Like many parents, I spent the weekend in shock and in mourning over the tragedy of Newtown, Conn., and I also sought information about how or whether to talk to my kids about it. Here are some things I found on talking about tragedy.
Information on helping children cope was easy to find online: I appreciated the insights on Parenting.com as well as ABC News, among others. KJ Dell’Antonio at the New York Times’ Motherlode blog wrote a very nuanced piece about whether we should talk or not. Lisa Belkin over at HuffPost Parents enlightened us as to the deeper political issues. I feel lucky as a parent to have these important voices to guide me.
But here’s the thing, and I bet some of you moms were in the same place as me. You can read and you can talk and you can think, but no one can tell you what ultimately is the right thing to do in your family.
I am often the decision maker in my house on these kinds of issues (maybe even too often), but this morning when my husband said he wanted to inform my 7 and 8-year-old, lest they hear something at school and were not prepared, I conceded even though I wasn’t sure.
Here’s what we said: “A very ill man did a bad thing; he shot a lot of people. We want you to know in case you hear about it, but if anyone says anything about this in school, don’t talk about it and go to your teacher. We will answer any questions you have tonight.” We also asked them not to talk about it with their three younger siblings.
Was that a script someone gave me? Heck no. Twenty articles later and I still fumbled searching for the right words, but the essence of what we said seemed right … it was at least the best we could do at the time.
Then, on the way out the door to school, my 7-year-old uttered in front of my 5-year-old Beckett, “Was he a crazy man?” Luckily, Beckett didn’t pick up on it.
Ultimately, as informed and educated as we can try to be, we parents act on the fly and we do what seems best in the moment. As organized as I try to be, I’m learning that parenting really isn’t about following a script or a video or reciting what an expert said to do. It’s about knowing your child, knowing what is important to you, getting the best advice you can, and then diving in, crossing your fingers, and praying that you are making the right decisions.
So that is what we did this morning. And I do wonder, were we right and what did you do in your family?
And now we look ahead. In the wake of all that’s happened over the past few days, there is one thing I do feel so strongly to be true and right. Whether you believe in God or not, the president’s urging last night that we are all here for a purpose, that we all have a responsibility to take care of others and make the world a better place, to me is the TRUTH.
So I feel as if I’m on a mission now: to teach my children not just that they must not do wrong, but to teach them that they must do good. To not only say that they must not hit, bite, be mean, or exclude, but to tell them each day to go out into the world and do at least one positive thing for someone else. Moms and dads who are reading this, will you do this with me? Every morning, every night, let’s talk to our kids about positively, practically, doing good for others.
We can say: Find a boy or a girl at school who seems lonely, who people tease, and offer to play with him. Stand up for someone when people are being mean, don’t join in. When you feel yourself getting angry, take the deepest breath you’ve ever taken and close your mouth until you know you can utter peaceful words. Don’t just NOT DO SOMETHING BAD. DO SOMETHING GOOD. Step up and be responsible for someone else. Every day.
And I think this can start very very young, I even might try it out with Marielle who is 2-years-old. She will kick and scream when I tell her to hand over the pink hairbrush to her patient older sister, but why should I shy away from encouraging that just to avoid the fuss? Why not encourage her to act in a better way starting now?
And I feel like as I parent I can put this to practice in my own life. That friend whose mother is ill? I can take ten minutes away from Facebook and call her. My mother-in-law who is 91 and lives alone, I can call her too. I can do better and I can do more. We all can do more.
Don’t you agree with me that if we all raise our children to do a little good every day, to do a little more, to help someone who is suffering, then through all these acts of kindness, the world will indeed be a better place? There is so much that we don’t know, but this has to be right and true.