The infamous one-word sentence

“I tried to raise my children with patience, respect and good manners, but they still ended up being like me.”

— Author unknown, but the concept understood.

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Raising children is not for the faint of heart. It’s typically entered into with very little understanding of what’s ahead. And while many good books are found that touch on the topic, there is little hope the perfect owner’s manual will ever be completed.

Therefore, it’s my opinion that sharing child-rearing experience is largely a generational responsibility. We who have survived parenting owe the next generation fair warning about a few things.

First, sharing with those who carry on the family tradition is not only about what we learned to do, but more often about what we learned we shouldn’t have done.

That concept came to mind at a family gathering not long ago when a young soon-to-be father approached me seeking some pointers. “You’ve raised children, and you have grandchildren,” the expectant parent noted as we sat down to eat, “So at your age, what do you consider the most important part of child rearing.”

My knee-jerk reaction was teach kids never to seek advice prefaced with “at your age.” It’s bad enough at this age, that medical conversations come with those words. You’d think family would be more respectful to their elders.

But I was nice. “Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I replied. “Mom always said a parent is never through raising their children. Could be, however, she was just talking about me though.”

Chit-chat with the younger set was usually more manageable. Questions more like what was it like way back there when Elvis was alive? Did they have airplanes when you were a kid? Uncle what’s-his-name, sitting over there alone. Does he always drink coffee from his saucer and mumble to himself like that?

Parenting. That one, however, caught me off guard. Definitely, cause for reflection. I pondered my parenting style to that of my parents in the 50s and 60s. And my children’s style in their current generation’s efforts to bring up children. Three different philosophies, for sure. Four, when I remembered my grandmother’s words.

“Your father didn’t have those bad habits until he went in the Army,” Granny always said with a shake of her head. Usually when referring to his smoking or drinking an occasional beer when he was younger. “I trained him better than that,” she always added.

“Training,” I blurted out. “Raising a child requires dedication. But your training methods can make the difference.”

“That sounded good,” I thought to myself. Then, feeling like I had fulfilled my obligation, I reached for the fried chicken.

“What sort of training do you consider most important,” my interviewer responded.

Stopping the chicken short of my open mouth, I offered, “Maintaining that elusive balance of teaching life skills without being counterproductive. For instance, we devote the first two years to teaching children how to walk and talk. Then the next four, five, or fifteen, to teaching them to sit still and be quiet.

“There is no greater joy,” I continued, “than coaxing your offspring into uttering infantile noises that only a parent would recognize, things like ‘ma-ma’ or ‘da-da.’ On the other hand, nothing equals the agony, a couple of years later, when your sweet little one announces at the top of his or her lungs immediately following the dismissal prayer at church, “’Boy, I thought he was never gonna quit preaching. Can we finally go eat!’

“Inquisitive little faces will reflect deep wonder as you explain the mysteries of life. But,” I said, dropping my tone of voice, “the day will come when they ask things like, ‘Daddy, where does the fire go when the log is burned up?'”

“Hopefully,” I added, “you will be better versed in science than I was.”

Then I hit him with my best advice. “Just remember the one word that should never be taught to children under the age of 37.”

“And that is …,” he asked, tilting his head like a puppy trying to comprehend “sit” or “rollover.”

“The infamous one-word sentence. ‘Why?’ Once a child unlocks the power of what can be accomplished with that one word, life is never the same for you.”

“It’s a 15-minute delay for going to bed, taking a bath, or eating green vegetables,” I added, “Sadly, weary parents are sometimes slow to learn that explaining why is not the answer to young minds. It’s simply fodder for follow-ups.

“Try telling a four-year-old he needs to let go of the cat’s tail.”

“Why, daddy?”

“So he doesn’t shred the curtains.”


“So there is something left to mend and cover the windows.”


“So the neighbors can’t see frustrated parents trying to explain their way out of endless ‘why’ questions from preschoolers. That’s why.”

“Then the tyke will ask, ‘Why is Kitty hiding from me?’”

“Kitty is tired of playing. Maybe he will be back.”


“In a year or two.'”

My dumbfounded student sat silently. A blank stare fixed on his years ahead.

“In fact,” I concluded, reaching for the chicken one more time before pausing for a moment of silence.

“Uncle what’s-his-name over there? Sipping coffee out of the saucer alone and mumbling to himself? And my dad’s smoking and drinking when he was younger?

“Both conditions caused by kids learning the power of one little word … why.”

—Leon Aldridge

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

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