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Without a doubt, children ask some provocative questions. Innately a curious person by nature, I don’t mind the challenge when my children interrogate me on a number of subjects. Sometimes I’ll admit though, it’s hard to explain situations that are far from their reality.

Here’s a scenario I certainly never anticipated. My eight-year-old daughter is somewhat fascinated with HGTV’s “House Hunters.” So recently when flipping through the channels to try to catch an episode, we happened upon the TLC network’s “Sister Wives” instead. Insert gulp here.

“Oh, you probably won’t be interested in that show,” I say. “What is it?” she asks. I tersely tell her it’s about polygamy—a word I know she’s never heard. Surely she’ll learn about it in a Sociology class in college, in about ten years from now. Photo: www.anglican-mainstream.net

So my attempt at an explanation goes something like this. “Polygamy is a marriage where someone can have more than two spouses. In this case, the man has several wives.”

I say it without judgment or emotion. As a Sociology minor in college, I learned about lots of other cultures, religions, and ideologies. I want my children to live in a household that teaches acceptance and broadens their world view, but this is one I found a stretch to explain in a way that would make sense to a child.

She furrows her eyebrows and laughs, uttering this question: “So then who’s the mommy of the children?”

I haven’t had enough coffee for this conversation, yet I take another crack at enlightening her.

“Well, the actual, biological mom is the one who gave birth to the baby, but the other ‘moms’ help out.”

I begin to ponder the arrangement myself and wonder if, as monogamists, we’re the oddballs. Clearly, raising three children and tending to numerous household tasks could go more smoothly with a few other bodies in the home.

I keep these strayed thoughts to myself, knowing I simply did my best to explain a lifestyle that is downright foreign to her. I know I have the best of intentions as her mom, her first teacher.

The truth is, many conversations we’ll have with our children will be awkward. Some topics are categorically difficult for them to understand. Waiting for a child’s inquiry is probably better than providing information he or she isn’t ready to digest. A child’s age and maturity level can matter a lot in these circumstances.

The obvious areas many children question—death, illnesses or natural disasters—clearly aren’t the only subjects that may prompt questions. Lifestyle, family and social/economic differences surround us every day. Children may ask why their friends received high-priced electronic gadgets for the holidays when they didn’t. It’s important for children to learn that families have different rules, different budgets and different commitments.

Most experts agree that simple explanations work best. Yet simple explanations are often hard when a child’s frame of reference is so different from what he or she views.

Parents may want to follow these steps when their children ask difficult questions:


Test the Waters: Find out what a child already knows about the subject you’re discussing. Children hear a lot other places, such as school.


Be honest: Asking questions often takes a lot of courage for a child. Make sure you earn your child’s trust by giving accurate information.

Keep it simple: Avoid complex information and details, as they could be confusing or overwhelming to a child.

I’m thankful now that I had an opportunity to have this unique conversation with my daughter. I watched her expression as she put her faith in me for clarity on something bewildering to her young mind. This open communication brought us even closer, a step I know will be extremely important for parenting her in the years ahead.

Julia Sherwin is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chester County. She is a former college journalism instructor who enjoys running, biking, swimming, traveling and cooking.

Email her at jsherwin73@gmail.com  and followe her on Twitter @JuliaSherwinPoPYou can also follow her other parenting articles at juliasherwin.wordpress.com.

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