One day as we were going for a walk they asked me why all the dogs in the neighbourhood barked as we went past. I told them that the dogs are protecting their property and think we might be burglars. To which my 3 year old replied, “You’re not a burglar you’re the answer lady!”
I liked being the answer lady until they started asking questions I didn’t have answers for. From around 4 they started to ask about what happens after we die and can everything get sucked into a black hole and what is our purpose and how did the universe begin and other such perplexing inquiries.I don’t have all the answers. None of us do. We are not encyclopedias or the Internet or philosophical sages. I realized that by providing the answers I’d been robbing them of the opportunity it to have wonder at the world: To ponder and contemplate and question and be in awe.
One of the most marvelous things about life is the mystery that it holds which comes in all the unanswered questions. It’s like the hugest puzzle we’ve ever attempted and we’ll be lucky in our lifetime to place one piece correctly and get a sense of how it contributes to the bigger picture.
Children approach the world with this incredible awe and by answering all their questions we take away some of the mystery. We teach them to assume that there is an answer and an explanation for everything and that nothing is particularly magical. We take away some of the excitement of trying to figure out what’s going on for ourselves.
So now what I do when they ask me a question, is that I throw it back at them with an…
“Aah. That is an interesting question. In fact philosophers like you, throughout time, have been pondering that same thing. I’d love to know what you think about that.”
Or if it’s a more factual question I suggest ways they might find out the answer themselves. Or I encourage them to think about it or set up an experiment to test their hypothesis. Or I suggest someone we know who is an expert in that field that they might be able to consult if they want to delve deeper.
I’m always open to having a discussion on something they’re exploring, but instead of being the answer lady I prefer now to be the “with you in the wondering lady”. It has helped me to grow as a person to not expect every question to have an answer: To know that some things are beyond my grasp right now and some things will be forever outside of my realm of understanding. The world is a little more alive when we look at it through the eyes of a child and ask “why?” without necessarily expecting an answer.
“Why?” shows a fascination with this very extraordinary place that we call home. As much as your children are genuinely trying to understand the world and may even need a concrete answer sometimes, it is important for us to acknowledge and value the questioning as much (or more so) than the answer.