The Android's Guide to Losing Your Innocence

I recently had a conversation with a group of writers about the topic of innocence. The consensus at the table was that shielding children from harsh realities allows them to hold onto their innocence and to hold onto some sort of happiness. But when people want children to hold on to their innocence, I thought they really meant ignorance, and I didn’t think we were doing our children any service by lying to them.

Children are resilient, they tell me.
But you throw one toddler out the window of a moving car...

People think children can’t deal with hard topics like death, divorce, or the non-existence of Santa Claus or other mythical beings. They believe shielding a child from reality will make their life better. I don’t know if it actually does, though.

Growing up, I was constantly told white lies, shielded from reality, and told magical stories to soften the blow of reality. All this did was give me a false sense of reality. I was told there were demons hiding in the darkness, waiting to eat my soul. But don’t worry, as long as I was up on my tithing, the invisible angels would fight the demons on my behalf. No wonder I was afraid of the dark till I was ten.

I was told that when I died I would be transported to a world of pony rides, fluffy clouds, and all-you-can-eat ice cream sundaes. It sounded like heaven. I couldn’t wait to die! Then they told me that whole “suicides go to Hell” clause, so I quickly had to make new life plans.

I wrote an entire novel about Hell this year.
By the end of this blog, you'll understand another
big part of my life that inspired the topic matter.

I was told that mom and dad fought, but they loved me and they would never leave. That didn’t last.

I was told that Santa Claus would give me presents as long as I was good, no matter how poor we were.

I was told that our government was infallible and would never do anything to hurt innocent people. We were the good guys. It wasn’t till I was older that I understood the government is not an omnipotent being. It’s made up of people, and people make mistakes.

In being shielded from reality, I was ignorant to reality. I was given lies and half-truths, some of which my parents themselves might have believed, and eventually it all came tumbling down. I figured out the Santa Claus one pretty early when I questioned it. How could he break into my house if we didn’t have a chimney? If he could so easily crack a window open and come in to drop off presents, what stops a Grinch from stealing my presents the next day?

Once I became intelligent enough to draw the veil back on the myth of Santa Claus, around six-years-old, the other veils also started to drop rather quickly. I soon learned that not everyone believed in an afterlife, or some of them had their own stories that didn’t involve Christians. Those other people thought Christians had it wrong. I learned that everyone had to die, even mommy and daddy, and I soon learned of war and famine and pestilence, and all the suffering that is the reality of human existence.

I took it rather hard, especially after my parents’ divorce, which I never thought could happen. Something I had always taken for granted had been taken away from me. I was only eight, so of course I took it hard, and my experience with this is a common one. I had never been prepared for it because no one had even told me it was something that happened. Why would a father leave his children? Why would a mother kick a daddy out and keep him from his children? I couldn’t understand, because people had only given me lies or half-truths till then.

My daughter is only three at this point. While I haven’t quite covered war and genocide with her, I do plan on teaching her as much about reality as I think she can handle. She will know death. She will understand poverty, because I will tell her my own stories. She will know of divorce. She will know of depression and suicide. These topics can’t all be covered on the first day of kindergarten, but I am prepared to be brutally honest with my daughter when she asks questions about these topics.

I thought people didn’t give kids enough credit. They are sentient beings with the ability to learn multiple languages before the age of four. They can understand these topics if you give them a chance, right? I never want to lie to my daughter, even when it hurts, because I felt like all the lies made it hard to grasp reality and to trust the adults around me.

My Little Bit with her aunt's new kitten.
Kittens and toddlers. What could be more innocent?

I wrote the original draft of this months ago, but after this week, I do wish I could keep my daughter blind to reality. I changed a lot of the verbs to past tense, because I do understand now more than ever why parents try to build a protective veil around their kids. I understand the desire, because I have it too.

You see, this week my wife and I separated after being married for over eleven years. This has been a long time coming. We fought our hardest to salvage it, and we are working closely to make it as easy on our daughter as possible, but it's happening. She moved out on Friday and I had my daughter alone for the last two days. She is only three and she already understands what’s going on, and it breaks my heart. She has had more tantrums, crying, and said the word ‘no’ more in the last two days than she has in the last few months.

I asked her to use the potty. No…

I asked her if she wanted to go to the park. No…

I asked her if she wanted candy. No…

She has never said no to the park or candy. That’s new and I hope it doesn't stick around. She also literally cried over spilled milk and needed me to console her to get over it. While we tried to soften the blow of separating, she’s already intelligent enough at three to understand that a big change has occurred, and she doesn’t like it one bit. Feeling out of control of the situation, she decided to pass the pain she is feeling right back onto us, and we’re going to try to grin a bare it. If I knew a way to shield her from this pain, no matter how much she might resent me for it in the future, I would do it in a heartbeat.

I don't agree with my original thesis at this point, but I still do plan to pick my battles when it comes to what I keep from my daughter. Parents just want their kids to not feel that pain, and this weekend I understand it more than ever. See, no matter how much of a know-it-all I am, I’m not always right!


  1. My dear Joshua, I only met you yesterday and my heart goes out to you. I read your dark story about childhood innocence and bled for you through the sentences. I was happily thrilled when I saw your final comments, how your views have been tempered about protecting your young child. She will benefit from kindness. Special and extra hugs are called for at this time - for you and for her. The future is what we make it. Godspeed!


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