Parenting is both a privilege and challenge. In the beginning, it brings much joy as we watch our children grow and begin to learn new words and concepts. We laugh as they mispronounce new words, use a word incorrectly, use them out of context or repeat big phrases they don't understand. Then they learn the power of new words like “why” or “what's dat?” and we answer the endless questions (studies say around 300 for the average 4-year-old) of a curious and growing mind. We wish we could stay in that sweet place of easy answers, laughter, and trust. But a day comes when the questions become harder to answer and the issues more complicated.
At the Brave parenting seminar, we learned the commands God gave the Israelites as they entered the Promised Land as to how they were to instruct their children. It wouldn't be a once a year formal table, set with our fragile china, like many of us will use this Thanksgiving. It would more like our coffee table where life happens. It would be when we rise and when we lie down, when we sit and when we walk. We were reminded that sometimes we get to choose when those moments happen and sometimes someone else would choose for us. How do we respond when the tough questions are asked? It's hard to give a prescriptive answer when even we, as believing parents, have differing opinions, beliefs, and political views.
As a parent of adult children and five grandchildren, I look back at the journey of parenting and reflect on what I wish I would have known therein. It would have made things easier if God would have given us a textbook. Something like the “Book of Scripts” that we could confidently turn to chapter and verse. A book with all the questions our children are asking about abortion, terrorism, hurricanes, suicide, war, abuse, transgender issues, police, racism, shootings, bullying and more, followed by exactly the right words we could just recite. But instead, He gives us principles, proverbs, parables and commands and challenges each of us to know Him and discern how He would want us to answer. What do I believe? What is right? Is there a sacred boundary? How does God want me to respond?
Though there is no script, there is a simple formula that may help you navigate the questions our children are asking us today. Here are few suggestions to help you frame the conversation.
Ask clarifying questions. It important to know what your child heard. You might need to modify your response when you find out where they heard about that particular topic. Asking clarifying questions will help you to answer only the questions they are actually asking.
“Where did you hear that?”
“Who told you about this?”
“What did they say?”
"Did anyone else say something about that?"
If it is a subject or event that you need to bring up and address you might ask:
“Did you hear about what happened today?”
“Do you know the word ______?”. “Do you know what it means?”
Ask questions that invite them to tell you what they are thinking and feeling.
“What do you think about that?”
“What are you feeling?
“Are you worried, scared, angry, disappointed?”
Be sure to give them time to think through and share all their thoughts and feelings.
Share your own experience or stories and what you believe. Kids love to hear that you faced the same or similar issues when you were young and how you made it through them.
Point them to God's Word. If you do this often and from the time they are young it will become their first reference instead of Google or Wikipedia. His Word is full and true and will give them a firm foundation.
Ask them, “Do you know if the Bible says anything on this subject?” Open the Bible, help them find it and read it together. Write God's word on their heart in these tender open moments.
Give them the freedom to wrestle through the tough questions. As they grow older they may not believe exactly what you believe and that can be tough to accept. Most of us did not form our beliefs in one day...and they won't either. It will be an ongoing conversation that lasts years, not months.
Invite them to join you around the coffee table.
Jan is from Clovis, CA. She and her husband Bob have been married for 42 years. She is a mother of 3 adult children and has 5 grandchildren (three of them at National Community Church). She is self-employed, working with her husband in financial services. She often visits the DC area to spend with her family.