Grandfamilies: When Little Children Ask Big Questions

QuestionsCarly and Lala, Pensive. July 2012.

Every parent knows the feeling, right? Your little beloved asks a tough question–tough because it delves into grown-up matters, tough because you’re not in an appropriate place to have a heart-to-heart discussion, tough because you would really rather not talk about that squirmy stuff with your precious child, tough because an honest answer would shine a light on your own failures.

We’ve all been there. Maybe we delivered a masterful response, one that addressed the child’s question in an insightful, complete, yet age-appropriate way. Maybe we would prefer never to speak of that moment again.

Parents, it could be worse. As the parent, you had the right to respond, or not, as you saw fit.

It’s different for grandparents. Our grandlittles ask us questions because they sense they shouldn’t ask at home. They ask us because they haven’t received answers that satisfy when they ask their playmates. They ask us because they’re living in the moment and we happen to be handy when the question pops into their precious, inquisitive little minds. But what if I’m not comfortable answering the question? 

Suppose you and your grandlittle are at the pool. The child is standing in the shallow end, looks down, and then asks you,  Why do my legs look all wobbly when I look at them in the water? 

You can reply, Well, the light bounces off the wiggly water before it hits your eyeballs so you can see your legs. That’s all part of optics, and optics is part of physics, and you’ll learn all about physics when you’re bigger, at school. The odds are high that you won’t cross boundaries answering a question like this one. 

But what about when the question is tougher? Not too long ago our grandlittle Carly, who is seven, came to us in distress. How come everyone else is a Lagrand, and I’m not a Lagrand?

Rich and I looked at each other. Well, Rich ventured, not everybody else is a Lagrand. Cadence’s last name isn’t Lagrand. 

But is Ayden’s daddy my daddy too? she pressed.

Well, no, Ayden’s daddy died before you were born. Then later Kevin came into the family so he could be your daddy–and Casey’s daddy too. 

She stood silently before us, downcast. Looking less-than.

Rich pulled her into his lap and said, But you know what? You are every bit as much a member of this family as everyone else. Did you know that Lala and I were in the room when you were born?

We watched you take your first breath, I chimed in.

Rich hugged her as he and I both discreetly dabbed at our eyes.

We managed the episode, and filled in Carly’s mom when we met up later that day to return the children, but we could have done better.

Next time (with six grandlittles under age 12, we can count on a next time), I hope we remember these ideas.

  1. Everything depends on your relationship with the child’s parents. If you’re confident that you know what Mom or Dad would say, and have a strong tie with them, then consider responding.
  2. Ask more questions to make sure you know what the child really wants to know. Sometimes the information the child is seeking is simple. The four-year-old’s Why did my daddy leave? may be simpler than you think–he may accept a response like his visiting time was up.
  3. When your answer would oppose the parent’s answer, count the cost. A young child will be bewildered if you tell her that great-grandma went to heaven when her mom has already told her that great-grandma just ceased to be. Consider carefully whether you will alienate parents by answering in a way that counters their beliefs. I know we’re charged with sharing the Good News, but if we lose access to our grandlittles, how will we introduce them to Jesus? To a middle-aged child, seven to twelve or so, you could say, you know, I think this would be a great thing to talk about with your folks when you get home. I’ll ask your dad to be sure to do that. 
  4. If the child is in pain, you must say something. Carly was distressed when she came to her Papa Rich asking about her name. It would have been unkind to deflect the question.
  5. Honor the child. Don’t make fun of an honest question or label it–or the child!–as silly. 

Our grandlittles delight us with the stories they tell us and humble us with their trust. It seems that grandparents retain the superhero status a little longer than moms and dads do. My prayer is that we’ll be worthy of their high regard. How about you? What do you pray for your grandchildren?

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Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Philippians 2:3 (ESV)

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On Tuesdays, we’re talking about families and the joys and challenges that arise when we stretch across three (or more?) generations (child, parent, grandparent). Everyone is welcome, and I hope to hear each generation’s perspective.  Being family is by turns effortless, impossible, blessed, challenging, hurtful, joyous . . . . Let’s talk about it.

Please join us.



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