’s dead, will she see him in heaven? This was no doubt a big girl question and none that I expected she would ask at this age. Because Lily has never truly been close to death as I was by her age, and because she’s never really lost a loved one (not YET), we haven’t talked to her at all about the idea of death.

How she suddenly began thinking about this concept is beyond me. What’s more, she’s having nightmares about it. This morning she came out of her bedroom at 6:45 a.m, which is earlier than normal, and began bawling about a nightmare that she had. I was more concerned with trying to calm her down so I didn’t fully hear what it was about. Then, later this afternoon, when she had another crying fit she went to her dad and told him of her fears regarding death.

It’s tough to think about ways to talk to your children about death, a topic so deep, so personal, and so convoluted that you’ve never thought about how you’re supposed to talk about it. I wanted to find out if there is any literature on how to approach the subject, or at the very least, a set of guidelines as to what to say to kids about death, so I turned to my friend Google and searched “how to talk to your kid about death.” And not surprisingly, most of what I discovered were articles on talking to your kids about death as an actual event. There were hardly any guidelines as to how to have that conversation about death before it actually happens.

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Surprise, surprise–the word divorce came up before death

“Cry. Cry together. Cry often. It’s healthy and healing,” says this article in Psychology Today. “Allow your child to participate in rituals. Let children pick clothing for your loved one, photos for the memorial, a song or spiritual reading,” it continues. Similarly another website’s advice — to allow the children to participate in rituals. Listen to their reactions. Let them cry if they want to. Tell them that it’s okay. Basically—do everything you can to comfort the child while also keep your emotions in check. Try not to show that you’re a wreck on the inside because you just lost a loved one.

Which is interesting to say the least—it makes me wonder why that is. Why is it that adults don’t talk to children about death BEFORE it happens? Why do we wait until an actual death occurs in the family before actually talking about it? Moreover, why are there no guidelines on how to talk about something that happens to everyone? Lastly, why are there conflicting information as to how to cope with death? Why should you bottle up your feelings and say things like “I don’t know “ when you know full well that the reason that person died was because of X, Y, and Z?

We certainly talk about life a lot. We give our kids the birds and the bees talk. And when we have another child and bring that baby home from the hospital we introduced the baby as a new life, a new addition to the family. Don’t you ever wonder if kids themselves are wondering how that baby came about?

According to this National Geographic article, studies have been done on children’s understanding of death shows that kids begin to grasp the idea at age 3, but do not grasp the full elements of death until age 5-7, that death is universal, death is irreversible and nonfunctional. Which certainly makes sense that at age six, Lily is starting to think about the concept of death even though she’s never lost a loved one…yet.

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Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

To be honest, I didn’t lose a loved one until I was about 9 years old. Both of my grandparents on my father’s side passed away within months of each other (my other grandparents were gone well before I was born). And I remember feeling sad, especially when my grandma died, because was a nice lady. She always told me that I was her favorite granddaughter, and I basked in the glow of her approval for me. It was only when I got older I realized that she probably said the same thing to all of her grandchildren to make them feel special. After all, with as many children as she had (she had 15 children total, 3 of them died in infancy) and each one of her children had their own children…well, I’ll let you do the math. Still, she was special to me because she was the only grandmother I had, the only one I knew.

Anyhow, when she passed away first, it put my grandfather in a complete utter state of shock which later turned into heartbreak. He couldn’t live without her and became quite reclusive and withdrawn. We’d like to say that he died of a broken heart. Regardless of whether or not that’s actually true, losing two grandparents in a single year was tough. I didn’t know what to make of it. But at the same time that I participated in the funeral festivities nobody really sat me down and explained that my grandparents were never coming back. Eventually I figured it out on my own.

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Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

So far my daughter has not come to me directly to talk about death (although I feel like it’s going to happen any day how), I feel that I should be prepared to say a few things about it. But how do you talk to a child about a fear of hers that is also your own? How do you explain the depths of your fear, that you often feel like you have an enormous lump lodged in your throat every time you think about dying? That it sends a terrifying chill throughout your body and makes you as stiff as someone who is already dead? That you have to remember to take a deep breath before it takes your breath away?

