The best advice on raising children I ever received.

We had our first parent-teacher interview when our son was around two years old. During the interview, one of the teachers said something that has stuck with me since.

“Whatever you tell your children will be the absolute truth to them.”

That statement has guided my entire parenting philosophy and has made me truly understand the responsibility I have to not fill my kid’s head with anything except for factual information. At the least, if I don’t know something, I’ll tell him I don’t know and we’ll go look it up together. It’s also the reason why my son, although he participates in and enjoys all the seasonal festivities, has known since age two that there is likely no such thing as Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and all other miscellaneous charms and angels. I teach him the historicity of the tales, and he enjoys them as he would Harry Potter or Star Wars. He also knows to have fun with it all and not to ruin it for the other kids. Notice I say likely because I’m convinced ironclad certainty in anything is an illusion. The more certain you are with one thing, the less you know or care to learn about all the other alternatives.

In about 500 years, he will be some kid's version of Santa Claus

In about 500 years, he will be some kid’s version of Santa Claus

“Whatever you tell your children will be the absolute truth to them.”

Think about what you know to be true. Why is true to you? Is it true to you because you were told it’s true or is it true to you in the absence of evidence to the contrary? Would the same be true to you if you were born in another place, in another time? As I’m about to turn the page on 38, I realize more than ever that I don’t know a damned thing. I don’t know anything beyond the thinnest surface of almost every topic there is to know about. Religion, science, quantum physics, foreign policy….whatever. I know the equivalent of radio sound-bytes for each topic when compared to the vast body of knowledge there is to know. And yet, based on this thinnest, almost negligible slice of humanity’s knowledge, everything I tell my boy will be accepted as the truth by him.  At least until he grows up and calls me out on my bullshit.

“Whatever you tell your children will be the absolute truth to them.”

At 38, I realize there are two types of truths. One that is backed by empirical evidence. And a second form of truth that is an interpretation of the first. How loose of an interpretation depends on the philosophy you live by and how you fill in the gaps of knowledge yet discovered. If there is anything I hope my son learns is that it is far better to not know something yet while you diligently research, than to accept as answers things that are not answers at all.

So what do I tell him when he asks me where babies come from, why the sky is blue and where we go when we die?

I tell him all animals mate to propagate their genes (with the exception of clonal colonies and those who do it by binary fission). We’re animals. Go watch Discovery to see how. Yeah pretty much the same.

I tell him the sky is blue because the blue wavelength within the visible spectrum of light is scattered more readily by molecules in the air and that his perception of the blue sky might be entirely different from how somebody else perceives the same sky depending on the distribution of rods and cones on the other person’s retina. Then I realize I have no clue what I’m talking about and we hit a physics website together to learn about optics.

I tell him that at least in my case, my carcus will be stripped of parts and given to whoever needs it with the rest of it going to a school for some med student to practice on. In terms of where ‘we’, as in how our conceptual mind in our physical brain defines ‘self’, go, I told him I didn’t know but a lot of people sure claim to.

“Whatever you tell your children will be the absolute truth to them.”

I’ve been relentlessly authentic with my boy since that interview, exposing him to the full spectrum of science and history. I caution him that these ideas, like all other ideas we have today, are the ones that survived and tell only a sliver of the whole story. Analogous to all life in nature, these ideas didn’t survive because they were the most ‘true‘, they survived because they were the most useful.

I have no clue nor do I really care was is actually true. It only matters what does the most good.

M