11 Is When They Start Asking Big Questions
I want my girls to know that no question is off limits.
When my kids learned the word why at age 3, my life as a parent became an endless reenactment of The Spanish Inquisition, minus the medieval persecution. My daughters acted like it was their job to ask questions and I guess, in a way, it was.
The questioning came in three different stages: the itty-bitty questions, the midsize questions, and the BIG questions.
The itty-bitty questions they ask when they are toddlers are usually adorable and make you want to write them down in their baby book to remember for all time. Examples include: “Do worms wear headlamps to see?” “Does the sun go to sleep at night?” And, of course, “Do unicorns really poo glitter?” Our answers can be as creative as their questions because hey, it’s not like they’re going to fact-check us. They can’t even put their own socks on yet.
Then they get a little bit older, like seven or eight, and the questions hit the midsize range like the ever-popular, “Where do babies come from?” “Why does that person have different skin than me?” “Are ghosts real?” The mid-size questions usually give us pause because whether we’re ready for more in-depth questioning or not, we’re forced to consider our answers carefully because now our kids are at that age where they like to freely share what they’ve learned with anyone who will listen. Also, if they feel like our answers aren’t entirely truthful, they’re more likely not to come to us the next time.
But it’s eleven when they start asking the BIG questions: “Is my school safe?” “What age were you when you had your first kiss?” “What is happening to my body?” Or the one my daughter recently asked as we were cuddled up watching a show together: “Would you and dad ever get divorced?” I was momentarily speechless because her dad and I have a strong relationship and there has never been mention of divorce. My reaction was to say, “Absolutely not!” But then I thought, who knows what will happen ten or twenty years from now. I wanted to answer as honestly as I could so I told her I really hope her dad and I never get divorced but that sometimes relationships end even if you work really hard to stay together and it’s okay if that happens. She seemed fine with that answer and I wondered if it was a worry that she’d keep in the back of her mind or if she’d completely forget that she even asked.
When the BIG questions start, you realize you’d do anything to go back to the days when they wanted to know why school buses are yellow or if squirrels have a secret language.
It’s that same feeling as leaving the little kids' clothing section for the junior’s department. Surely I’m not the only one who couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness, walking past all the miniature coats and pants. Because now you understand there’s no going back and your answers to their questions matter most. Gone are the days when you could invent anything out of thin air or even distract your child from the very question they asked with ice cream. We feel this immense responsibility to be honest in the least emotionally scarring way.
This could also be the last phase of your kids coming to you for answers at least in regard to questions other than “Can I have some money?” Soon after they’ll turn to their friends with their concerns and, even more troubling, they might rely on shows or the Internet to provide them with answers. I know this, because I learned everything about relationships from 90210 and Melrose Place.
Asking BIG questions brings BIG conversations, which are not the easiest thing for parents and tweens when they’re at that stage where everything we say makes them cringe. But at the same time, I’m glad, because I want my girls to know that no question is off limits. Even though they think I don’t know what I’m talking about because I was born in the 1900s, the thought that one day they’ll understand where I’m coming from gives me strength to keep going.
When the BIG questions hit, it reinforces for parents that they’re not our little babies anymore and soon they’ll be leaving the nest in search of more than just answers. They’ll be making decisions based on the things we’ve taught them. That’s scary, but it’s thrilling, too — for our kids, and for us.
Jewel Nunez is the humorist behind One Funny Mummy where she writes about the good, the bad, and the insanity of mom life. She lives on The Central Coast in California with her husband and two young daughters. Jewel released her first book, What It Means To Be a Mom, in 2021 and is currently working on a collection of essays about the lessons learned in the first year of motherhood. Find her at onefunnymummy.com and on social media @onefunnymummy