These are the things that I can’t explain to her yet. At the same time I’m not surprised that she’s inherited my fear of death. However it’s not so much death itself that I’m afraid of–it’s the process of dying. I would be perfectly happy if one day I’m alive, and the next day I’m not; for whatever reason, I go quickly and have little time to experience the dying part. For example—if I’m going to die by drowning I don’t want to be sinking to the bottom of the ocean, lake, or river (or God forbid, pool), and have an awareness that I’m dying and that nobody is coming to save me. Likewise, if I’m getting stabbed and I’m bleeding to death, I wouldn’t want to feel the wrath of the person (or animal) that’s trying to kill me as I lay there hopelessly thinking about my impending death. It’s too gruesome to think about—the experience of torture, of dying slowly. This is perhaps influenced by my childhood experience in the hospital as a child almost close to death, and seeing death so close to me. To this day, I still can’t get the image out of my mind of that little boy—hopeless and dead, as well as other little children hopeless and dying.

Hopefully I will be able to figure it out soon.

 

What works for one might not work for another

Lately, I’ve decided on one thing–that there is too much literature on how to be a parent. You’d think that with the age group most primed to be having kids right now (millennials) are having less kids and having them later in life that there would be less articles, blog posts and books on parenting, but I see them all the time! Perhaps it’s because I’m a parent that I tend to gravitate towards the stuff related to parenting (with all the newsletters I subscribe to relating to family, wellness and parenting, I might be as you say “slightly obsessed”) but I also feel like it travels with me wherever I go.

If you’re a parent you know what I mean. You have friends, colleagues and neighbors telling you this and that about kids, and then you have the media telling you this is what kids / having a family should look like. Then you have other media such as social media proclaiming the wonderful, high feelings of being a parent and not displaying the lows, which in turn tells others viewing your social media that you have a perfect life. It’s hard not to be one or the other — you’re either the one jealous of others lives with children or you’re the one boasting about your family/kids/life. Either way, you can’t win.

Anyway, what I’m getting is at is that I’ve been seeing a lot of “how to” articles. How to raise healthy kids. How to teach kids about not bullying. How to get your kids to do this and that. It’s kind of overwhelming!

For example–you might have heard the good ol’ wisdom of letting them “cry it out.” When your baby or toddler is freaking out, do you go and comfort them or do you let them tough it out? If you do the latter it’ll make you feel like the worst parent in the world, because you’re letting them suffer. But if you do the former, then you’re coddling then. Either way, you can’t win.

I can’t tell you which side I’m on or which side actually works when you’re trying to teach your baby/toddler something (like a new skill–crying their hearts out or self soothing), but I can tell you that I’ve tried both. Both options will yield similar if not successful results, but it all depends on the kid.

Take, for example–When Lily was about 2 1/2 years old, my husband I decided that she was a little bit too old to have a pacifier, so we embarked on a mission to wean her off the contraption. We decided to do it the hard way–cut it out cold turkey. So one day she had ’em, and the next day she didn’t. As one would expect, she cried and cried and cried. It was incredibly agonizing. I’m pretty sure that she must’ve cried for over an hour once, just because she didn’t have her binky. We sat there on the couch on the other side of her bedroom wall and looked at each other with a level of incredulity because 1) how can a kid cry that long? And 2) how can a kid still need that when she’s almost three?

Well, we decided to tough it out for a few more days. Fast forward several months later, she’s three years old and her brother is born. She is no longer using the pacifier. It was incredible, and I can’t believe it worked.

Did I feel like a horrible parent? Yes, but as I’ve written about it here, sometimes they need a major push in order to accomplish something. Sometimes you just can’t string them along.

Time goes by, and now James is about six months old. I can’t remember exactly but I know he was less than a year old when he was having a terrible time sleeping at night. For whatever reason, he didn’t sleep longer than two hours. All the parenting literature says that at his age, he should’ve been sleeping for at least four hours if not more. Well, he wasn’t.

And once again, it felt like deja vu. It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that we were trying to train our daughter to sleep with no binky…

And once again, we were back on the couch “ignoring” his cries. And feeling like horrible parents. And talking about what we should do every minute that we were awake–which was all night, due to the fact that he was crying, not sleeping, and therefore, keeping us up.

Nowadays, he sleeps like a champ.

So you see where I’m going with this right? My position on how to train your kid to sleep, eat, or whatever is necessary has a better success rate if you just let them “tough it out.” Remove the debris that’s causing them delays. Get rid of it cold turkey. Right?

Welll…like I said, it depends on the kid. With James, we did what I call “tough reality” training with regards to sleeping. But there’s one thing that we’ve been a little slow to remove so quickly, and that’s the bottle.

