They don’t tell you how hard it will be sometimes. Being a parent, that is. Every stage has its joys and challenges, absolutely. Recently, though, I was thrown for a loop.
I’m pretty careful about what I listen to on TV or read on the computer when my children are around. I think a lot of us moms are cautious about media content. After all, part of our job is to protect our kids from subject matter they’re just not ready for, right? In the past, if my kiddos happened to hear or see something too “grown up,” I was usually quick to redirect them until all was forgotten. But this time was different.
It was less than a day after the murder of five Dallas police officers early in July. I was bustling around the kitchen when my cell phone lit up. My nine-year-old son caught a newsfeed headline and then asked me a question I will never forget, and one that I did not feel prepared to answer: “Mama, what’s an ambush?”
I knew right away what he was referring to, and my heart sank. Immediately, I realized that this time I had to give him an answer. There was no distracting him or blowing it off. He was more mature now, more observant, and definitely more persistent. I held my breath as a wave of emotions came crashing down.
I was sad that my son had to know, on any level, about tragedies like this. So far we’ve been able to shield him from a lot. I had to answer him and felt a sense of loss for his innocence
I was anxious my answers might not be the “right” answers. I worried about sharing too much and that he would feel scared. I was nervous about the questions that would follow.
And then I mourned the loss of those in Dallas who would never again have conversation — hard ones or otherwise — with their loved ones. I can’t even imagine that kind of pain.
So I swallowed the lump in my throat and explained in simple, not-too-graphic terms what had happened the day before. I stuck to the facts in a few sentences and then waited. Behind his bright blue eyes I could tell a lot was going on. He wanted to know why it happened. He wanted to know if we were safe. He had questions, some that I just couldn’t answer because I didn’t know.
Usually, when I don’t know something, I do at least one of three things:
- Find a resource. Just like the Super Why readers on PBS, I look in a book (or online) for more information. In this case, I wanted to locate resources on how to explain this kind of subject matter to children. Here are a couple you can read to your child: The Ant Hill Disaster by Julia Cook is a book that helps parents navigate how to help kiddos process natural or man-made disasters. Another helpful book written by Julia Cook is I’m Not Scared . . . I’m Prepared. Its goal is to help mentally equip a child in the event of an intrusion at school. There’s also a very useful article on the National Institute of Mental Health’s website entitled, “Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do.”
- Consult my heart. Every parent has his or her own way of explaining the unexplainable. When events in the world leave me confused and afraid, I often turn to my faith tradition for clarity and encouragement. My son’s questions gave me an opportunity to remind him, and myself, that our Creator’s plans are to “prosper” and “not harm” us and to give us “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). We also talked about the good news that one day “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelation 2:14). Surprisingly, a scary moment for me actually evolved into a very special, sacred experience with my son. We’ve also explored ways to put our faith into action by brainstorming how we, as a family, can offer assistance and bring something positive to a terrible situation.
- Ask for advice. And sometimes when I have questions, especially those related to parenting, I ask for input. I’ve learned a lot from other moms, including my friends. And in this case, it’s Y-O-U! So moms, please tell me:
- How do/would you respond when your child asks about shootings and other scary events?
- What do you say when your child wants to know why it happens?
- How do you answer your child in a way that is truthful yet helps him or her feel safe and secure?
Looking back, the initial conversation with my son went surprisingly fast. He’s had follow up inquiries, too. Each time it’s a challenge to balance honesty with a careful disclosure of details. Interestingly, these talks have bound us even tighter and strengthened our faith. They are also helping me grow more comfortable with admitting that I don’t have all the answers. To be honest, it’s a relief that my children know that. In the gray areas, all we can give our children is our best.