Flickr photo by Daquella maneraI have believed in a woman's right to choose for as long as I could formulate an opinion about it. In college, I used to escort women seeking services at a local Women's Health Clinic -- abortions or otherwise, I did not ask -- past a crowd of sometimes unruly pro-life protesters. I have always voted for pro-choice candidates.
I am unshakably pro-choice, but that doesn't mean abortion isn't an incredibly complicated issue -- one I now foresee having to explain to my kids in the near future. I have to say I don't have a clue where to start.
I rarely find myself at a loss for words; however, parenthood sure can bring it out in me. While I know how I personally feel about abortion and the importance of keeping it safe and legal, defining it and explaining the intricacies of the abortion debate at a child's level is new and, I have to say, completely mind boggling.
"Worry over the "abortion talk" has come up recently because there has been a group of pro-life protesters actively standing ground outside a hospital on our drive home from my 3-year-old son's preschool. They've been there every day for about a month, and my 7-year-old son, who can read but doesn't always do it willingly, has been asking what their signs say, what they're doing, what the big crowd is all about.
I've kept my explanations pretty general so far, saying something like, "They don't agree with the hospital's policies." However, I've also been starting to feel like that's a cop out. We're heading into the territory in which a child has to start hearing about and considering the complexities of life. We're heading into that place where I'm going to be forced to tell the truth, even when I don't think I have the right words.
Then, while watching the Healthcare Bill proceedings on CNN last week, hearing the "baby killer" remark, and the commentators repeated discussion about the outburst for the hour that followed, my 7-year old looked at me, and I cringed. He didn't ask me anything. I didn't say a word. Time to ask for some advice.
Amber Madison, sex educator and author of the new book Talking Sex With Your Kids, says, "If your kids ask you why people are picketing, or what the "abortion debate" is, give them a straight-forward answer. Tell them: 'an abortion is when a woman ends a pregnancy. Some people think that is wrong, and some people think it's a woman's right to choose. That's why people are arguing about it.' If they ask you what you think, tell them. After they know what it is, they probably won't be interested in it anymore, until they are old enough to wrap their head around the issue themselves. At that point, they may ask you about it again, and you can get into a more detailed response about why you feel the way you do."
Well, that sure sounds simple.
Author K.L. McLoughlin, who writes about the internal abortion debate from a mother's perspective in her book Baby Steps, had a similarly straight-forward response to my dilemma: "Your kids are seeing picketers and have legitimate questions. Answer as concisely as possible and use this as a teachable moment for your own values about the issue. It should be handled very calmly and intellectually."
She continues,"It's okay to say to even very young children that grownups disagree about some things and can get very excited about their own opinion. In our country, you are allowed to share your opinion by protesting as long as you don't hurt anyone or interfere with business. Kids are not too young to understand that people disagree, that they believe different things, they see different churches and synagogues in the community, different grownups have slightly different rules, sometimes really different rules. The important thing is to be clear about where you stand -- hopefully it is in a tolerant place -- allowing for things to be complicated and people to disagree."
Allowing for things to be complicated. Yes, precisely, K.L.
She also adds, "Rule of thumb -- Let them ask questions, don't give too much info in your answers, see if they follow up with other questions. By middle school, you should be able to do a lot of listening to help them figure out what their ideas are. You can allow them to have different opinions from yours. Use incidents in the media to open a line of communication and especially as kids are in middle school let them talk first, they will be more likely to listen and hear you once they feel you've listened to them."
Gosh, why couldn't I come up with all that? Even the most complicated topics can be addressed in simple terms. Sure, that is only the first step, and, in time, these things will open up and unfurl into bigger thoughts and ideas and inward and outward investigations; however, sometimes we just need to give our kids the facts (and some credit) so they can begin working it out in their own time.
Undoubtedly, my oldest son is beginning to see more of life on life's terms, and that's hard and scary to me as a parent. Even though I truly believe in stuffing our kids to the gills with information and education, sometimes I feel like I'm stumbling and stuttering to keep him naive. I mean, of course I am.
However, I also know I can't cover up things with sunshine and rainbows like I could when he was a little kid. He now understands that people get old. That people die unexpectedly. That people lose their houses and get divorced. And that people have to make difficult choices every day.
So it's just a matter of time until he figures out that women sometimes have unwanted, unplanned pregnancies and have options in how they face that fact.
Of course, I don't plan to rush into any big tell-all discussions this week, but at least now I have some words for the day when he does ask me what abortion is, why some women choose to have them, and why I believe it's an important choice for them to have.