James takes a bottle to go to sleep. One for nap time, two for night time. It’s how it’s always been for the past two years. We’ve never really discussed how we should wean him off the bottle, even though we discussed getting him a big boy bed and potty training and all that stuff. When it comes to the bottle, we simply shrugged and said, “Whenever.”

Little did I know that we would never actually have to do it cold turkey, that he would wean himself off the bottle.

Last night I said to my husband, “I don’t want to count my chickens before they hatch but…James has not been taking his bottle at all. He takes a sip and then says, “Put the bottle down,” or “Take the bottle away.” I was flabbergasted. I did not expect him to say such things, I told my husband.

Tonight he did the same thing. Which only brings to mind the realization that he is outgrowing his bottle needs.

Of course, this sounds easier than it actually is. In reality, we have employed a slower approach to weaning. For several months we have been giving him less and less each night. It wasn’t until this week that he stopped demanding for another bottle. Prior to this, he would scream, “More bottle now!” after finishing the first (diluted and small) bottle. And I’d stick to my guns. I stayed firm and tried to distract him with something else. Over time, I think it stuck.

Well, I have to give it another week or so to see if this behavior changes but I can’t tell you how immensely happy I am that we will no longer have to buy milk, heat it up to the correct temperature and give it to him to help him sleep. I love that, but I’m also scared of the possibility that he will soon stop napping. Big changes. BIG STUFF indeed.

Here’s a piece of literature you can rely on–try different things with different kids. You never know which one will work but you won’t know until you try. Whatever you do, stick to your guns. Do not waiver. It will get worse before it can get better.

How to teach your kids about money

I stumbled upon some rather interesting content today on the web about the intersection between money and children. For example, this article on Inc.com says that parents are not discussing a crucial topic with their kids–student loans and credit card debt, based on “research” done by an online lender called SoFi, which was really just a survey of a thousand people between ages 36 and 65 (most likely their customer base only) about their attitudes on money.

The author then went on to provide three tips on helping your (millennial) kids become more financially savvy, from – you guessed it – an employee of SoFi (somehow I feel that this article was just another advertisement for the lender) – things like “teach them healthy habits early” and “help them develop a good credit history” to “create debt grids” (write down all your debts and keep track of them).

While there is some merit to this advice, I think that ship has sailed for many millennials. Their baby boomer parents were no doubt, lacking in details about personal finance when they were growing up, so of course, they didn’t teach their kids about money. Can you blame them?

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Photo by Eric Prouzet on Unsplash

It’s no surprise that all parents will come across this in their parenting journey–how to teach their kids about money and what to teach them about. I think that in many ways, teaching kids about money has the same elements as teaching kids about sex–you’d rather avoid it until it’s absolutely necessary because…well, it’s uncomfortable, especially if you don’t know much yourself or you’ve made some bad choices with money, you definitely don’t want to ‘fess up to your kids, right?

Or maybe you do, and you want them to learn from you. Nonetheless, it’s still an uncomfortable subject even for adults to talk about. No wonder why money is like the number one thing that couples argue about, because chances are, you probably married someone who has opposite money philosophies than you do.

My parents fit this mold completely. Not only do they differ in their parenting styles, but they also differ in their money philosophies. My mom is a saver, and my dad was a spender. Both of them taught me some very important lessons about money.

We didn’t have much money when I was growing up, due to my dad’s inconsistent job history and the fact that we lived in a third world country, where everybody else around us was poor. It was a normal thing to be poor. I knew this right away as a child–that we didn’t have much money and that I was much luckier than my brothers, who was born and grew up during the war. A famous line of my mom’s is “We didn’t even have enough money for food so I had to divide the portions into three meals! And I didn’t have much to eat so I couldn’t produce enough breast milk to feed my kids!” Luckily, when I came along, there was enough food to go around, so she was able to produce the milk.

Despite that, my dad was a major giver–he’d give away whatever he had left, telling people, “It’s okay. You don’t have to pay me back,” or “This one’s on me, buddy.” As a child, I didn’t understand why he did this. I thought, “Why on earth would he give away money when we’re already so poor?!”

Now, as an adult, I finally understand.

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From watching Ellen Rogin’s Ted Talk today, I learned that giving can be just as rewarding as receiving. It can make you feel even richer. In her talk, she advocates for giving back to the community through charity donations and volunteering your time. This was something my dad did a lot. He volunteered his time at our church (the main hub of our community) and he gave away whatever money he had left (after he’d spent the majority of it, that is). This solidified his position within our community–everyone respected him and loved him, and we were always invited to parties and gatherings. He was also a funny guy–that helped too. His philosophy on money and on life was so simple, and yet it worked.

