Our pastor recently talked about how he is more curious about the questions behind what people actually ask out loud than the questions themselves. He was talking about faith-based conversations, but I experience the need to practice this discipline more often when talking to adults about my husband and I parenting a child who has developmental delays.

When we started our journey with our sweet now four-and-a-half year old, the following is a list of common questions and my knee-jerk mental reactions. I usually held my tongue pretty well, but not every time.

Question: Wow, what a cute baby, how old is he?

I would answer.

Next question: He’s really small; was he premature?

Thought: Why are you asking? Do you think we don’t feed him enough and your best fat-filled diet will be the next thing out of your mouth?

Answer: No, he was two days overdue.

Comment: Oh really? My child (or I) was… and…they/I caught up eventually, I’m sure he will too.

Thought: Gee, thanks. Glad you asked?

Answer: Thanks, bye. (With as much politeness as I could muster.)

The conversation didn’t get any better than this. People panicked or didn’t know what to say, so after a number of these uncomfortable exchanges, I developed canned responses to end the conversation as quickly as possible, to avoid the awkwardness that was sure to follow if I didn’t. I learned that I didn’t owe people our story (least of all in the checkout lanes at Target, no offense), but I also learned that it is a gift to share God’s provision to our family and in his life.

Now, I try to consider what people might actually mean by their questions, to help me temper my responses and have greater understanding for where they are coming from. If people don’t have a child like ours in their lives, I have to remember that their vocabulary may not contain the “right words” so I’m not offended by their genuine curiosity or nervous attempts at whatever they think is normal to say. Now here are some of the thoughts I have to the same questions:

Question: What a cute little boy, how old is he?

Thought: Remember, this is a normal conversational question, just be honest.

Answer: He’s the cutest little four-and-a-half year old you’ll probably ever meet, and he has a huge heart and personality.

Next Question: He is really small, but he’s so cute. Was he premature?

Answer: Thank you, we think so and we’re very proud of him. He was actually 2 days overdue, but his body just grows slower than most kids.

Comment: Oh, okay, that’s interesting. I can tell you’re proud of him and he seems so happy!

You can tell there’s a huge difference when I pause to consider the question behind the question. It took me awhile to get to this point, and I don’t always get it right, but I do more often than not. I continue to ask God to help me remember to pause and consider the heart behind the questions and answer that, especially when the words don’t come out quite right.

Where are the areas in your life or the lives of those closest to you that are hot spots? I hope this is an encouragement to pause before you respond and to try to answer the caring heart behind the questions. You might just find a new friend in an unexpected place, if you do!