When kids ask hard questions

It is an anxious time and our kids are experiencing this right along with us. It is hard enough to figure out basic logistics of parenting during a pandemic, much less the unexpected psychological and emotional needs of our kids too. My friend’s three-year-old is now constantly asking about death. Where do people go when they die? Did so-and-so die? In the midst of covid-19, she picked up on death and is trying to work it out, often in tears. My friend was distressed and called me to talk about it. “What do I say?” 

Another friend’s five-year-old is trying to make sense of life these days and asking big questions about God. My friend admitted she struggles to find the right words. Any answer seems to be inadequate to quiet her child’s fears.

My own daughter is still grieving the sudden death of her classmate before shelter-in-place began. So much has happened since then, I forgot. She reminded me in the midst of a torrent of emotions the other day. I didn’t realize all the doubt and confusion she was having about life. “Nothing is the way it is supposed to be.” 

In the midst of this pandemic our kids are feeling all kinds of emotions—from one moment to the next—right along with us. They are asking their own big questions, as many of us are. We don’t know what to say.

Our kids don’t need the right answers as much as they need to feel our love through presence and connection. As a pastor and mother of two kids (a nine and eleven-year-old), there are plenty of times I don’t feel like I have the ‘right answer.’ I am learning to worry less about that. I have come to trust that the best thing I can do is first to be present enough to listen well—not just to the content but to the questioner. Often the desire for an answer isn’t even the most pressing need! 

Getting caught up in my anxiety about the question or the specifics of what to say could mean that I miss the opportunity to hear the real need and to connect. When kids ask hard questions, it is easy for our own stuff to get in the way of being present. Suddenly we are listening to our fears or our sense of inadequacy and missing the child in front of us. We might be trying our best but condemning ourselves even as we do it. We don’t have to understand all the internal processes beneath their big questions in order to have what our kids need at any given moment. Being present, listening well, letting them know they are heard is sometimes enough. 

But that is hard to do in a quarantine much less on a regular day. That is why I am grateful we are practicing breath prayers together in our Sunday meetings each week. This week we are praying (Inhale) Show me You. (Exhale) Show me me. As a community, we are all working to quiet the racing thoughts and calm our emotions in order to be present to God and to ourselves. The breath prayer is a reminder that whether we are on the inhale or the exhale we are always in relationship with God. We can receive from God on the inhale, even as we are in need of God again on the exhale. 

That emptying and filling can help us trust God when we don’t have the answers. It can settle our fears and quiet our anxiety in order to be present. A specific answer is usually not the most pressing need! A connection with our kids goes a long way to integrating what they are working out in ways they cannot verbalize anyway. Our kids will keep needing us and we will keep needing God. Especially when more questions come tomorrow.

Leave a Reply