My mom, on the other hand, is the opposite. Besides the tithe she gives every week at church, she is not typically a charity giving kind of person. Instead, she hoards her money in random places and tends to them in the same meticulous manner as one would tend to a flower garden. Unlike my dad who couldn’t keep a job long enough, she worked hard at the same job for many years. She was the financial rock in our family. Without her, we probably would be worse off.

Ironically, my dad was the one who bought a life insurance policy and convinced her to do the same. But that’s another story.

The point is–kids are like sponges. They absorb information so much, and so quickly. As discussed in Ellen’s talk and in this article, kids learn a lot from how we act around them.

…how our children will manage money in the future is being shaped by the atmosphere around finances at home right now. – Ted blog

Reading this reminds me that as an adult, as a parent in particular, I need to pay attention to how we talk about money at home. In fact, my husband may agree that we don’t really talk about money in front of the kids. Besides saying, “We don’t have money for this and that” sometimes we typically don’t give them any idea as to how we are financially. I think they’re too young right now. My daughter is old enough to understand certain things though.

My parents didn’t talk about money either, but I learned so much from observing them in my youth. I think it’s worth noting that in order to teach your kids to be responsible with money as adults, we must first model that behavior. But I also don’t think that you should go around and say, “Don’t do what I did!” until they’re old enough to understand, probably around teenage years, when the majority of them start earning their own income.

I don’t want to be like my mom, but I also don’t want to be like my dad either, so I strive to be somewhat in the middle in terms of money. Every once in awhile, I’ll take the kids out for a treat–bubble tea, baked goods or a Happy Meal. They love it because it doesn’t happen very often. It’s my way of saying, “We don’t always have money to do this, but when we do, it’s fun!” Delayed gratification, right?

Why can’t boys wear dresses?

The other night, as I was tucking her in bed (our usual night time ritual), I had a conversation with my daughter. Somehow, we got on the subject of clothes.

“I love wearing dresses,” she said proudly. Full disclosure–Lily is very girly. She adores dresses the same way that I adored wearing shorts when I was little. At her age, my parents dressed me up in the frilliest dresses that they could possibly find and would parade me around our village. There’s a suspicion that my dad must’ve put me on his shoulder too many times to show me off, and that’s why I developed a fear of heights.

But of course, my daughter isn’t like that. She’s about as girly as they come. And she loves the attention she gets from wearing dresses.

“You know why I love dresses?” she continued. Whenever she begins her sentence with, “You know why...” it usually means that she already has a reason. I follow along anyway.

“Why?” I said.

“Because it’s pretty, and it’s sparkly, and I can twirl around in it!” she exclaimed.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, I love wearing dresses to school,” she added.

“Does anybody else in your class like to wear dresses?” I asked her.

“Hmm…” she pondered for a moment, then said, “Victoria,” (one of her friends) and then she rattled off some other names that I can’t remember.

“What about the boys? Do they like to wear dresses?”

“No!” she cried, as if baffled that I would even ask such a question. “Boys don’t wear dresses.”

“Why not?!? Girls wear pants and shorts, like boys do,” I replied. “So why can’t boys wear dresses?”

She paused for a moment to consider. Finally, she said, “Boys can’t wear dresses to school because the other boys and girls would laugh at him!”

Cha ching. She’s right on the money. At least she understands the dynamics of the playground, I thought. But I wanted to make her think even deeper, so I asked, “Would YOU laugh at him?”

She sat up on her bed, pursed her lips, moved her eyes back and forth for a moment, and I can tell she’s pondering her answer. But instead she said nothing. Her face had that look that says, “No comment.”

Smart girl.

I love having these short little conversations with Lily because I can ask her these kind of questions and she always gives me a very intelligent, thoughtful answer. I want her to think deeply about bigger issues that tends to pervade adults’ lives, things that begin its roots at the playground. Societal expectations of gender behavior is one of them.

I also want to teach her to challenge the status quo. Just because something has always been that way it is doesn’t mean that it has to be.

It’s clearly obvious that in our society, if a little boy shows up to school with a dress on, all the little kids would laugh at him. That’s the reason why, if a little boy wants to wear dresses, he does it at home, when no one’s looking. I’m sure there are plenty of boys who raid their mom’s closets and try on their pretty things. But we just don’t talk about it.

