Parenting Through Tragedy

I had the opportunity last week to attend a workshop at my daughters’ school about talking with kids about tragedy in the world and its portrayal in the news.

I chose not to go; convinced my husband and I were already doing a fine job protecting our daughters from the onslaught of media attention surrounding national tragedies and processing our own emotions so they didn’t come out sideways with our kids.

I was confident we had this parenting topic nailed. At least for now. And what were the chances anything would come up again soon?

I got a pedicure instead.

Photo via Good.is

Photo via Good.is

On Monday afternoon when I picked up our daughter, Rhys, from preschool, I was prepared to be a responsible, loving parent. Or so I thought. After tucking her safely into her car seat and listening attentively to the details of her day, I flipped on the radio and was horrified and riveted to hear about the Boston Marathon tragedy.

I listened for a few minutes, praying my daughter wasn’t paying attention, but too caught up in my own emotions and morbid (albeit human) fascination to care. Finally, I shut off the radio and turned to check on my daughter.

She was attentively feeding Goldfish crackers to her stuffed animal, Knufflebunny, and appeared happily ensconced in her own little world. Relieved she was blissfully unaware, we went about our errands. I swallowed the pit in my stomach and resisted my visceral need for information, knowing I’d have time later at home to devour the media coverage surrounding this tragedy.

When we picked up my older daughter, Ava, an hour later, she bounded to the car and eagerly spilled her news, “Mom, mom, did you hear about Boston? School was so scary today.”

Surprised and concerned, I encouraged her to tell me what happened, but urged her not to mention any details in front of Rhys.

“Mom, we heard about the bombings and all the people that got hurt. What happened? Will you tell me what you know?” she asked.

“NO. Not now,” I snapped. “I don’t want to talk about this in front of Rhys. Tell me what happened in school, but don’t mention the b-o-m-b-s.”

Ava’s precious little face fell at my scolding. I was peripherally aware of my hypocrisy, but more willing to try to control Ava’s need for information than my own.

Ava explained that during U.S. Studies, a boy in her 4th grade class read about what was happening in Boston on his iPad and immediately announced the details aloud to their teacher. One of Ava’s friends started screaming and crying that her mom was running the Boston Marathon. Ava and her other friends lovingly comforted the young girl as their teacher made phone calls trying to get information on the mom’s whereabouts. Thirty minutes later, the teacher was able to confirm that the young girl’s mother was safe and accounted for.

“Mom, I told [my friend] that bad things only happen to moms in Disney movies and fairy tales, not in real life,” Ava said.

Relieved that her friend’s mom was safe, I didn’t address Ava’s naive comment but simply smiled and told her I was proud of her for comforting her friend. Ava beamed. I breathed, knowing Ava and I would have more conversations about this topic later, out of Rhys’s earshot.

Moments later, Rhys asked, “Mom, what about Auntie Rita? Did the bombs hurt her like they hurt those other people?”

My intake of breath was sharp and audible. As tears filled my eyes, I realized I had forgotten all about my older sister who lives in Boston. And Rhys hadn’t missed a detail, Knufflebunny or not.

I wept openly as we dialed my sister’s number, unwilling and unable to control the emotions that had built up in me over the past few hours.

So much for protecting and influencing the flow of information in my children’s lives. So much for processing my own emotions before talking with my children.

At least I have pretty, mint green toes.

My sister is fine, unharmed. I’ve forgiven myself for my parenting mistake and have been processing my own terror and sadness along with the rest of the country. My daughters and I have had several conversations about this most recent tragedy.

Talking with my daughters about violence and those who transact it is not a parenting skill I ever intended to get good at. Unfortunately, it’s become a necessity.  And I’ll be in the front row at the next workshop.

28 thoughts on “Parenting Through Tragedy

  1. Can you save me a seat next to you at that workshop? I didn’t really hear a mistake there. I can’t believe they have iPads in 4th grade. Is that allowed? That poor girl scared about her mommy. That’s awful. Ava’s one of those helpers that Mr. Rogers talks about. So are you.

    • Hi! I was surprised they allowed an iPad also. I bet they won’t any more … Ava was so incredibly sweet and concerned about her friend. I’ll tell Ava you called her one the Mr. Rogers-like helpers – she’ll love that. Me, too. Thank you.

  2. I think you did a great job. When things like this happen, I think all we can do is the best we can, for ourselves and for the people we love. Also, iPads in 4th grade? Crazy that schools allow those now. I wasn’t even allowed to bring a Walkman to school when I was in 4th grade.

