What Do You Let Them Hear?

A couple of weeks ago my sisters and I “hungout” over Google and chatted. It was a Sunday afternoon and Micah and Little Miss were napping, but the boys were in the living room with me. We hadn’t been at it very long when Manchild butted in with a question: “What are you talking about?”

Ah, yes, the little pitcher with big ears. The boy who is interested in everything. The child who won’t rest until he gets an answer.


As it happens, we were talking about attraction. And how you handle attraction to other people in your marriage. We’d mentioned being attractive versus being provocative and that had provoked the question.

I turned away from my sisters for a moment to answer Manchild as age-appropriately as I could: “attractive” means that you want to look your best, take care of yourself, do your hair, and brush your teeth. “Provocative” means you do all those things, but you dress and do your hair and such in a way that makes people notice you more than they probably should.

It was not the perfect answer, but it seemed to be fine for him. It did, however, raise a question for me: What should I let my children hear me talk about with my sisters/friends/other adults?

Should I have been more careful in talking about extra-marital attraction in front of the kiddies? (We were speaking in vague hypotheticals, of course – I certainly wouldn’t talk specifics or name names in front of the boys. I don’t anymore, anyway. Most of the time.) Or are these conversations that should be had in the open? I mean, wouldn’t it be useful for them to know that sometimes these things happen? And that it’s okay to talk about them?

I’ve heard it said that you should let your kids hear/see you fight, as long as you let them see you make up as well. That way they know that arguing in a relationship is okay, that it’s not the end of the world, and that adults can fight and still love each other. Plus, by seeing you resolve the conflict, they see how that is done as well. It’s chock full of wins. (Except for maybe the trauma of having to listen to adults yell at each other.)

So maybe there are other parts of marriage and life that we should be more open with around our kids. While once, it seemed, finances were off limits (because do you really want your child to be worried about money while in elementary school?), more and more parents are opening their books to their kids, showing them exactly where the moneygoes and how much is leftover. Our kids are aware of our cashflow to a degree – and they will helpfully point out the cheapest choice if we’re in the market for something – but they’re still a little young to entrust with all of that information.

I can see some major benefits to letting the kids listen in on my conversations, easing them into adulthood slowly, and allowing them to be aware of some of the difficulties of life. Having those conversations in the open makes it easy to address concerns directly. Answering their questions openly and honestly – though maybe not thoroughly – will, I hope, lead to an equal amount of openness from them when they have questions or issues arise in their own lives. And letting them hear me discuss these things with others models for them that I don’t have all the answers and that sometimes it’s in talking about things with others that difficult issues become manageable.

Then again, maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part. After all, I live in a small apartment. Privacy is all but non-existent. I can hardly have an “adult” conversation without some risk of being overheard by little ears. So maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better about that.

What do you think? What kinds of things would you let your kids overhear you talking about and why? Are there things you wish your parents had been more open about? Will you be more or less open with your kids than your parents were with you?

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  1. I love reading what you write. And for the record, I try to think, “would I have been confused or scarred if my parents had this conversation in front of me at this age?” and that’s how I determine whether to continue in front of the boys or not. 🙂


    lizzie Reply:

    Thanks Shelley! That sounds like a good rule. I just don’t know if I would have any idea about what would have scarred me as a child. And I’ve noticed with Simon that sometimes things I think are no big deal make him uncomfortable and things that I think would be no big deal make him uncomfortable. I guess I’m a bad judge of such things.


  2. This is very thought provoking. I was actually slightly chided by a friend for talking about something in front of my youngest. (One sibling was diagnosed with Autism and the other was present and heard me speaking about the trying times we had). I think I would like to err on the side of openness and honesty. I feel like kids understand far more than we think. And they can handle quite a bit too. (Some things are off limits-for now). We do argue in front of our kids. But, we aren’t yelling types. We talk about how children are made, how we might be confused about something etc. I don’t have the answer but, I follow my gut.


    lizzie Reply:

    Thanks for this, Misty. I think erring on the side of openness is actually the safer route in a lot of ways – too little information seems like it would be more dangerous than too much. Not to mention the benefit of modeling openness. And I totally agree that kids are able to handle a lot more than we think they are.


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