Triumphs and Fails: Breaking news to your children about the move and teaching children where electricity comes from.

Fail! How Not to Break the News to Your Children About Moving.

Fail! How Not to Break the News to Your Children About Moving.

The parenting grade.
March 12 2015 4:06 PM

Where Does Electricity Come From?

Not from the sky. Parenting fails on teaching children how things work and breaking the news about the big move.

Remember the time you overcame your hatred of crafts to make the perfect costume for your kindergartener’s school event? Remember the time the Tooth Fairy fell asleep and forgot to visit? What about the day when your kids agitated for a social cause they strongly believed in? What about the first time your 7-year-old dropped an F-bomb?

These little triumphs and fails happen to all parents, and they’re all worth celebrating (or rueing). At the beginning of each episode of Mom and Dad Are Fighting, Slate’s parenting podcast, we reveal parenting triumphs and fails from our own lives. We’ll share them here every other Thursday, the day the episodes go live.

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Sorry, kids.

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Allison Benedikt: Here’s the latest entry of the Benedikt Book of Fails! My sister actually asked me, “Does Dan ever fail? I feel like you always fail and Dan always triumphs.” It’s just because I am so honest.

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Dan Kois: We got an email from someone who thought that was gendered and I think it certainly is. I tend to focus on my triumphs a lot more than my fails.

Allison: I don’t notice mine. As I mentioned a few episodes back, John and I are moving—but what I failed to say is that I’m actually moving from the city to the suburbs. I have written in here: “Pause for Dan to gloat.”

Dan: I think it’s a great decision. Good job.

Allison: Long-time listeners of this podcast know that I passionately defended raising a family in the city in our epic “City Versus Suburbs” episode way back when—but I am a broken woman and off to New Jersey we will soon go. You can write me to tell me what you think of that. I’m sorry for everyone who is still raising their kids in the city that feels like I’ve let you down. I view this as a huge fail, the fail of a lifetime, but it’s actually not my fail this week.

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My fail is that, instead of preparing how we would like to tell our kids about this and waiting closer to the actual move date, which I think it will be in the summer, so as not to necessarily provoke an extended period of anxiety for our children—particularly Harry, who is an anxious kid and does not want to leave Brooklyn ever. He’s made it perfectly clear.

John and I just openly talked about the house hunt in front of our kids—and Harry figured it out, because he’s 6 and he can hear us. He flipped. I’m not surprised he flipped. I think he would probably flip when we sat him down in June instead of now, but I’m bummed at the way it went down. We didn’t do it in a more careful way and we didn’t keep the news from him longer. I feel that this is too long now for him to have to think about it. Hopefully he won’t, and we’re going to try our best to sort of dial it back and not talk about it as much so it’s not in his face. Although I think we’re going to be dragging him into open houses, that’s my fail.

Dan: I would like to push back hard on this one. I don’t think that’s a fail. I think that you are making this family decision and he is part of your family—and including him in that decision and making clear to him from the get-go what your plans are is the right thing to do. He would take it badly no matter when you did it and this gives him more time to get used to the idea, and start to get excited about things about it that are legitimately exciting. Seeing those houses is going to be great and interesting for him. I don’t think this is a fail. I think you’re being mean to yourself.

Allison: The thing is that I like the idea, kind of what previous guest Ron Lieber was saying—I don’t know if it was him saying this, or if  it was in one of his pieces that he wrote related to his book about being really honest about money—and this is another thing, a big family thing, there’s no reason to shield them from it. However, he’s not really involved in this decision, right? If he doesn’t want to go to New Jersey, or if he wants a different bedroom in a different house than the one we eventually picked, then it doesn’t really matter. I’m not taking that into account.

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Dan: Wouldn’t you rather lie to him that he’s involved in this decision than lie to him about moving at all?

Allison: We actually went on Sunday to look at houses at night. We went to get ice cream and I let him get a massive chocolate covered waffle cone and then I made some comment that was like: “Wow, I’ve never seen a cone like that in Brooklyn!” And he stopped mid-eating and said: “Stop trying to convince me.”

Dan: Maybe he’s too smart for you guys.

I have a triumph that turned into a fail. I played the “George Washington game” with my kids the other night. (In this game, the parent pretends to be Washington in the modern world, who needs everything modern explained to him.) We played it and it was really, really fun. It was not one of those games that is only fun for children and boring for adults. It was interesting to see how they led me around.

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They really loved explaining about grocery stores and dog food—and the difference between Mario and Luigi. They were very assertive and told me that it was not cool that I owned slaves.

While I was asking them who does stuff around the house, Lyra, who has studied George Washington, said, “We don’t have slaves like you do. That was not good that you have slaves. You shouldn’t have done that.”

Here’s the problem: It turns out this game was a really great way to learn about all the things that your children do not know—my fail, a big fail, is that my kids basically know nothing about how anything works. I asked where electricity actually came from before it came to the house, and Harper said: “It comes from the sky.” Then I asked Lyra where the water goes after flushing the toilet and she said: “I don’t know. A swamp or something. I don’t pay attention to any of that.” And they don’t actually understand the Internet or our furnace or our cable TV?

Allison: Do you?

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Dan: Yes! But I was a colonial gentleman and I couldn’t explain that to them. I think this was a big fail, because I don’t want to have kids who don’t know anything about how the world works or how things get in our house. I think this is a big fail. I don’t like having kids who don’t know about recycling, why recycling is better than garbage or that power plants make your electricity. That drives me crazy. I’m going to work on explaining that stuff to them but in this fun series. I felt like that was a fail. Please note that it was cloaked in the triumph that I was having a wonderful time with my children.

Allison: I think this is actually a book idea for you.

Dan: Explaining the world to your kids and to Allison Benedikt? That will be the title.

This transcript has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Listen to the rest of the episode here:

Allison Benedikt is Slate’s executive editor. Follow her on Twitter.

Dan Kois edits and writes for Slate’s culture department. He is writing a book called How to Be a Family and co-writing, with Isaac Butler, an oral history of Angels in America.