“Wisdom begins in wonder” – Socrates
Every parent celebrates upon hearing their little one’s first words. But parenthood takes a dramatic turn for the wine cabinet when a child learns the word “why”. The relentless questions reveal the outer limits of our patience and, all too soon, our own knowledge. Once children figure out that the answers exist somewhere, “Can you google it then Mommy?” becomes another question in their repertoire. Their stream-of-consciousness method of questioning could be turned into the world’s most lethal drinking game but, I try to remind myself of the quote above that suggests we don’t learn by being complacent, we learn by being curious.
Now we all know that kids are all kinds of curious. And while I never want my children to stop wondering and attempting to understand the world and the people around them, it would be nice to take a break from this thankless exercise of answering all the questions. That is why what I’m going to say next will probably seem ridiculous – possibly certifiably insane – but just hear me out for a second. I’m going to start answering the questions they aren’t asking.
Yes, we have already established that being a child’s one-way ticket to knowledge is exhausting. So, why am I going to take some of those hard to come by moments of silence to answer a question they haven’t even asked me yet? Because of a brief encounter with a little girl and her mom.
As I got out of the car with my boys last week, I noticed a little girl walk past us with the most intense stare I’ve ever seen. She didn’t have to ask a question, you could see the curiosity in her face. Before I could even smile at her, her mom realized she was staring and quickly averted her attention as they walked away.
Her mom did exactly what I would have done had it been my children staring at someone. We are always so scared that their little minds will come up with a question highly inappropriate for the company we are in and that they will embarrass somebody (which, in turn, will embarrass us!). We distract and move on. We teach our children that it isn’t polite to stare but don’t always give them an alternative. But it is that wonder she had when she saw me that could lead her to so much wisdom. She had questions without answers which instantly makes something more mysterious and out-of-reach. And I guarantee you that being mysterious and out-of-reach is the last thing people getting stared at are hoping for.
I don’t know what happened with that little girl and her mom after our fleeting moment in the parking lot. Maybe they did have a conversation about the lady they saw getting out of the car with a wheelchair – or maybe they didn’t. All I know is that, in that moment, I realized how many times I have left my kids wondering. Whether it’s because I was in a rush, didn’t know how to correctly explain something or simply didn’t feel like answering more questions, I have left them wondering and inadvertently created barriers to their knowledge and understanding.
The important questions are not always the ones that our children ask. Really, 90% of the questions they do ask are inconsequential to the outcome of their lives. I have made it 31 years on my mom’s answer of “because that’s the way it is” on a great number of topics. But when our children are curious and wondering without words – when you have to seek out the questions to answer – that is when they will learn about the things that matter.
It’s okay not to have all of the answers. I mean, I hope it’s okay because my children have asked me many a question I cannot answer – it’s why we have such a close and personal relationship with Google. But don’t leave them wondering. In fact, teach them to never stop wondering so that their ideas and values can evolve with a world that does the same. And, for your own sanity, throw in a few “because that’s the way it is” every now and again. Because nobody needs a kid who knows absolutely everything.