Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Mom Asked the Question that Stumped Me -- It's a Good Parenting Question

Being that my mom was a high school English teacher and my daddy had tried every stupid-human trick a teenage male could try, there really wasn’t any hope that Lori and I would get away with much or anything. Trust me, if you hear my daddy tell about his growing up, you will laugh your head off and begin wondering how he survived to make it to adulthood. But being the black sheep of Lori and me, I recall mom asking me a question one night after I got in from hanging out with some friends. Her question – “So, do you have anything you want to tell me?”

My parents valued honesty and trust, and if we were upfront with them, things would always be much better than if we lied about it…trust me.

When I heard her question, the first thought that flashed through my head was, “What did she hear?” The next was, “Which one should I confess to?” I don’t recall how the rest of the conversation went, but that question has stuck with me. It was a very clever question.

My children really have no hope, since I’ve been trained to ask questions, and I’ve kept that question of mom’s filed away for a much needed time to be determined later…most likely in Pearce’s puberty.

God is the most clever of all though. His ability to parent and to question as a parent is perfection. In Genesis 3, God is walking in the garden in the cool of the day. I wonder if He left footprints. He calls out to the man, and the man answers in a truthful manner. In verse 10, “He answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” Notice Adam didn’t say, “WE” heard you in the garden. “WE” were afraid. He was taking ownership of his own actions.

God, being the perfect parent, asked in verse 10, “Who told you that you were naked?” God knows the answer, but He asks the question that goes directly to the heart of the matter, doesn’t He? Then God asks a completely rhetorical question, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (vs 11). God knew the answer, but He was giving the man a chance to come clean, to be honest.

When I take someone’s statement on the job, I often already know the answer. What I’m doing is throwing out a rope…it is up to the individual to use it as a lifeline, or they can make it into a noose. The wise thing to do is to be honest, but sometimes people are so far in they don’t see a way out, so they continue to make poor decisions.

Here’s another thing…if you are going to ask a question, you need to shut your mouth and listen to the answer. You can’t ask good questions if you haven’t heard the answer to your first question. Sometimes you may need to think about the answer before you ask your next question – There’s wisdom in that. I trained a rep one time that when he took statements he never listened to the answers. He had a list of questions he went by, and he did very little to alter the outline. He missed opportunities to clarify misunderstandings. He missed opportunities to track down leads. He missed opportunities to catch them in their lies. He didn’t stay long in the fraud unit. He wasn’t cut out for it…not everyone is. Just like I’m not cut out to be a kindergarten teacher.

Sometimes people tell you more than they want to tell you if they have to sit in silence after you’ve asked a question. Silence makes liars uncomfortable. They feel the need to fill the void with words.

Fortunately, Adam comes clean even if does bring his wife down with him, and God listens. We see how Adam blames Eve. He tells God also that it’s the woman that God put there for him (Gen 3:12). Notice how God doesn’t acknowledge the personal barb that Adam makes? He chooses not to even address it. Adam is trying to make this personal to God, but what Adam doesn’t realize is that it is already personal to God. God exercises self-control…as parents we have to do that a lot (especially if you have a mouthy or disrespectful child or teen or adult child for that matter). God kept focus on what was important.

His questioning went to Eve, and she blamed the serpent. God didn’t have to give them the opportunity to come clean, but by asking them questions, it did not appear that He accused them. Have you ever noticed how when you accuse someone their defenses automatically come up and the communicate shuts down? Often times, in my job, I ask questions to which I already know the answers. They aren’t rhetorical. They aren’t sarcastic. Asking the right kind of question can provide the foundation for a conversation without raised voices, sarcasm, etc. People think that doing my job as a fraud claim rep that I would get yelled at all the time especially when I’m taking a statement and getting all up in someone’s personal business…very rarely does that happen. I put them on notice up front about my concerns, and then I ask questions giving them the opportunity to clear things up.

Ever play the game 20 questions? Try that approach to a difficult communication situation. Ask the right questions and see where your conversation goes.

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