You Have To Explain

It was early in the morning in the winter of 1870 that Rudyard Kipling’s parents roused him, then 5, and his younger sister, Trix, from their sleep to say goodbye. And then, suddenly, with awful surprise, they were gone. “No word,” he recounts, “of for how long or how necessary it was, simply ‘Don’t forget us…Oh my little son, don’t forget us…”

The truth was that his parents, financially devastated expatriates, were sending their children back to England for schooling. But in the fashion of parenting at that time—British parenting especially—all of this explanation was thought to be beyond the children or beneath the parents.

“We had no preparation or explanation,” his sister Trix would explain, “it was like a double death, or rather, like an avalanche that had swept away everything happy and familiar. We felt that we had been deserted, almost as much as on a doorstep, and what was the reason?”

Of course, we would never do something like this today. And thankfully, far fewer parents have to abandon their children for any reason at all—permanent or temporary. But that does not excuse the regularity with which parents of all socioeconomic levels make major decisions without even the slightest effort to explain or reassure their children. From long business trips to divorces, from moving to witnessing world events, we just assume our kids will understand. Or worse, we don’t even think about their understanding. Instead, we ask them to bear these changes without bothering to bring them into the process, or to reassure them or to prepare them. We simply expect that they will endure it all.

You don’t have to give them a say, you are still the parent after all, but you owe them an explanation. Resilience isn’t genetic, it’s engineered. It’s built. It requires preparation. Give them the respect of an explanation. Give them a word. Give them the window they need to absorb the shock, to recover…to be resilient.

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