Just two days into the New Year we got the difficult news that my 91-year-old grandmother had passed away. In the days that followed we did what everyone does in the grieving process. We remembered. We told a lot of stories. We recalled conversations and pivotal moments that stood out to us as we recalled the matriarch of the family.
And what we recalled, was that my grandmother was a great question asker. She had a reputation for getting the dirt on everything—specifically any romantic relationships we may have been involved in. This was torturous as teenagers, but endearing as we got older, when we started to see her incessant digging for information as not just a means to know more. It was a means to a different end. It was a way for her to encourage us and support us in whatever it was we were doing. Her great questions made her a great grandmother.
Barbara Walters, the reporter famous for her interviews with high profile people and her uncanny ability to make people cry with the questions she asked, was interviewed herself when her retirement from the broadcasting was coming to a close. About her iconic role in the history of broadcasting, she said this, “The most important thing a journalist or interviewer can do is to listen. Too often we write questions down and no matter what, we go onto our second question and our third question because that’s the way we’ve written them. We shouldn’t. The first question gets asked and the second question should be, why? How come? Tell me more.”
Obviously she was a pro as an interviewer. But her insights at what made her so great at her job are the same things that made my grandmother extraordinary.
Questions are powerful—made all the more powerful when they are a response to what we intentionally listened for first.
Purposeful questions are the best and easiest tool we have as parents to invest in the lives of our kids.
They communicate that we want more than information—we want insight into what makes our kids tick, motivates them, challenges them and hurts them.
A good first question says, I’m interested.
Active listening says, I care.
An intentional second question says, you matter.
And what follows creates relational equity between you and your kids.
So sure, we can start, with the “How was your day?” “What happened at school?” “What did you learn at church?” But what happens next can’t be found in any book, blog, or article. What happens next is up to us. It can’t be scripted or predicted but that’s where the magic happens.
It happens in the quiet, as your child slowly, peels back the layers of their life, and you thirstily drink in what they have carefully entrusted with you. And it happens when your reaction and your response communicate over and over and over again, “You’ve got my full attention, there is no where I would rather be, thanks for letting me in.”
Be prepared. You may get more than you bargained for. You may learn the details of everyone’s show and tell treasures, about the kid next to them on the bus, the specifics of what was served in the lunch line, or the atrocities of their Chemistry class. But you’ll also become the best student of your child and the earn yourself a reputation, and some day a legacy as being the person in your child’s life who did whatever it took to get to the heart of the matter, to get to the heart of them. No one soon forgets that.
They may not know it now, but what you are working towards as a parent who asks a good first question, but even better second question, is becoming the best front row attender to your kids’ lives they’ll ever know. Becoming their cheerleader, their confidant and their biographer of life, who remembers all the big stuff but has managed to tuck away the little stuff too—the stuff that makes your kids uniquely them and uniquely yours.
And that is a legacy worth creating with your kids and worth leaving behind for them.
Sarah Anderson writes for the XP3 student curriculum at Orange. She is married to Rodney Anderson and is mom to two beautiful bouncy boys, Asher and Pace. Follow her on Twitter @sarahb_anderson.