It’s that time of year again. Award season for the film industry. I’ve been feverishly watching the SAG nominated films, so I can send in my ballot on time. Yesterday, I watched a film I had actually never heard of before. (Now, I do live under a rock, so that’s probably not too surprising.) The film is called Captain Fantastic. Have you heard of it? I thought it was wonderful. It has got me thinking about how we choose to raise our children, and, if and when, we should shield them from life’s truths. When your child asks you a question, do you tell them the truth? Do you sugar coat things? Do you completely avoid certain things? Or do you tell them the honest truth regardless of their age and how tough the answer might be? The father in this film, played by Vigo Mortinsen, tells his children the unfiltered truth. He also raises them in the woods, teaches them survival skills, and “home” schools them without the use (or need) of today’s technology. You might be starting to get the picture. Hippie parents raising their tribe of 6 children, living off the land, yada yada. All of that is inconsequential. The thing that interested me the most was the way he handled the truth with his kids.
I often think back to times of tragedy as being instances that must have been tough for parents to offer explanations their children . The death of a family member. The terrorist attacks on 9/11. The Sandy Hook school shootings. I didn’t have my son then, but I remember my brother’s kids being old enough to know about Sandy Hook. I remember my brother and sister in law talking to them about it, though I don’t recall the specifics of how they did it. I also know of other parents who completely shielded their kids from the whole event. I suppose everyone knows their children well enough to know what they can or cannot handle and what it is, as a parent, they want them to be exposed to. I have often thought about it during these crazy times in America. O is still too young to understand any of this yet, but it won’t be that long before he starts asking questions about our world…..and well, about everything.
I can’t say for sure (as how can you know until you are in that moment) but I think I’d like to be completely truthful with O. I tell him so much already. Things that I am sure people think he is far too young to absorb. I constantly define words and concepts. Does he “get” any of it? Probably not, but he does often surprise me with things that have sunk in, unbeknownst to me. I think about the capacity his brain has to make connections right now. I figure I should give him as much information as I can. As he gets older, I’d rather topics not be taboo for us. I don’t want him to feel embarrassed or ashamed to ever ask something. I want him to know that if he asks us a question he will hear the truth from us. If he is looking for an explanation, I’d rather we be in on the conclusion he draws from the facts presented to him. I don’t want to teach him what to think. I want to teach him how to think. Does that make sense?
I also know some parents who don’t want their children to experience difficult things. Like being around an elderly sick grandparent. I’ve heard “it’s too upsetting for the children.” Or failing at something. Or losing. But isn’t that all part of life? The learning is not in the failing…it’s in the getting back up and trying again. Do people still teach their kids that? I don’t really remember learning that as a child, but as an actor, it’s a paramount point to understand. You learn quickly as an actor that there is no shame in trying and failing…only in not trying at all. I’m not sure that is a common theme in today’s youth twitter feed.
Let me say, I don’t believe a child should be treated as an equal to an adult. They need guidance and structure. But I do think a child should be respected as a thinking being. I think it is important to respect their intellect and their emotional life enough to be straight with them. I mean, life is wonderful. But it’s also tough. Why would we want to shield O from any part of the journey? Eventually, he will be on his own. Won’t he be better prepared for the world if he has some knowledge of it and the truth on his side?
Until next time, keep fighting the good fight, and remember, behind every great kid is a mom who is pretty sure she is screwing it up.