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Parental Indiscretion: Burning Questions


Illustration by Kristina Micotti

Rachel Laing​

I know my parents weren’t perfect, but I view their childrearing as decent enough to serve as the template I work from, customizing it to today’s standards.

My dad spanked my sisters and me on the side of the highway during road trips when he’d had it with our endless backseat bickering, and he enjoyed honks of approval from passersby. We employ a different Instant Compliance Motivational Tactic—confiscating electronics—which is perceived by the kids as similarly cruel, and has the benefit of not risking a visit from Child Protective Services.

But one key parental practice I’ve carried on without alteration is my mom and dad’s ask-me-anything policy.  “Where do babies come from?” was handled with no mention of birds or bees or cutesy names for genitalia. We got the whole, unvarnished truth.

I've carried on my mom and dad's ask-me-anything policy. 'Where do babies come from?' was handled with no mention of birds or bees or cutesy names for genitalia.

As the youngest, I got to ride my sisters’ curiosity coattails, so I was the first of all my friends to learn crucial facts. Girls I barely knew came to me in junior high to score some of that Grade-A knowledge about our bodies they’d heard I possessed. I like to think I spared a lot of anguish by passing on my mom’s unsparing words of wisdom, such as: “If the rhythm method worked, Rachel, you wouldn’t be here.”

My honest-answers policy was really put to the test by Ben, who was an aggressively inquisitive child. He began to ask me tough-to-answer questions in the first grade. He once glanced over at the newspaper on the breakfast table and demanded I explain an editorial cartoon, which set off a “Why?” chain that I could see leading to very bleak places. How do I explain the immigration debate within the context of our liberal values without getting into racism and eventually landing on, “Welp, because humanity sucks sometimes.” Have a nice day, sweetie!

There have been many, many questions since, and the trust I like to think we’ve built through our many honest conversations on a host of topics, from gender politics in video gaming to the origin of ugly racial stereotypes, has provided an opportunity to impart values as well as so much practical knowledge.

But most importantly, it’s through these chats that I find out what’s happening around my kids and inside their heads at a point in their adolescence when kids in the same grade fall within a vast range of the maturity spectrum. What more could I ask for?

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