To Tell the Truth?

And so it has come to this: I’m about to have to start actually answering questions.

There’s so much good in this big world, and we love to share it with our kids. Baseball. Bar-B-Que. Friends. Love. Nature. This is all good stuff and their goodness is easily explained to little ones. But what do you do about the aspects of life that are hard for adults to explain and even harder for children to understand? Natural disasters. Death. Hurtful people. The Dallas Cowboys. I’m telling you, sometimes it can feel overwhelming.

Recently, as Bean and I were heading home from a quick trip to Whataburger — burgers and fries and Whataburger ketchup are filed under “good stuff” in my mind — we passed a homeless man. He was standing on a corner at an intersection we drive through at least twice each week. There is rarely a time when there isn’t someone panhandling on this particular corner, but as far as I know, Bean has never noticed. She at least has never said anything to me.

But that day she noticed. That day she pointed. That day I heard her little voice from the back seat call, “Look at this man, Daddy. He dirty!”

I didn’t know what to say. I admit it: I completely copped out. I just nodded and said, “Uh huh,” as parents do when their kids are talking non-stop and they don’t really want to pay attention. Except I was paying attention. I had heard her fine. I just didn’t know what to say.

The light turned green and we drove through the intersection.

Our encounter, if you can even call it that, with the homeless man was the first time I can remember when I didn’t have an answer for one of my kids. The Wife and I are fortunate that we’ve gone two-and-a-half years without having to answer any truly difficult questions. But now we’re coming to the point in Bean’s life — and it won’t be long from now, relatively speaking, in ElGuapo’s life — where tough questions are going to pop up.

What happened to the dog? (Still alive, currently, but 10-years-old.)
Why doesn’t the man on the corner have a home?
Why are people mean?
Why did Johnny Manziel leave A&M early?

OK, that last one is pretty easy.

I think there’s a certain amount of cleaning up a parent can and should do when answering tough questions posed by a toddler or a young kid. It’s not OK to out-and-out lie, but I believe withholding all the brutal facts isn’t a crime. Keep it true, but keep it simple. There are certain things little ones simply don’t need to know and shouldn’t have to process.

So, parents of kids older than mine, how do you answer the tough questions? 100% truth? 50/50? Sugar coat everything until the kids leave for college and have their impressions of the world destroyed by cruel sorority sisters and fraternity brothers?

Not so easy answering the tough questions, is it?


  1. Jenny Coleman McCumber

    It depends on the question… Sometimes I use the tried and true “What do you think?” response and marvel at how their brains work. And sometimes I give a basic, straightforward truthful answer. My advice is to only answer the question they ask – no need to go into deep explanation unless the questions keep coming.

  2. Rob Beaudreault

    Great question! I’m a big fan of asking a few questions of my kids to gauge their knowledge before I did down deep. Oftentimes, I find they know more that I thought and I just fill in blanks. Other times, I learn they were absolutely addressing a totally different issue. My kid asked me what a sign meant one day. I looked over and saw a huge XXX sign. I gulped and stammered. Turns out he was asking about a different sign and simply wanted to know what a pawn shop was. Questions are king to find context 🙂

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