Parents have always struggled with difficult questions posed by their little ones. The questions can range from pure biology: where do babies come from? Why can my brother pee standing while I have to sit? Social issues: why are some children my age selling things on the street? Why are my friend’s parents not living together? Metaphysical issues: where is God and why can’t I see Him? What happens after death? Why does God take people I love?
Some parents choose to employ an evasive strategy on occasion to distract the persistent child. Some firmly proclaim that some questions can’t be asked because it is disrespectful. And some brave parents actually try to find solid answers to prevent their children from further wavering into unknown territories. How about we stop searching for affirmative answers, engage their questions and admit that we too have limited knowledge and are filled with uncertainties?
As parents our children look up to us to make sense of the world around them. They derive their sense of safety or anxiety from our preparedness to offer care and love to their ever evolving needs and desires.
Recently I’ve noticed that in our utter dedication towards providing care for our children we have opted for removing every obstacle from their path. We try to give them a smooth and easy life to the extent that we are eradicating their ability to deal with any problem. Look at any children’s playground. When an issue erupts between two children about whose turn it is on the swing you find parents scurrying away to defuse the “situation” before any of the parties involved might actually try to solve the issue themselves.
Helicopter parenting starts with playground conflicts, sports tournaments and interpersonal relationships, where parents consider their role as primarily child managers rather than caregivers.
The same impetus kicks in when a child starts asking difficult questions. We scurry to provide plausible answers, even if we are unsure about its veracity lest a child exhausts their mind and ponders the query too much. Thinking is a distraction that must be omitted altogether: a child must be provided with answers to avoid taxing the brain too much.
Once I overheard a child telling his mother that he saw God. The mother’s response was one of shock and horror at her son’s profound transgression, and commanded him not to utter such stupidity. Lesson learned: don’t think about God, don’t speak about God, focus on what is in front of you and keep your head down because your natural inquisitive nature that God endowed you with is dangerous and can get you in trouble with a perpetually angry, out to get you, omnipotent being who dwells in the sky who waits for you to err.
I wondered at the time how different this conversation could have been if the mother stopped and asked her son what he saw and why did he think that this was God? But it didn’t happen because the mother probably was too afraid of her son wandering into an ephemeral realm where she can’t guide him. But, what would happen if she had been honest with her child and told him that she didn’t know if he had actually seen God, but the chances were he hadn’t because God reveals Himself to the hearts of His lovers but not their sight. Perhaps tell her son about the story of Moses when he asked to look upon God and was struck down.
When did becoming a parent turn to being a pedagogue who must prune a child’s healthy sense of curiosity into utter submission to our dogma?
A few days ago when I was putting my five-year old daughter to bed, she looked at me and asked me if the body hurts after death. I told her it is not supposed to. She declared that she doesn’t want to die, and wants to live forever, but became frustrated because she knows that she can’t.
I admit that my first instinct was to soothe her and tell her that she wouldn’t die for a long time, but I held her tight and said that I love her. Of course I wish that she will have a long and happy life, but there’s no certainty. I told her that death isn’t necessarily a bad thing and no one knows when they will die. This is why life and love are so precious, I told her. She was unsatisfied with this, but I was: I pulled back from my instinct to shield her from reality.
Being a parent was and remains the scariest thing I have done. The responsibility of shaping these little human beings is huge.
Nevertheless, our responsibility doesn’t entail our metamorphosis into the Owl of Minerva. So, the next time your children ask you a difficult question, it is perfectly alright to tell them: “I don’t know.”