When my daughters were toddlers, it was adorable how often they asked me, “Why?”
Why is the sky blue?
Why do dogs smell each other’s butts?
Why does Dad go potty standing up?
Why do you shave your legs?
Why is it dark at night?
But when they got older and became tweens, the whys took a different turn, and they became annoying.
“Please clean up your room,” I tell them, and when they say, “Why?” I feel frustration welling up inside of me. “Because I said so!” I want to shout, but I don’t.
There are more whys these days, along the same lines:
Why can’t I have my own phone?
Why do I have to turn off the TV?
Why isn’t our house as nice as Jenny’s?
Why do we have to go to bed at 8?
Why won’t you buy me (insert expensive, unnecessary thing here)?
And after a barrage of these questions, requests, and the seeming sense of entitlement they imply, I’m exhausted. I’m tempted to tell them to stop questioning me, do as they’re told, and “Just be good!”
But is that really what I want? Good girls who stay quiet, don’t ask why, and do as they’re told? Are those the teenagers and young adults I want to raise?
My daughters will face many situations as they grow up, and whether I like it or not, they will not all be easy, or even safe. When a pushy peer, boyfriend, or boss asks them to do something they don’t feel comfortable with, I want them to ask why with confidence.
I want my daughters to question every request that makes them uncomfortable, even if those requests come from their parents. And that’s because I want them to feel that they deserve an answer, and always have a right and the power to say no.
Although this might not be a popular parenting philosophy, I don’t want to teach my daughters that they should silently respect authority no matter what, even if that authority is mine.
This does make my job as a parent a little harder. It’s certainly easier to control my daughters’ behavior when they just do what I say without questioning me.
But I’d rather work harder to come up with logical explanations and foster a relationship based on respect, empathy, and teamwork that inspires my daughters to say yes to my requests rather than scares them or shames them into submission.
And I’d rather they say no to me, even if it’s frustrating, than have them feel like they don’t have a choice. I want to raise girls who speak up for themselves, even if that means they practice it with me.
So I’m seeing their questioning in a new light. When they ask, “Why do I have to wash my hair?” I feel annoyed, but I also feel proud. I want them to stand up for what feels good to them, just as I want to stand up for what feels good to me (and that happens to include putting off washing my own hair amongst many other things!).
It may look like defiance now, but I hope my daughters’ whys will blossom into critical thinking, healthy self-care, and unwavering confidence — traits I’m still working on in my 40s.
“Why?” you may ask.
Because I kept quiet, did what I was told, and didn’t start asking why until much later in life. I don’t want my daughters to lose any time.