04/10/2013 05:46 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2013

The Power of 'I Don't Know'

"What's for dinner tonight?"
What does your nose smell? Chicken or salmon?

"Who invented radiation?"
Lets look it up on the Internet.

"If a shark and a colossal squid were in a battle, who would win?"
What did that book at the library tell you? The squid, right?

"Where is California?"
Look right here on the map, see? Over there on the West side of the United States of America.

"Do I have swim lessons tonight?"
Remember, you have swim lessons on Monday. Take a look at the calendar... what day is it?

"What's 4 x 4?"
I bet you can figure that one out by taking these pennies and making four piles of four. How many are there?

"Did the Blackhawks win last night?"
The score should be on ESPN any minute now.

"How did the baby get inside of her tummy?"
It starts with love... well sometimes there's love, and then there's some other stuff you should know about male and female bodies... let me show you this book.

"Why are there only dinosaur bones left and not their skin?"
The bodies decompose. Remember when we took that trip to the Field Museum and learned about archaeological digs?

"Where are my sunglasses?"
Where did you last have them... in the car, or in the garage?

"When people first came to the United States from other countries, how did they find each other?"
What was that story we heard during your field trip to the Swedish American Museum last year?

"When do sea turtles lay their eggs?"
When we were on vacation in South Carolina, we saw a sign about this on the beach. Do you remember what it said?

"Is this Daddy's favorite song?"
Yes, its Bruce Springsteen so it probably is. But we should ask Daddy, lets go ask him.

"How will I see my best friend in Heaven if he's Muslim and I'm Christian?"
I don't know.
I believe you will see him. But I don't know how.

I don't know. I really don't know.

All day long, day after day, our children are turning to us with questions seeking information, wisdom or guidance... and sometimes, just pestering us or stalling before bedtime. It's a natural role for us and a natural role for them. It begins with pointing out their belly buttons or toes while we change their diapers. Later, it progresses to identifying the color of the shirt we're slipping over their squirmy toddler head and then to teaching them to count out the coins in our wallets and to know what the big and little hands on the clock tell us. It's a running dialogue of instruction that stretches over years.

For as long as our children have been alive, we've been their guide, their camp director. We point things out to them along the way and foster their sense of curiosity -- gently guiding, never pushing. We provide clues, offer resources, show support and encouragement to try one way, then try another. We know not to to give the answer, rather, we give the gift of learning how to find the answer.

It feels good to be put on to this pedestal of knowledge. Understanding that it won't always be this way, I'm glad that at this relatively young age, my children still think that I have the answers to all of their questions. There's control in this position.

But the truth is, I don't have all of the answers. And even with amazing resources in my community and at my finger tips, there are some questions that don't have easy answers. Google can't tell us everything, and neither can Siri.

There are questions that I can only answer with one very honest phrase, "I don't know." And that's OK. Because sometimes I really don't know. I can help my children form a hypothesis and talk through various possibilities with them. But if I am completely forthcoming, I don't know.

Some may say that "I don't know" is the easy way out, apathetic or giving up. While that may be true sometimes, we need to appreciate that there's power in "I don't know." There's a lesson in it.

"I don't know" is brave. "I don't know" is confident. "I don't know" means I can admit that I don't know it all.

"I don't know" means that I'm willing to work collaboratively to come up with an answer together. "I don't know" means I can turn to others to enlighten me, to teach me and share a lack of certainty with me.

"I don't know" means that sometimes I can learn more from the process than from the solution.

"I don't know" means that I still have work to do. "I don't know" means that I am yearning, seeking and hungry to find the answer. I am still growing when I don't know.

"I don't know" means there are some things that are bigger than me. That some things are bigger than all of the experts and books and wiki entries. "I don't know" means that some things are bigger than all of us, bigger than humanity.

So yes, "I don't know" is a surrender. It's a surrender to a trust that comes with knowing that there are some things we don't need to know. Some questions we can't and won't ever answer. I don't know is acceptance and understanding that some things can't be known by the mind, and only partially known by the soul.

While there is reason to celebrate in our wish to know and our strong desire to get it right, there is both peace and power in being able to appreciate "I don't know."

So, I will help my children to know how to fiercely search to find the answers to their questions... and I will also help my children to know when they don't know.

This post appeared on You can follow Carissa on facebook at and on twitter @CarissaK