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Sometimes you need to let kids come up with their own answers

When I was a kid, my dad told me, “You won’t learn anything unless you ask questions.” I asked all the questions. I still do. When I have a question now, I reach for my phone and look it up. If I don’t like what I see, I keep searching. I fall into research holes pretty quickly.

“What happens when you die?”

When my daughter’s questions first started, I asked friends or searched online or read too many library books, but these days I don’t. I’m learning, slowly, that it’s OK to just not know.

“I don’t really know. I guess you just stop thinking and feeling anything.”

“Oh yeah. You become like a secret in someone’s memory.”

So much of growing up is finding ways to be comfortable with the unknown. There’s a lot we know, or can know, but it’s OK to just not know. It’s OK to tell our kids that. They don’t have to think we know everything, because we don’t. They don’t have to know everything, because they won’t.

“Mommy, do you believe in God?”

The questions about God after church, the questions about war on Veteran’s Day, the questions about racism and homophobia, the questions I can’t answer, the questions I don’t want to answer keep coming. She’s 5. What does she need to know? She does need to know an answer to her poison ivy question. She needs to know what happens if you break a bone. She doesn’t need a full breakdown of the major world religions in the checkout line at Whole Foods. Even though I can check Wikipedia. Even though I want to. Instead, we talk about how different people believe different things. We talk about how we can learn from our differences and from celebrating each other.

I’m not a big fan of the put your phone away shame conversation in general, but when it comes to answering children’s questions, it always goes better over here when I don’t look it up. It’s better when I don’t know. It’s better when we wonder together.

“Sometimes I believe in God, but I’m not sure about it. What do you think?”

“I think God lives inside you. He’s like a party in your belly.”

Without wonder, then death of a loved one can’t allow us to carry their memory like a secret. Without wonder, God can’t be a party in your belly. The research and facts will come, and often do even now, but these days, I’m leaving my phone in my pocket for the hard questions. I like the kid answers much better than anything I can find from grownups who have lost the wonder.

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