Let’s not forget that in ancient times, men wore togas and skirts, things that literally wrap around them. In some cultures today, robes and skirts are still acceptable (Scottish kilts, anyone?). In Vietnam, for example, men wear a type of robe that extends all the way down to their ankles, making it appear like a dress, when really, it’s just another version of the ao dai.

For now, I hope that our conversation helped her see the other side of the coin.

Who says fairies can’t be boys?

This is not the first and certainly not the last conversation I’ve had with my six-year-old about gender. And for what it’s worth, I can’t remember exactly everything that was said between us, so this is my rough translation of the conversation.

Yesterday, while in the car, Lily said to me, “I love the Fairy books.”

She’s referring to the series by Daisy Meadows, who isn’t actually a real person but rather a collective between four different women from England, all with backgrounds in books and children’s literature, who came together and started the series.

“You know why I love the fairy books?” she continued.

“Why?” I said.

“Because the fairies are all girls!” She responded.

“Oh okay,” I said. “So you like it because it’s all about girl fairies?”

“Yes,” she said. “But I wonder why there are no boy fairies.”

Hmm, I thought. Probably because the term “fairy” has been used in a derogatory manner before? But I didn’t say this out loud. Instead, I was like, “Yeah…why do you think that there are no boy fairies?”

She said, “Maybe it’s because Daisy Meadows only likes girls. So she wrote the books for girls.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But why can’t boys be fairies?” I posed this question in a rhetorical manner. There isn’t really an answer to this; it’s just how the world of children’s literature and the media has portrayed fairies over the years. Fairies, for example, in Sleeping Beauty, were women–older women, but still. Then there’s the fairy godmother in Cinderella, who is a woman. And let’s not forget Tinkerbell.

We continued on, our conversation kind of ended there, but it made me think–if a boy wants to be a fairy for Halloween, he should be one. But unfortunately, in this day and age (and pretty much throughout all time) fairies have always been girls, just like knights have always been boys (except for maybe Mulan? Maybe?) because of their relative permissive, punitive nature in need of a rescue because they’re so fragile or something.

But my daughter’s naivete interpretation of why the fairies in the Daisy Meadows books are girls is funny, almost endearing.

Observations from a silent PTA mom

This week, I’ve been thinking about parent teacher associations. As the school year is coming to a close, there is no doubt a lot of fundraising going on. And as you may have guessed, my daughter’s PTA is in full action mode. Somehow I got included in an email chain that began in March (perhaps earlier) about the big fundraiser happening in May, which by now has already happened, and which sadly I took no part of but somehow can’t manage to remove myself from the email list.

I may be the biggest fraud in terms of an “involved parent” because I’ve been playing such a nondescript, silent role. Hovering in the background, I’ve read all the emails that have came through the email list, and it wasn’t until this week that I started to notice something–almost all of the respondents were women.

Now, I could be making a generalization here but I’m pretty certain that the majority of the parents involved are moms. There are perhaps two dads (and I’m deducing from the fact that their profile picture and their name is male-oriented) involved as far as I can see. I wondered to myself–where are all the dads??

I asked my husband this question this morning and he said that maybe the dads are there reading the emails but not actually responding. After all, neither one of us have ever been to a PTA meeting before so how would we know? Good point made, hubby.

Still, even if the dads are just silently participating but not participating then there’s something to be said about gender differences in parenting. Women have long taken on the nurturing role in society, thus being involved in parent teacher associations could be a sign of care and nurturing. Wanting to raise money for the school is the modern parents (or mom’s) way of showing that they care. But does that mean that men (dads) don’t care? Not at all.

It still baffles me though. I wondered to myself if perhaps those dads are just like me–working parents, people who work full time, 40 hours a week, and also embark on other hobbies so perhaps being involved in a PTA isn’t exactly high on our priority list. If that is you, then I don’t think that makes you a bad parent at all. I think it just makes you a normal parent. My husband told me that a lot of moms there are stay-at-home moms, so I wonder if that is really the main reason why.

Another thing I wondered–was there any Asian parents involved? After all, my daughter’s school has a pretty large Asian student body so you would think that more Asian parents would be involved, right? The answer remains unknown.

A girl can dream, right?

Yesterday, while driving to the library for storytime (one of our usual weekend activities), Lily declared from the backseat, “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up!”

“Oh, really?” I responded.

“Yeah.”

“I thought you wanted to be a teacher,” I said. She’s told me about her grown up dreams of wanting to be a teacher, then an illustrator, and now, a performer, all without me ever asking.

