My 4-Year-Old Is Asking Me Existential Questions Already

by Toni Hammer
Originally Published: 
A collage of a mom and the space in the background symbolizing being asked by her 4-year-old child e...

It wasn’t unusual for my daughter to get out of bed to come ask me a question when she should’ve been sleeping. What was unusual were the questions she began asking:

“Can two boys get married?”

“What happens when we die?”

“Can we come back here after we die?”

“Do we have bones in heaven?”

She’s only 4, and it’s safe to say I naively thought I had a few more years before I had to figure out how to answer this kind of thing.

On one hand, I’m overjoyed to have such a curious, precocious little girl. I think it’s truly a gift that she’s thinking about such deep things and honestly believes I have the answers to all of her questions. It shows me not only how smart and wonderful she is, but also how much she looks up to me. I look forward to our conversations as she continues to grow and begins to comprehend some of the more philosophical stuff. I see us sitting on the front porch discussing current events and space travel over coffee someday.

But on the other hand, right now, I really don’t have the answers to all of her questions, and I’m terrified I’m going to give her one wrong answer and she’s going to end up in a cult, or run away, or have massive anxiety and nightmares forever.

It’s scary when your kids start asking the big questions. Of course I want to answer them the best I can. So, yes, two boys can get married, but I have no idea if we have bones in the afterlife. The way I see it, I have three ways to answer her questions.

The first is to tell her what I personally believe. Since she’s growing up under my roof, it makes sense that she should know what I believe and why I believe it because she’s going to be hearing about it for the rest of her life. That, however, leads to a fear of indoctrination I’m not sure I’m comfortable with. I want her knowing what her father and I believe, yes, but I also want her to make her own choices, form her own beliefs about the world, and challenge the status quo rather than just blindly follow her parents. There’s a tricky balance there, and I fear I can’t walk that tightrope well.

Another way to answer her ever-probing questions is to merely say, “I don’t know.” This shows her that her mom isn’t perfect and doesn’t have all the answers, which I think is good because I want her to see me as the flawed human I am.

But at the same time, I still kind of like being a bit larger than life and omniscient in her eyes. It won’t be long before she realizes I have no idea what the hell I’m doing, and I want to enjoy this phase where I make everything better with a Popsicle last just a few more years. Therefore, I’m not super comfortable taking the “I dunno” route.

The final option is to ask her what she thinks, and it’s this answer I’m the most comfortable with. She’s too young to feel put on the spot, and I’m curious to know what she thinks without anyone or anything influencing her thought process. She gets to make up her mind about all the things in the world, and I’m free of the pressure to know everything. It’s in this space that I’m most comfortable because it requires me to listen more than talk, and that’s an aspect of our relationship I want to continue to cultivate over the years.

I don’t know what the right answers are to most of my daughter’s questions, and the best part about being her mom is that I don’t have to. It’s not my job to know everything; it’s my job to raise a little girl who can think for herself and stand up for her own beliefs regardless of those who may oppose her. It is also my job to freak the hell out because, seriously, the cult thing could happen.

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