Children look to parents for direction as they grow. We are a compass for their basic needs, morals, language, and much more.
As they get older, more influences come into their lives that instruct how they should live their lives. They have teachers, friends, and other adults all telling them what to do and how to act. Some influences are good and some are bad, but all are essential in a child’s development.
But the parents will always be the bedrock. Children will always look back to their parents to see if what they learned is right. That doesn’t mean they’ll always follow their parents’ lead, but they’ll consider what their parents would say.
All of this is why it is so crucial to set a good example for our children. They can go to the best schools and have the best friends; they can go to church and be involved in a million activities; they can listen to classical music as a fetus and only watch educational programming as a toddler. All of that will be thrown out the window if their parents aren’t setting the lead. This creates immense pressure on parents to have all the answers, even when they don’t.
As a teacher, I learned early on that kids can sniff out your bullshit. There is no “fake it ’til you make it” when it comes to teenagers. So rather than pretend like I had all of the answers, I decided to say “I don’t know” when I was unsure of something. That didn’t mean that the issue was settled, and I certainly had to find the answer by the next day, but I could tell that students respected the humility, and appreciated that I wasn’t just another adult lying to their face.
Because of the pressure to be life experts, parents often feel the need to have the answers for everything. Have you ever found yourself saying something your own parents said that you swore you would never say? Maybe something innocent, like “you’ll scare the fish away if you talk” or “don’t sit so close to the t.v. or you’ll ruin your eyesight.” These things don’t hurt kids to say, but they’re not necessarily true.
What if they asked you right then and there, “Is that really true?” What would you say? Would you tell them it is a well documented fact or would you say, “You know what, that’s a good question, I don’t actually know”?
Most of us would probably go with the former because it’s easy, and even if the kids don’t believe you, they’ll just roll their eyes and swear they’ll NEVER say that when they have kids. But what if they ask you about something more important?
The other day, my nine-year-old asked me if God is real. Just to give you some context, I grew up going to church every Sunday and saying prayers at night, but my parents weren’t fanatical. I think it was more about what they grew up doing and thought it couldn’t hurt. I also went to a Catholic high school, which I found to be a positive experience. Despite all of that, my kids have only been to church a handful of times, mostly because I find it incredibly boring.
Personally, I don’t know what I believe, so when my kid asked me that, I told him, “I don’t know.” Before I could explain my answer, he went on to say, “Well, I think God is real because I mean, how could this world exist, I mean it can’t just like come out of nowhere!”
We continued to have a conversation in which I told him that some people believe in creationism, some people believe in evolution, and others believe in a hybrid. I also told him that I wasn’t quite sure which one was right, but they all had valid points. I could have just told him yes because that’s what my parents told me. I could have given him some bullshit about how faith is in your heart, and he who walketh through the valley of the shadow…but telling him that I didn’t know put the journey on him. In the long run, I think he’ll be better off.
Our children need us to know better than them, but if on occasion we don’t, it’s ok to say “I don’t know.”