Daughter’s constant “why” questions led mom to big lesson in parenting

Nowadays at my house we are making the unpleasant transition from adorable awe-filled “whys” — “why do cats have tails?” for example — to more challenging forms of the query.

“Why do I have to clean my room?” “Why are we having chicken for dinner?” or “Why do I have to go to the grocery store with you? Why can’t I just stay home by myself?” That last one is becoming a fast favorite of my 7-year-old son, Declan.

When he says it, every part of me wants to let him know that with “attitudes” at their current levels, I’m not that hot on him accompanying me to the store either. But I also don’t have a time machine to take us back to the 1980s when a parent could make a quick grocery run having left the kids at home chilling on the couch playing Atari or watching Disney’s “The Black Hole” on LaserDisc drinking cans of Shasta.

That may have been acceptable parenting when I was growing up, but the rules of society and government have changed. So for now, kid, where I go, you go.

But I don’t say that — at least not every time he protests. I say it on the rare occasion where I have the luxury of time or patience.

Often, when he asks “why?,” I clap back with “because.” Sure it’s a phrase that’s old and tired, but so am I. Plus, if it was good enough for my parents to say — and their parents before them — then who am I to mess with long-standing family tradition?

That being said, there are at least two people who I can guarantee are laughing to themselves reading this — my own mom and dad. I was the worst at asking a load of questions.

OK, who am I kidding? I still am. So it would seem appropriate — and just — that I be cosmically repaid with equally inquisitive children.

Recently, I was on a flight with my daughter, Mara. It was her first time flying and she was a combination of apprehensive and amazed. She spent the better part of the flight asking all manner of questions about the plane, gravity, what I thought certain clouds resembled, etc. Her investigation was quite thorough. So much so that I started to worry we were disturbing the other passengers with her exhaustive cross-examination. Thankfully, no one seemed to take notice.

At least, that’s what I thought until we exited the plane.

As Mara and I made our way through the terminal, a woman from the flight approached us.

“Excuse me?” she asked coming up right along side us. “I don’t want to bother you, but I just wanted you to know you are a really great mother.”

I’m sure the look on my face revealed nothing short of utter shock.

She quickly continued: “Your little girl had so many questions all throughout the flight, and you answered every single one of them and didn’t snap once. Seriously, I know we don’t know each other, but good work.”

Most days, parenting is a thankless job. It’s not like we are all looking for a medal for doing what we all signed up to do — raise a human being — but we all wonder, as parents, if we are getting it right. Rarely do we have that clear moment to know that we are. And here was this stranger who stopped and took a moment out of her day to give me a boost.

I didn’t get the chance to ask what her name was, where she was from or, more importantly, “How can I thank you for making my day?”

All I said was “thank you,” and she smiled and walked away.

Then a small voice beside me broke in to ask, “Who was that? Why did she say good job? And you know you aren’t supposed to talk to strangers.”

Before I knew it, I was back on the front lines of parenting.


Molly Cavanaugh of Omaha’s Channel 94.1 FM’s Big Party Show is a mom to two children who lives in Chicago. She writes weekly for momaha.com.

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