To be a parent is to be assaulted with hard questions. And what’s especially hard is that these are fundamental questions, and most of us lack solid answers to them.
For example, when a child says, “Well, why shouldn’t I lie? It keeps me out of trouble and gets me what I want,” most parents have no real answer. We can say, “Lying is a sin,” or “Lying is wrong,” but that doesn’t actually answer the question. It merely steps around it, referencing an authority saying to not do it.
And again, this is a very fundamental question. Not having a clear answer to it is a problem… our problem. It shows us where we’re living by dogma, not according to reason and reality.
Having a perfect reason for everything is too hard a job for us, to be sure, and there are times when we have to rely upon something beside pure reason. But for fundamental questions asked by our children, we really should step up and find good answers.
Fortunately, finding good answers isn’t terribly hard, once we stop, take time, and come up with them. That, however, requires us to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have a good enough answer for you right now. But I’ll have one for you tomorrow.” That is honest, and it will teach your child to act honestly.
Now, as for the question of lying, a first answer is simple enough:
“Well, the ability of everyone to get along and trust one another depends upon it; if that fails, most everything else falls apart with it.”
From there you can explain the necessity of trust between farmer and seed supplier, car maker and tire maker, and so on.
Then, if you wish, you can explain that this necessity of trust is why the old moral codes (the Ten Commandments, etc.) make lying an offense; that it was seen over long periods that bearing false witness created disasters… or that God knew that destroying trust meant disaster.
With that accomplished, you can begin examining the possibility of exceptions to the rule: “white lies” to save someone’s feelings and so on. From there you can move into the problem of getting used to telling those little lies and becoming false in a great many things, again ripping trust apart.
We could go still deeper on this (how it affects us, a crucial issue), but I think you can see how small, fundamental questions create hard work for a parent. For that you have my condolences, but you must do the job anyway. But remember, you can always say, “That’s a hard one to answer, so you’ll have to give me a few days for it.”
A Fundamental Piece
A crucial component in answering these questions is to accept that life can be tragic and difficult… to incorporate that concept into your answers.
Please understand that when I say “tragic and difficult,” I’m don’t mean that we should be defeatist, moaning and complaining about things. I honestly think that we should feel and act triumphant rather than defeated, but there can be no question that life on this planet is difficult. We have to accept that fact, rather than trying to deny it.
I do think we can rise above a lot of the pains and hassles of Earth life, but that’s the result of heroism, and, if we’re to be honest, a not insignificant amount of luck.
Life here is not fair, and good people do suffer unjustly. This truth is a primary reason why we must help one another through life. Without helping one another, we wouldn’t be able to keep our heads above water, so to speak. We’re running just a step or two ahead of tragedy, and if we start placing obstacles in front of one another, a whole lot of us will go under.
Now, even if there was no tragedy on this planet, helping each other forward would still be necessary (it would move us ahead faster and better), but the tragic aspect of life makes it a far more pressing necessity.
A Few More
Here are just a few more of the tough questions, along with brief first responses. Please take these as suggestions only; dealing with your child, in your circumstances, will require your judgment and creativity.
- “Why do you get to tell me what to do?” Because it’s our job to make you a good person, and because children are born knowing almost nothing; parents have to do this. By the time you’re big, we won’t tell you much of anything; you’ll decide everything for yourself. For now, we’re trying our best to get you ready for that.
- “Why can’t I talk about poop? It’s funny.” Because grown-ups, and even older children, think it’s kind of gross. If you talk about it while they’re eating, it makes them feel yucky, and a lot of times it makes them feel yucky even if they’re not eating. I know it seems funny to you, but you’re making things harder for them. Don’t do that.
- “Why do I have to use manners?” (See our essay dedicated to this subject in another post.)
- “Why can’t I use bad words?” Because it bothers people. People like to use such words because it makes them feel powerful, but it disrupts more important things… necessary things. And a lot of little interruptions can make real problems. Instead of distracting and disrupting people, try to keep things smooth for them. Those words tend to pull people away from better uses of their minds.
- “Why can’t I wear this?” This is usually an issue of dressing provocatively, and one answer to the question is again, because it disrupts people. This is complicated, of course, by the fact that young women, in particular, need to feel like they can disrupt the attention of young men. So, this question becomes double-difficult. In that case, you can explain that this isn’t the right time or place to dress that way. Or, maybe you need to swallow hard and admit that it is. Or, maybe you should find a middle way.
And so we see again that parenting is not for the faint of heart. Improvise, adapt and overcome.