Rebecca Masinter

Tired of Answering Questions.. Again?

A simultaneously delightful and exhausting aspect of parenthood is the constant stream of questions youngsters ask . Why is it raining? What is for dinner? When will Daddy come home? Who are you talking to? How does the washing machine work? Every parent of a toddler knows that as a child learns to talk, they also begin to express their insatiable curiosity about the world through incessant questions. 


As our children grow older, their questions become more intimidating and harder to answer. How does the stock market work? Why do bad things happen to good people? What’s photosynthesis? While it's tempting to feel irritated by our children’s questions (particularly those we don’t have answers for), and reply with a curt dismissal (“That’s just the way the world works!”) or push them somewhere else (“Go search on YouTube”), parents must recognize the hidden treasure within our children’s questions and embrace them.


Asking questions is not simply a search for information. Our children learn at a very young age that we don’t know everything. They also quickly learn that the internet is a storehouse of information with explanatory videos addressing all types of questions. When children ask their parents questions instead of searching elsewhere, they aren’t merely seeking information, they are seeking a relationship. A person who asks a question of another is making themselves vulnerable by admitting their ignorance and acknowledging that they believe the other person holds the answers for which they seek. A child’s question is an opportunity for relationship building. When a parent recognizes and honors their child’s question by expressing admiration and appreciation for their question, whether or not they know the answer, they are contributing to a strong parent-child connection.


Children naturally yearn for secure relationships with their parents. Children (even those who seem to always know better than mom or dad) desire their parents to be a source of wisdom, leadership, and guidance. When a child asks a question of their parent, they aren’t only asking for a factual response, they want to know that their parent has a response for them. They want to know that their parents are listening to them, that they yearn to listen to them, and are willing to share generously with them. Children who ask questions are seeking more than just information, they are seeking connection.


This isn’t to say that parents must have answers for all their children’s questions. Of course that’s impossible. Certainly there are times parents must say “I don’t know” or “Let’s look it up online” or “Why don’t you ask your teacher”. Yet, even when we can’t answer our child’s question ourselves, we must embrace the question. We should delight in the fact that our child is seeking answers from us and express that joy to them. “What a great question! I’m so glad you asked. I don’t know the answer, but let’s look it up together” is completely different than “I don’t know. Go look it up.”


This week I, along with countless Jewish women around the globe, am busy preparing for the upcoming holiday of Pesach (Passover) which begins this year on Monday evening, April 22. As we usher in the festive holiday, we will sit down with our families and begin the Seder, the lengthy festive meal with fifteen proscribed steps where we retell the story of the Exodus. As we get ready to begin the retelling, children at all our tables will ask the Mah Nishtana, the famous question “Why is this night different from all other nights?”. We begin transmitting our foundational national experience to our children by answering their questions. 


Twice, the Torah tells us to answer our children’s questions by telling them about the Exodus from Egypt. In Shemot (Exodus) 13:14 “And it shall be when your son asks you in time to come, saying, What is this? that you shall say to him, ‘By strength of hand the Lord brought us out of Miżrayim, from the house of bondage.’” And again in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:20-21 “When your son asks you in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God has commanded you? Then you shalt say to your son, We were the bondmen of Par῾o in Miżrayim; and the Lord brought us out of Miżrayim with a mighty hand.” 


Questions and answers between children and parents are foundational to transmitting our history, culture, and heritage. It isn’t enough for parents to tell children their fundamental values, generational transmission works best when a child asks and a parent answers. 


When your child approaches you to ask yet another question, cherish the moment and respond in a way that creates closeness and connection between you. Parents have great amounts of wisdom and experience to impart to their children, including the lesson that asking questions of people you love and trust is key to wisdom, growth, and enhanced relationships.