One thing we have always agreed on as parents was that we would speak to our children as we would speak to anyone. Sure, we did goofy baby talk and age-appropriate vocabulary when we needed to get something across or to help them formulate their thoughts, but aside from that, it was all grownup talk, all the time.
Another thing I especially wanted to instill was the ability to reason and question and explore and debate. Being free to do those things is one of the great joys of my life, and my parents’ allowing and encouraging this during my upbringing has served me well. No sheep, me.
In our house growing up, you could challenge each other. You could ask for more information, some supporting evidence, and that usually led to acceptance and understanding (it also led to a few groundings and silencings). To be fair, if you took a stance or offered an opinion, you had to be prepared to back it up, or if necessary be open to persuasion to the contrary. Nothing would get you shredded (in a nice way) faster than being caught out with nothing propping up your point, and if you asserted something you had better know what you were talking about if you wanted anyone to listen. It was a household of very, very smart individuals, and they could smell bluff and ignorance. It was great fun.
Not all families are like that, but I feel a rush whenever I encounter someone who likes a good debate, who is as interested in the source of information as in the data itself. I am not one to accept an argument without thinking it through and trying to poke a few holes in it and I would be disappointed if someone took whatever I said on faith and without question. (That does NOT apply in all situations. If I say I am honest, take that to the bank. If I say I love you, you can cash that on the street.)
Take Mr. X. We have some very divergent opinions, and have not gotten into most of them very deeply yet, but one night a little scuffle erupted while we were making dinner. At one point, I hesitated, and wondered if I’d pissed him off. He replied, “No, I wanted to see how you argued.” SCORE.
Occasionally I run into folks who perceive open and spirited debate as a personal affront, as aggression. They may have been discouraged from questioning authority or taught that it is never polite to contradict. Sometimes I am good with that, sometimes I step in it. I feel for anyone like that who spends any extended amount of time with our family. To wit, once all three of us were buckled in after pick-up:
“All right everyone, listen up: I am not feeling well today; I may be coming down with what you’ve had. So I want to ask you to be especially good tonight, and not to fight, and to try to help each other and let me relax a bit. Everybody with me?”
“Ok, Mama, ok, I will be good.”
Two seconds later, fisticuffs erupted and the screaming began. I whipped around in my seat.
“Logan William, you are already in trouble with me from kicking that ball today, do you think you could behave for two minutes in a row, at least so we can drive home in peace?”
“Sure, Mom. I can handle that. I can handle anything, even your bad behavior.”
“What was that?”
“I mean, you’re not behaving bad now, but I can handle even your worst behavior. If you ever behaved that badly. Not now, I mean.”