When I became a mom, I vowed to never say, "Because I said so," or, "Stop asking questions" to my kids. I believed in honoring a child's inquiry, in valuing their need to know, and in giving their little minds all the information I could as they discovered the world around them.
Then, my son turned four and earth's atmosphere couldn't contain his questions, and many were combustible. So, for moms like me that began the journey with the best of intentions but have become some version of the "shushing" grown up you never wanted to be, here's a list of questions you have the right to not answer.
Of course, I hope you continue answering their other questions and giving them all the ammunition they need to discover, but learn from my mistakes and don't step on these landmines.
1. "What are these for?" (My son, pointing to a box of Trojans he found in our bedside table.)
There's no good way to answer this. You could say they're for mommy and daddy but that will just lead to questions about what you're doing to need them.
You could give him the honest answer and tell him it's so mommy doesn't get pregnant but then he'll deem pregnancy bad. And, wait, isn't that how you had me? Did you try to NOT have me? Just don't answer the condom question unless you're fully prepared to explain abstinence, recreational sex versus procreation sex, STD's, and pregnancy with your preschooler, and pay for the therapy he'll need after this discussion.
2. "Mommy!? Why are you showing me your VAGINA?!" (My son, while squeezed into a Target bathroom stall together.)
Obviously I hadn't shown him a thing. I literally got my pants down and my rear on the seat in one motion, so I'm sure he didn't see anything. But he had just recently learned "what girls have" versus "what boys have," and the proximity to me peeing was just too relevant.
I learned not to engage with insinuating questions about private parts in public. If you do, it just leads to a long, awkward chat about how you do your best to give each other privacy, but we must continue to share bathroom stalls because he's too young to be left in the men's room alone.
Instead, just sit there and hope no one heard your kid. If they did, child services has already been called and no awkward explanation is going to help them un-hear what your kid screamed.
3. "Why didn't we go to the zoo yesteryear?!"
I've made the mistake of pushing too hard for my son to grasp time. Accept that for young children, there's only "before, now and later," and they can call those times whatever they want. Until there's complete comprehension of clocks and calendars, ignore the insinuation of time travel and answer these questions as if his point in time is perfectly legit.
So, if you went to the park earlier in the day, that's also yesterday, last time, last year and five minutes ago. Just accept it or your kid will get really, really frustrated.
4. "Do I need to eat this broccoli so my nails will grow and I can be a superhero?"
Yes. When the answer to illogical questions will result in things like eating vegetables, being kind and pooping in the toilet, go ahead and lie. It's OK to let the ends justify the means here and there when you're dealing with a four-year-old and broccoli.
5. "How did Jesus get into your heart? Through your ears or your butt?"
We're religious and very open about teaching our son what we believe. But when he gets hung up on something over his head, just remember that metaphysical debates with four-year olds don't end well. Child development specialists insist abstract thinking doesn't happen for a few more years, so it's totally normal to think of things like faith in a very physical way.
6. "Mommy, why is an iron actually a small vacuum?"
Resist the temptation to correct inane and incorrect observations. I endured a major meltdown because I wouldn't answer this question as it stood. He didn't want to know that an iron isn't a small vacuum — he wanted to know why it was.
He wouldn't be asking if he didn't firmly believe in their one-ness. In this situation I find that a benign "Hmm, why do you think?" is a nice response. Maybe later, when the topic isn't so dear to his heart, review small appliances and their corresponding names.
7. "Mommy, who are the Mother Truckers?"
When your child dwells in that magical space where they notice your cursing but don't know that it's cursing, you can absolutely make sh*t up and consider it your official warning to kick the habit.
My kid thinks that Mother Truckers are a real group of people who give us big feelings about things like driving, politics and pretension. I'm actually kind of excited for the day he puts this one together.
8. "Mommy, who's really in charge — you or daddy?"
Even though we all know the answer is really mommy, you shouldn't tell them that. Just kidding! Whatever you think the answer is, you should hem and haw and talk about how we're a team in this family, and we all love and respect each other, and other happy things that don't put stress on your marriage.
9. "Why does Timmy only have a daddy?"
You'd think that same-sex parents would be the difficult family model to explain these days but that's simple compared to a blended family or a recent divorce. Any way you explain the end of a marriage will offend someone he knows.
Fell out of love? Stopped wanting to be a family? Are still a family? The family is just bigger? Tell your kid to ask Timmy's daddy himself. A four-year-old's questions about the longevity of love are far less likely to offend than your loaded-with-assumptions explanations.
10. "Are boys stronger than girls?"
Just have him arm wrestle his girl friends to find out for himself. No matter how you try to answer this the politically correct way, your words will be repeated in a misconstrued way at exactly the wrong place and time. Trust me.