Last week, my two-and-a-half-year-old son started asking me “Why?” “I have to wash your face.” “Why?” “We have to eat dinner now.” “Why?” “We can’t watch TV now.” “Why?”
I am not sure what to make of it yet, other than that IT’S REALLY CUTE!
But as someone who works for a fatherhood organization, I try to reflect on these mundane parenting situations to make sure that a) I am making the most of them as a dad, and b) I have something interesting to write about on this blog.
So, to kill those two birds with one stone, I began waxing philosophical about what my role is in answering the “why?” for my son.
I have often heard, and mostly agree, that dad’s primary role is teacher. In fact, you are your child’s first teacher. While mom is nurturing and loving, she is creating a “nest” to protect her child from the dangers of the world. But at the same time, a good dad is slowly and safely exposing his child to that same world and teaching him how to navigate it.
I am generalizing of course, but generally speaking, men and women approach things differently, and parenting is no different. In fact, another recent study confirmed this by showing that fathers stand further away from their children than mothers while the kids are playing in a playground. Moms want to protect, dads want to teach safe risk taking. Neither approach is better than the other; they are both necessary and important to child development.
So, my role is to start revealing the world to my child. When he is asking why, he is really saying, “I want to understand the world!”
Therefore, my balancing act is to give him just enough to understand the truth, but not too much to forego his using his own imagination to make sense of things. This can be tough, but I have to practice now while he is asking me “unimportant” things like why Spider-Man can’t come to the dinner table with us. Because one day, he is going to start asking things like, “Why do I have diabetes?” (he was diagnosed with Type 1 two months ago).
Then, of course, he will inevitably ask the King of All Why Questions, “Why do I exist?” (or “What’s my purpose in life?”). If I can help him answer that question, then I will feel as though I am a successful father – even if I give him terrible answers to his questions about Spider-Man.