3+ME: Be honest about the thorns, too

Roses are red.
Thorns make us feel blue.
Sometimes life isn’t awesome —
Tell your stepkids the truth.

“What was the worst part of your day?” my stepdaughter’s little voice asked over the dinner table.

The worst part of my day…

Usually, I give a glib answer like, “Getting stuck in traffic,” or “Oversleeping and missing the gym.”

I say “usually” because we ask each other this question every day.

Each dinner with the kids, we talk about “Roses and Thorns” — the best part (rose) and worst part (thorn) of our day. Yes, I’ve mentioned it in this column before.

And (usually) I focus a ton on what the kids have to say. I engage, ask questions, try to get more details about their highs and lows (though often I don’t have to work too hard. I’m sure it’ll get more akin to pulling teeth as they get older).

But by the time it’s my turn to share, I don’t have all that much to talk about.

I resort to something standard, not overly personal or particular. Especially regarding the thorn part. Usually, I try to focus on the positives more than the negatives, ya know?

But not this time.

This time, I had something to say.

Not everything is sunshine and roses. Life has its thorns. And we should be honest with the kiddos about that, too.

I wasn’t sure how my stepdaughter would take it, or if she’d even pay much attention (her brother was at his mom’s that particular evening). But I wanted to get it off my chest.

“Honestly,” I said, “today … wasn’t a good day.”

And I explained how I’d lost four of my coworkers to layoffs that afternoon.

“What does ‘layoff’ mean?” my stepdaughter asked — and I smiled, not because I have any love for the term, but because it meant she was actually paying attention.

She was listening. She was interested in what I was saying, not just trying to get through to the end of “Roses and Thorns.”

I explained what it meant, and I didn’t stop there. I mentioned my coworkers’ names, two of which she recognized because she’d met them when she’d visited me at the office. I admitted that it made me really sad, and how much I’d cried when I found out.

And she held my hand.

She’s 8, and doesn’t have the longest attention span in the world. But she listened. And it meant a lot to me.

I know there are some perspectives that say we should shield kids from adult realities and struggles. And of course, in some cases, that’s true.

But sometimes, kids understand more than we give them credit for. And if we’re a little more honest with them, they’ll rise to the challenge.

Should we complain to our kids, gripe and be negative? Obviously not.

However —

Pretending everything is unicorns and rainbows all the time just … isn’t … honest. And the kids deserve honesty from us. We The Adults owe them that, that we trust them enough to confide in them some real pictures of what our life is like. Our hopes and enjoyments, yes — and also our sadness and disappointments.

We ask them to tell us about their day all the time. It isn’t fair of us to withhold that same information about us, from them.

If we expect them to be open and honest with us, we should reciprocate.

That day, I did.

And any time I have in the past, the kids have stepped up.

My stepson is a strong proponent of the power of hugs, which he channels anytime I or my husband confide that something is wrong. “Love makes everything better,” he says. “Give awesome, get awesome.”

He listens when we admit things aren’t perfect. So does my stepdaughter. (I’m lucky to have stepkids with a sensitive side. I know this.)

But they won’t get the chance to listen, and sympathize, or be interested — if we don’t give them anything to listen to or sympathize with or be interested in.

That’s on us, to open up a little more when it’s our turn to talk, to give more than the “easy” answer when we share our rose and thorn.

We’re still the adults, but they’re in this game of life right along with us. And they understand more than we think they will.

Originally published in The Herald News on June 2, 2019.

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