Raising My Son to Question Everything

Parenting a child is like trying to guide a cat; they are determined to follow their own path (several, if possible), they have no concept of time, they are simultaneously focused on themselves and obsessed by the minutiae of the world around them, and they can hear a food container being opened over fifty miles away whilst being completely unable to hear a parent talking to them from the next room.

Being a parent is the most rewarding, joyous, and exhausting privilege to ever enter my life, not least because of the endless array of questions my son produces. This is a good thing, because I want him to ask me anything and everything that occurs to him.

Children are natural scientists; they want to understand the why and the how of everything, and will usually ask at volumes that carry across a crowded room or street – especially if they’re asking about a person who you’d rather discuss in a quiet, discrete way.

But my encouraging my son to ask questions has unleashed a torrent on a variety of different topics. In fact, it’s given me a fascinating insight into his mind and what he retains; he can’t recall that I asked him to fetch his scruffy shoes to run around the park in – returning instead with his for-best shoes that are only to be worn for special occasions, and looked surprised when I sigh in weary resignation before forcing myself to explain it all again – but he can recite, chapter and verse, a fact that I taught him three months ago whilst we were hurrying to the bus stop. The fact he then attributes said fact to a teacher at school or one of his mates – anyone, in fact, other than his old man – is neither here nor there.

Like all children, he is an absolute sponge with a thirst for knowledge. It’s a joy to see, and I am doing my absolute best to fan the flames of that approach to life. It led to a long, drawn-out series of discussions on the act of sex, childbirth, gender, and why men don’t carry babies. This continued for about a weekend, and then the questions faded away; perhaps he knew everything he could immediately think of and hadn’t been able to shock me with anything. I don’t believe that he was deliberately out to shock me, but I wonder what he was thinking when he asked me; did he wonder if I would be shocked, or if if that thought even crossed his mind?

Personally, I think children are unshockable up until a certain age, then most kids start to worry about what other people think of them. It happens to all of us, myself included. So when we talked about sex and body parts, I used the correct terms for everything, I explained (carefully) why humans partake in those kinds of activities, and why each act doesn’t automatically result in a pregnancy. It was a pleasure to explain the concept to him, because it meant he was getting an informed overview, rather than hearing about it purely from his mates in the playground – and also because I didn’t then have to formalise it with “the talk” that I would otherwise have to have when he was a bit older. Perhaps I’ve opened the door to a series of low-key, more relaxed talks than making him feel very uncomfortable with one long lecture about it that probably wouldn’t do either of us any good.

I should say, this isn’t a perfect outcome; who knows where his questioning will lead, and there are times when I simply don’t know the answers to his questions. It has been known for me to silently wish for death’s sweet kiss when I’ve been asked 27 questions in quick succession before the sun has even risen – and I’ve not been able to answer half of them because they’re too esoteric for words, or just because it would need me to google an answer and I’m tired / hungry / trying to sort out a meal or just tidy up. Having said that, I want to make sure my son doesn’t stop asking, however.

A fine balancing act, like in all parenting …

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