My daughter and I argue—a lot. It’s not simply because Zoey is 13, and I’m not. We argue because I encourage Zoey to call me out, push back and ask questions.
“Argue” isn’t a bad word. We poke at assumptions and challenge each other to see things from different perspectives. We strive to listen with open, quiet minds.
This isn’t an easy way to parent, especially in moments when I’d like to level a simple and firm “no.” There is something appealing about the idea of a mini-me who parrots my opinions. But my deeper desire is to raise Zoey to think carefully and contribute meaningfully on her terms, even if they’re not mine. To do so, she must have room to develop confidence in her beliefs, faith and otherwise. This isn’t possible if I enforce a “don’t question mom” rule.
I do this largely because of relationships I had with adults when I was growing up, from parents to Sunday school teachers and advisers.
When I was 5, I wanted a “grown-up Bible.” Once I had one, I was rough with it. Eventually, Ginnie Gardner, the church nursery attendant, took me aside to talk. She seemed angry. Yet I remember that she engaged me in a real conversation. This respected person could have yelled at me for being careless with what she called “the book God loaned you.” Instead, she waited patiently until I was done talking before she said anything—and she talked with me like an equal. That’s what I loved about Ginnie—she really listened to us kids.
Ginnie and countless others taught me to be open to dialogue, and that’s what I’m teaching my daughter: that we listen actively without thinking about what to say next because every person, from 4 to 104, has something important to teach us about God’s world.
So Zoey and I argue. It can be exasperating, fun, funny and often enlightening. I struggle to let go of being “right” or proving something “wrong” to focus on listening and sharing, in that order.
Parents, grandparents and other caretakers: What does it look like to say, “Ask me anything?” to the children in your life? An invitation to ask questions is an exercise in trust. It requires vulnerability, patience and humility. Sure, you’re not required to answer, but what if you decide you will—no matter what?
“Why don’t we go deliver Meals on Wheels?” “Why don’t we go to contemporary worship?” “Why don’t we help with this?” “Why do we have to do it that way?” “Why don’t we sit next to them?”
Your child’s questions may take you outside the comfort zones in your faith life. Listen carefully, answer honestly and watch how you both grow.