Answering Hard Questions

One of my favorite things about being a parent is when one of my kids approaches me with a question. Something they are wondering about, mulling over. “Mom,” someone will say, “I have a question.” And in that moment, the pause before the asking, I brace myself. Because who knows what the question will be, or if I’ll even be able to answer it. But I love that they come to me for answers. I love the way the questions they ask give me glimpses into their little minds, revealing wonder, mystery, and logic. And I love that after the question is asked and it is time for the answer, we’ll have a chance to learn together.

My oldest, Hunter, is a great asker of questions. He loves to learn. But lately he is the one formulating the answers. I love encouraging him to find solutions, and express his thoughts and opinions. We are developing a mutual respect toward each other in our learning and understanding of things. Which makes it hard not to be completely honest and upfront with him when he approaches me with a really good question. Like how babies are made. But that is a topic for another post.

Most recently the subject of our conversation was Santa Claus. Yes, I know, it isn’t even December yet. But Santa has already become a frequent topic at our house. Hunter came home from school one day and started telling me about the BMX bike he wants for Christmas.

“We’ll see what Santa says about it.” I said. And then I watched him make a face. One that said, “Whatever, Mom.” So I asked him, “What are you thinking about Santa these days?”

“Well, I know he isn’t real. Nobody can live in the North Pole, and Reindeer can’t fly.”

And this is where I had to admire his logic, and couldn’t make myself quell his very reasonable doubts. Instead, I pushed him a little bit. “So who do you think has been bringing you presents all this time?” I asked.

And of course Hunter, being the boy that he is, had an answer. Just not the one I expected. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. But clearly he’d been thinking about it. “The United States Government?”

Because of course if someone is going to bring you presents while you are sleeping, those toys and games your heart is most set upon, it is not going to be your parents. It is the government. I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. And then I told him the truth, which unfortunately, was harder for him to believe than his own hypothesis.

“Why?” he wanted to know, “would you and dad buy me all those presents?”

It was a little concerning, I have to admit.

But at this point, things got more complicated. My six-year old daughter came on the scene. She discovered that secret knowledge had been shared and wanted to know, “Why would you tell your son a secret, and not your daughter?”

So I bamboozled her — my daughter who believes in fairies with all her heart, and writes them notes to lure them to her room at night. I wasn’t ready to tell her the truth yet. So I told her that the secret was about the United States Government. It was just a little stretch. I told her that while the government does NOT bring gifts to kids at night, the CIA can sneak into people’s houses and listen to their phone conversations.

“Oh,” she said, her mouth a little cheerio. “Does Daddy know?”

So Hattie thinks she got the same information as Hunter. But I don’t feel bad about lying to her about it. For her the magic of childhood is still so real. And for Hunter, science and reason is growing into a whole new world of magic and wonder. One that I get to be a part of every time I hear the words, “Mom, I have a really good question.”

QUESTION: Have you had experiences with your children where a question has been the foundation for a great discussion?

CHALLENGE: Next time a child has a question for you, do your best to turn that question into a meaningful teaching or relationship-building moment.

Image: Filomena Scalise /

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