Admitting Ignorance


We had one of those “gifted kid” moments tonight.

That moment when your kid corrects you and you realize he’s right.  When you start to bemoan the death of brain cells caused by having small children.  When you know that it’s down hill from here, and you’re on a very slippery slope.

Yup, that kind of moment.

It was the Engineer’s bedtime and we were in the middle of bedtime stories about jellyfish phosphorescence and starfish regeneration.  Even bedtime stories are full of “why? how?  they do what?” questions around here.  I told him that jellyfish are very similar to the hydra in our aquarium that we’re trying to kill off.  Tiny little pests that eat our shrimp fry by stinging them to death.

I asked him how he thought they were similar.  He replied with a number of things like body shape, tentacles, and so on.  When we got to the soft-bodied part, we paused for a quick invertebrate/vertebrate refresher.  And I, the adult, got it backwards.  He corrected me, quite politely for 5-years-old.   I realized this was a sign of things to come and it’s only going to get worse.

I am an adult.  An adult with frazzled brain cells, tired mind, and brain fog.  An adult responsible for keeping these kids alive, which is an adventure all by itself.  He’s a smart, inquisitive, small child with a memory longer than an elephant.

I stand no chance.  Nope!  I’m doomed!

And you know what?  I’m ok with that.  I would much rather admit ignorance or forgetfulness and bow to his superior memory.  I’m fine with telling him “I don’t know” the answer, and showing him how to look it up.  “Let’s Google it” is a common phrase around here.

Children grow up thinking that their parents know the answer to every question, but at some point they realize that’s not true.  Then they devolve into teenagers.  I vividly remember the point that I realized my parents didn’t know everything.  It was something of a turning point for me.

We went on a nature walk on our way to go fishing (my dad’s way to bond with the kids and get us out of mom’s hair for an afternoon.)  On our hike to the pond we noticed a tree we didn’t recognize and stopped to look.  I asked my dad a question about it – I don’t even remember the question, honestly.  I do remember realizing that his answer was completely made up and that he didn’t know.

It was a very crucial point for me.  I spent the rest of the afternoon mulling over the ramifications of my parents not knowing everything.  I considered why he would make something up instead of admitting he didn’t know.  And on that day, I decided that I preferred honesty.  There’s nothing wrong with honest ignorance as long as you’re willing to find out.

In fact, I think that experience as a child shaped much of who I am as an adult.  I like honesty.  I like the fine, nuanced dance of tactfulness; of wringing the last little bit of meaning out of a few words while still managing to not offend with the truth.  I would much rather hear an honest swear word than a prissy little “darn it!”

My kids will never be sheltered from swear words.  If I stub my toe, they’re going to hear a “damn!” or worse.  Generally worse, it’s become something of a habit which isn’t good either.

I won’t lie to my kids.  Even if they ask a difficult question about the attacks in France last year (thank you Target, for putting news coverage on your TVs in the electronics section. )  I might have to walk a fine line of limited details but I will always answer truthfully.  And I will always tell them when I’m wrong.  When I don’t know.  When I messed up and have to fix it.

If I want my kids to grow up emotionally healthy, then I have to lead them by example and admit it when I’m wrong or when I don’t know.  It’s not like I’m ruining any kind of mask or cover: my kids know this already.  Admitting it give them the respect they deserve from the adults around them.  Why lie?  They already know anyway.

So yes, I guess I’m a homeschooling failure.  I admit it.  I forgot which ‘ertebrate has a spine and which doesn’t and flipped them around.  I guess I’m not smarter than a 5-year-old.

I’m ok with that.  Sometimes we teach by example, sometimes we are the example.

And while we’re being truthful, I still don’t like fishing.  Just saying.



  1. Pretty sure my three year old is smarter than me by a long shot. I hear “Mom *sigh* just Google it!” More than I care to admit. But I agree, being truthful and helping them find the answers is much healthier in the long run, even if it is uncomfortable for some people. I’d like to know the trick to get my son to be polite when he corrects people, though.


    • We haven’t figured that one out yet either. Honestly, most people don’t want to deal with kids, let alone have them correct errors so it’s difficult!


  2. Love, love this! As a teacher, I was a definite outlier as I enjoyed being stumped by kids. They took great pleasure in discovering that adults don’t know everything! I did too because truth be told, I thought adults knew everything too and boy did it hit me like a ton of bricks to grow up and realize…adults don’t have it together either! It sure makes you feel compassionate for kids once you face that fact. Loved that you believe in leading by example and help your kids to see that i’ts okay not know everything!


    • I figure that either I look stupid for pretending, or I look smart for leading by example 😉 Kids are way smarter than we give them credit sometimes!


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