What are they really asking you for?

asking for“Do you miss Dad?” she asked, looking towards me as she watched me type the email she had just dictated to her father.

“What?” I asked her, hoping both that I had misheard her question, and that asking again would buy me some time to come up with an answer.

“Do you miss Daddy?” she asked again. Her eyes were glistening in that way they do when her tears hinge on the answer that comes out of my mouth. She looked both hopeful and apprehensive.

I panicked. No, I don’t really miss your dad. I miss his friendship. I miss being able to talk to him without feeling the weight of the baggage that we both hold on to. I miss the ease of having a conversation about… anything. But do I miss being married to him? Do I miss having him around every day? No. No, I don’t.

Fortunately for me, in the 5 seconds between her question and my response, I saw something else in her eyes that illuminated the answer she needed to hear.

“I wish your Daddy lived closer so that you could see him all the time. I know you miss him.”

A look of relief washed over her. In that moment, I saw a child who needed to be told it was okay that she missed her dad, that her mom understood this, and that her mom wanted her to have her dad closer. She smiled up at me, and gave me a hug, and the moment passed.

My kids ask me a lot of difficult questions, and my first response is usually panic. I want to get it right. I want to have the perfect answer. Where I go wrong is the thought that the question is really about me. My daughter wasn’t asking if I missed being married to her dad. She was asking whether or not I understood that she did. In that moment, it was all she needed from me. I didn’t need to explain how I felt. I didn’t need to point out the difference between missing a person and missing a relationship. I didn’t need to make it complicated. I just needed to validate her own feeling of loss and separation.

I don’t always say the right thing, and I make a lot of mistakes. But seeing the relief on her face that morning was a great reminder that I can’t always assume it’s about me. In the future, I hope I can remember to ask “What does she need from me right now?” instead of, “What am I supposed to say?”

I’d love to hear from you. Has there ever been a time when you felt like you got it right, and were surprised by the way in which it happened? Do you panic when you get a tough question from your child? Do you make your answer more complicated than it should be? 


2 thoughts on “What are they really asking you for?

  1. Brianna Trulick says:

    This is great because Maddox has asked me a similar question before. He said he wanted to live with both me and his daddy, but also Tony lol. I told him maybe one day we can all do things together when he gets older. The situation Maddox is in is something I can not relate to because I lived in a home with both of my parents. Never in a million years would I think he would have to go to his dad’s on the weekend, or your situation where you have to send emails. Thank you for this!

  2. Anna Michelle says:

    Oh boy – you know I was really struck by the last part “what am I supposed to say?” vs “what does she need from me?”

    I’m not a mom, but this type of listening and response happens all the time in my exam room as a mdiwife. ALL. THE.TIME. And I’m often torn, thinking, “What’s an honest answer? How do I present what the research says about XYZ without making it scary/judgy/too hard?” More often than not, what’s being asked for is understanding and validation FIRST….and only after that has been expressed, an answer about the science of whatever the question was about.

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