Why did you decide to become a parent? To decide is to choose. In some circumstances, becoming a parent is not a choice. From the pregnant teen to the grandparent, a decision was made that resulted in the responsibility of parenting. If you are a parent, I am going to ask for a moment of reflection. How do you respond when your child asks you a question?
My heart breaks when I hear a parent respond with pure sarcasm, or they respond in a hurtful tone. They act as though the child is an idiot for not knowing. Where is the brown sugar? Same place it has always been (you idiot). Hey dad, what time is my practice tonight? I don’t know known son; it isn’t my responsibility. Here is the worst: Will you make me a sandwich? What does this look like, a restaurant? And then they make the sandwich.
Parenting is the greatest challenge. What is our role as parents? This answer will certainly vary based on where you are in the world and your demographics. I believe that our role as parents is to raise children that can survive and thrive, and make the world a better place. I also realize this is not my choice. Parents are not their children. This seems to be a truth that many parents struggle to accept. Why else would we think it okay, in a society that idolizes individuality, for a 26-year-old to remain on their parents’ insurance? Often parents cling to their children as their identity. The child’s performance determines their mood. They justify their inability with the idea that the world is an awful and dangerous place. So these parents shelter their children from the realities of a world that can be harsh and unforgiving. The child rebels, and the overbearing mom doubles down while the passive father stands idly by.
We raise our children to believe the world owes them something when the world owes nothing. The soil requires a seed to be planted and tended before it will bear fruit. Here is the harsh reality we want to shelter our children from – sometimes, the plant does not bear fruit. Sometimes it is cut down. Sometimes there is a lack of water, and it dies. Sometimes the government changes the rules and seizes the plant. Sometimes your best friend steals the plant. Sometimes they are too lazy to tend the plant, and it never produces.
The world is neutral and accepting of what we present to it. If we ask without discipline, it will not respond. If we show up expecting the worst, it will deliver the worst. If we show up ready to serve, it will allow us an opportunity to serve. It is much easier to justify our current situation as a situation out there. Accepting responsibility for every aspect of life is tough to swallow. So we teach our children to fear the world versus taking it for what it is.
Why do we respond with an air of superiority, sarcasm, and disgust when our children ask us seemingly obvious questions?
Parents might need to demonstrate authority or superiority.
This response breaks my heart because, at some point, the child will stop asking questions. It is as though the parent wants their child to feel like an idiot. Their response is curt and harsh, as though they are not to be bothered by such a line of questioning.
Think before you respond. Is this an opportunity to teach or share a lesson? What is a potential underlying motive for the questions? Restrain the shame. Do not shame your child – ever! You are the authority, so there is no need to fuel your ego or validate your position. Your response should maintain the child’s dignity and encourage further questions if additional clarity is required. Be the adult.
Parents might feel a lack of confidence in an adequate or appropriate response.
You are supposed to have the answer, but sometimes you don’t. So you respond with disgust to throw your daughter off your scent. The reality is, who cares if you don’t have all of the answers. Teaching your child to say, “I don’t know” is an incredible lesson for a child to understand that they don’t have to have all of the answers. Don’t let your lack of confidence or insecurity stifle your child’s curiosity.
When your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to say, “I don’t know, but I bet we can find out” and proceed to find the best answer. Fuel their curiosity by engaging in the pursuit of answers instead of stonewalling in a veil of confidence.
Parents might lack the patience to articulate an appropriate or adequate response.
We are likely too busy being distracted by our phones or some form of mindless entertainment to be bothered. We might be slammed and dead tired when we get home. I get it, life can be hard. We pretend as though we had no blame in our current situation. The truth is that every decision we have made leads us to this present reality. Your number one responsibility is your child or children, yet we seek to escape through distraction and busyness. “I don’t have time. I am so stressed out.” You chose your current situation, but your children did not. They need your time and your patience.
Put down the phone and look your child in the eye. Don’t mistake presence for being present. Your child is there, but you are so addicted to the voyeurism that is social media. When your child asks a question, put down the phone and give them your undivided attention. If you don’t, the questions will stop. When the questions stop, your ability to influence will be severely diminished.
Parents might lack empathy, which makes it nearly impossible to respond in a meaningful way.
We forget what it is like to be six, twelve, or sixteen. It all seems so obvious to us. Their worries and concerns are trivial in comparison to the realities of life. We disregard their reality as insignificant, so we tell them it doesn’t or shouldn’t matter. Wow. What a blow. They are feeling this pain, this fear, this anxiety, and their parents shun them as though it is inconsequential in comparison to what the parent is experiencing — another heart breaker. Your child cries for help, but you are so caught up in your own drama that you cannot acknowledge theirs. You should be fired. Our children need our empathy, but don’t mistake empathy for coddling. Instead of empathizing with a child and helping them navigate their situation, the parent coddles them and validates their feeling sad. How is a child to develop the ability to cope if they are sheltered from dealing with reality?
Meet your child where they are, and seek to understand. Don’t minimize or shame their feelings. Avoid attempting to take your child’s pain away. Help them understand their feelings and come up with a plan. The reality is that life is suffering, and there are consequences for our choices. Teaching this simple lesson will help empower them to take responsibility for their lives.
Parents should encourage questions.
Learn to make measured responses. Avoid making your child feel stupid or inferior for asking questions. When we answer harshly or in a derogatory manner we discourage curiosity and deaden the lines of communication. If your child fears being wrong, you have failed. We must be wrong to learn what is right. Trying to avoid being wrong minimizes our contribution. To minimize our contribution is to eliminate progress and growth.
Questions are the seeds of knowledge. Our children’s future is dependent on their ability to ask the right questions and then seek answers. Parents should respond with patience and empathy to facilitate learning and growth. How will you respond?