    • Thank you. It’s been such a crazy emotional few days. I can only imagine how scared that little girl was to hear the news in this way. Thankfully, my kids seem to have bounced back. And no walkman or anything like that for me in 4th grade either! 😉

  3. Wow – that’s amazing that that happened in the school. i can’t believe a kid with an ipad spilled the beans to the class and created a panic situation. i can’t believe he one in class?? what the hey???!! my kids have wound up blissfully unaware. but it seems lately learning how to speak to children about these things and coping is becoming more and more necessary. crap.

  4. Unfortunately, it is a skill all of us parents need to add to our toolbox.
    My wife & I have taken the path of less communication in these cases. Actually, we went to talk to our then 8 year old about the Ct. tragedy. He asked why are you telling me this? We took that to mean he did not need to hear.

    • It’s so hard to know how to best handle these situations. I think every kid is different and there are so many variables every time. I like that you are following your son’s lead. I really didn’t expect to tell my kids anything about this one. Apparently, that wasn’t my call to make this time.

  5. I think Ava finding out about it at school and Rhys knowing about the incident all in all was a good learning process for both. Eventually they would have to learn about the harsher realities of life and if they know how to deal with them as soon as this, they’ll probably make stronger adults. But you did play a protective parent’s role as far as you could.

  6. I’ve always been big on explaining things to my son, probably providing him with too much information sometimes. I’ve always answered all his questions, but I’ve been careful not to give him more information than he needs. That’s always worked for us. Regarding the child with the iPad, there are many students who have different types of accommodations, and some students are actually allowed to use laptops or other types of devices in their IEPs. Technology in the classroom is here to stay. Those iPads are not going to disappear. That’s why it’s so important for parents to figure out how to talk to their children about these kinds of things. I’m glad your sister was okay. Both your kids sounds like very smart little girls. And thank goodness for Knufflebunny!

  7. We just deal with these things as they come. I never know what my kids will hear or what they will ask. I try to make them feel safe and not dwell on bad things when they happen. So far we’ve been lucky that no one at school has talked about these things. Your daughters saw you react in a human way. Nothing wrong with that.

    As for the iPads, my kids use them in class but the apps, no Internet access. We did have a situation last year with a boy who brought his own to school and my son told me what the boy showed them during free time. Thankfully the child wasn’t allowed to bring it in shortly after that. But we’ve had lots of talks about what’s OK and not OK online. That’s an entirely different blog post!

  8. I went through a similar thing on Monday – trying to gather the details and hear all about what happened but not letting my daughter catch on. She is 3 and had her first swim lesson of the season on Monday so she floated on cloud 9 all afternoon while I struggled to protect her innocence. I wish we didn’t have to learn to parent around these things but, you’re right, it’s becoming a necessity.

    • I hear you – I so want to protect their innocence yet find I’m less and less able to do so now that they interact more with the world through school and friends. There is so much trust involved in parenting – not an easy thing for me! 🙂 Thanks so much for visiting!

  9. I’m so glad to hear that your sister is OK and Ava’s classmate’s mom is OK. This is a skill that I am really bad at and would really really really not like to ever have to perfect. My approach to this and Sandy Hook has pretty much been duck and cover. I just can’t bear explaining it to my kids. I’ve been waiting for them to come to me with questions. I think that it’s because I had to deal with death and loss at such a young age and I really don’t want to take that innocence away from my kids. I know that’s unrealistic but totally my gut reaction.

    • I think duck & cover is a perfectly acceptable strategy! That was my plan this week until my older daughter heard the news on her own. I like it better when I could control all their incoming information, but that ship has sailed! 😉

  10. I am so glad your sister is OK! I have been avoiding the Boston topic all week But I want my kids to hear it from me. Honestly, we don’t have 2 seconds to break the news to our kids about anything because there is always someone with an iPad in closer proximity to them than we are. Save me a seat at that workshop, will ya?

    • Done! I’ll have my favorite peeps around me at the next workshop! I hear you on the iPads/iPods/etc. – I’m amazed how much my daughter learns from her friends. I’d like to turn back time to when I completely controlled their incoming information, but haven’t figured out how to do that. Yet. 😉

  11. Oh this is so sad and unfortunately so true to life. My kids are sadly almost becoming- dare I say immune to the tragedies that surround us??!! They are struck in horror and yet, they casually say “like the movie theatre mommy? Or the school?” Yes dear children. It’s everywhere. They talk matter of factually… and I am sick to my stomach that I have to expose them to things in this world that are ugly and evil. It is our reality.

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