“Well, I do,” she said.

“You can’t be a teacher and a singer,” I told her. “How are you supposed to teach and sing?”

“I can be a teacher during the day,” she responded. “Then, after I’m done teaching, I can go to the theater and sing and dance!” She said this with the gleeful exuberance of a six-year-old daydreaming about multiple jobs as a lifestyle choice, not knowing that this concept is called a “side hustle,” something that my generation does quite a bit in order to be able to support themselves, sometimes by choice, but usually not. Of course, her dream of performing on the side, during off-school hours, are simply that–a passion.

“We’re going to be on the radio, TV, and phone!” she continued.

Images of Destiny’s Child and TLC flashed in my mind. “Oh, you mean you want to sing with a group?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to be called The Sweet Girls!”

My daughter has the biggest imagination sometimes. She conjures up names, places, and things and puts them together in a story that makes it sound like anything is possible. I remember as a child, I had an active imagination too, but while hers involve future activities, mine was more on the present. I’d imagine the roles that I have along with the roles that the boys I was playing House with would have, and what we’d do in order to run the house smoothly.  And whenever I’d play with dolls, I’d dress them up in pretty clothes and imagine them in certain situations.

Recently, I read an article by Adam Grant, one of the greatest organizational psychologists of our time, in the New York Times called, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up,” in which he outlined his reasons for why we, as adults, should stay away from asking this cliche’d question. I definitely agree with what he said–about how we’re limiting our children to think only in the scope of careers whenever we ask this question. Sure, it’s cute when a child tells you that he wants to be a firefighter. What little boy doesn’t want to be a firefighter? And what little girl doesn’t want to be a princess? But as we all know, not everyone can be a firefighter, and not everyone is born as a princess.

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Future teacher, or performer, or both?

To my knowledge, I’ve never once asked Lily what she wanted to be when she grows up. (If I did, we didn’t go into detail about it). She’s always been the one telling me instead. I think it’s important to have dreams, even grandiose ones, and that’s why I’m recording it here–that as a six-year-old, my daughter wants to be a teacher and a singer–so that when she grows up and becomes a doctor, lawyer, zoologist, accountant, nurse, engineer, or anything else that is not even close to performing (or teaching) she will have a record of the dreams she once had. Part of my parenting philosophy is to record the moments, but like Adam Grant, I don’t prefer to ask my children the age old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because to me, it doesn’t really matter. What they end up being is of their own volition, as long as they’re truly happy.

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Lily, circa Oct. 2017. Even then she knew how to pose like a performer.

Like many parents, I want success for my kids, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that they can be anything they want to be either. I think that’s one of the worst things you can tell a little kid. I want them to be able to figure out that dreams are only a small string of what will hold you together when things go awry–when your dreams don’t become a reality, when your expectations are not met, when failure happens. Dreams will propel you far, but it won’t take you to the end. Commitment, grit (the unwillingness to give up), and connections will take you much further.

A recent conversation with my daughter

This afternoon, I took my daughter to the school yard around the corner of our apartment. As we’re walking along, she said something along the lines of, “I’m going to miss you when I’m 31, because I’m not going to live with you anymore.” She’s known to say weird things like that.

So, I responded, “Well, you’ll have your own family, so you won’t need me.”

Immediately, she said, “I don’t know who I’m going to marry!”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll meet him later.”

“I hope it’s not Long,” she giggles, like she’s just revealed a secret that she’s not supposed to reveal.

Long is a boy in her class who really likes her. And he’s pretty cute too.

“Why don’t you wanna marry Long?” I asked.

She giggled, but didn’t respond. Then she said, “Do you know who I want to marry?”

“Who?” I said.

“Miles, hehe.” She broke into a fit of giggles again. I gasped and pretended that I’d just heard the biggest secret in a long, long time.

Since I couldn’t remember who Miles is, I asked her, “What does Miles look like?”

She said, “He’s blond.”

“…And?” I prompted further. “What color is his eyes?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “I think it’s brown, but I don’t really look at his eyes.”

“Oh, I see,” I said, making a mental note to check out Miles the next time I pick her up from school.

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I’m assuming that a lot of parents don’t have this kind of conversation with their six year old. Then again, their six year old probably doesn’t talk about marriage and husbands either. Lily is strange sometimes. She attracts the cutest little boys, so I don’t think she’s going to have a tough time with candidates for future husbands. I do hope that she’ll want to talk to me about boys with me in the future.