I grew up in the “Leave It To Beaver” generation. Everything was “nice.” We had a mom and a dad. We set the table for dinner — in the dining room, not in front of the television. We used cloth napkins and real chafing dishes. We took dessert in the parlor. We went to church on Sunday, said grace before dinner and believed that rules, all kinds of rules, were to be obeyed.
We also never discussed politics, finances, controversy, alcohol or drug abuse, or sex.
When I walked from my parents’ home into a marriage and responsibility, I was totally unprepared for reality.
And because of this non-preparation, I made mistakes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, we all make mistakes. But wrong decisions and improper choices that are based on a lack of information are the worst of all. If I had known all the facts on an issue, and still made a mistake or poor decision, I would be able to live with it. But to make decisions, life-decisions, decisions regarding sex, marriage, careers, finances — based on a lack of information and a lack of communication with my parents is something I will forever regret.
That same indecision, I pray, will never affect my children. With a sort of double family (three adult children, three teens) I already can see the results of a commitment to communication.
Although living now in another state, my oldest sons communicate often and openly with me. We discuss their life decisions — to have or not have a family, purchasing a house, career moves. I remember myself at the same age, distanced from my parents, not understanding or believing that we could share our lives on an equal level. Distance bred of non-communication. Not a lack of love or caring, mind you, but a lack of talking and sharing — talking and sharing the important life issues, not just skimming the surface of our lives, but a lack of holding our breaths, plunging in and communicating about what really mattered.
My teen-agers frequently ask me questions about their lives and the forces that affect them. These are hard questions: What does it feel like to use cocaine? What is a faggot? How do you get AIDS? Are condoms effective? Why does the state pay a healthy neighbor to stay home, living comfortably on Workers’ Compensation fraud? Do I believe in abortion? What about sex without marriage? Are the 10 Commandments real?
I would be lying if I said I was comfortable with their questions — or my answers. But I know that I would be cheating them horribly if I did not answer them, honestly and surely.
No, I don’t enjoy talking to my children about homosexuality and alternate lifestyles. But they exist and my children need to be informed. I don’t enjoy discussing sex with my 11-year-old daughter, whom I wish to shelter forever. But it exists and my children need to be informed.
I didn’t enjoy discussing Desert Storm. I didn’t enjoy explaining some of the accusations hurled at Bill Clinton. I didn’t enjoy Magic Johnson’s and Arthur Ashe’s announcements of their HIV-positive status.
But my children, and your children, are faced with decisions and choices we never had to make. They need information — accurate information — with which to arm themselves. And they need YOU to inform them. Because only you can provide love and time hand-in-hand with the explanations. Only you can provide the insight of your personal feelings on an issue, feelings that your children will need to make informed, balanced choices. And today, some of these choices could mean life or death.
Don’t bury your heads in the sand.
Ask your local police department. Ask elementary and junior high school counselors. These kids are making these choices, with or without our guidance.
But most importantly ask your children. And if they ask you, talk to them. If you are very uncomfortable, tell them so. They probably already know. But talk to them — it could mean the difference between a healthy, happy life or a life filled with doubts and regret. It could even mean life itself.