Dear Family Coach: Lately, my 8-year-old son has been begging me to take him to a cemetery. He seems very curious about death, and I'm both uncomfortable and confused. We never talk about death or watch movies about death, yet it's on his mind. I can't imagine ushering him through a cemetery. What should I do? — R.I.Parent
Dear R.I.P.: Walking through a cemetery is an incredible experience, especially when you aren't there to bury someone. When people choose to be buried, I'm guessing they are hoping that someone will go there to visit their graves. It seems like a mitzvah (a good deed) to head there for the sole purpose of honoring those who rest there.
Your son's interest in death is normal and healthy. I'm more worried about you. What are you afraid of, and what are your fears about death? Before talking to your son further about death and thinking about visiting the cemetery, you should dig deep about why you are so fearful. If you have had some trauma or early painful experiences about death, then I would enlist the help of a therapist. The more you pretend that death doesn't exist, the more curious and, quite frankly, fearful your son will become. Don't do that to him.
Once you become comfortable with the idea of mortality, it might be interesting to learn about how various cultures handle death and burial. Do some research together on the internet. Then, with some knowledge about customs, head over to a nearby cemetery. Take a walk. Read the names. Calculate the age of death. Notice religious symbols or interesting headstones. Talk to your son about what it was like to lose a family member and what your preferences are for when you pass on. Preventing discussions about death doesn't make death avoidable. It just makes kids unprepared for all that happens after. Use this as a beginning for your both to explore death on a deeper level. You will better off for it, and so will your son.
Dear Family Coach: This is going to sound silly, but we're about to get our first dog and my husband and I told our daughter, who's 9, that she can name it. She's decided the dog will be called "Muffin," and we hate it. I mean, really hate it. Can we take back the offer? Perhaps make a side deal? — Muffin Hater
Dear Hater: Oh, no! This is a classic case of speaking-before-thinking parenting. We have all done it, so there is no shame in your game. But now's a good time to recognize where you went wrong so you can be more careful in the future.
When you gave control over to your daughter, you probably didn't think of how you might feel after she executed her decision. This is one reason many parents exhibit too much control over their kids' lives. They worry (or perhaps they know) that they can't handle allowing their children to make decisions for themselves. What if they make poor choices? What if they get hurt or fail? I give you credit for the idea of allowing your daughter to name the dog. But you receive a demerit for wavering.
As far as Muffin is concerned, you could gently suggest to your daughter that Muffin doesn't look much like a Muffin. However, going back on your word sets up a not-so-great precedent. Do you want to be reneging parents? I'd broach the subject of a name change lightly. If your daughter is game, try to find some common ground. But if she is resistant, learn to love Muffin. What's in a name anyway?
Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.