Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Talking To Your Kids About Senseless Acts And Tragedies

As a mom, I don't want my kids to worry and I also want them to be safe.  It's hard to find the right balance - teaching them about dangers without terrifying them or making them suspicious of everyone.
A couple months ago, I received one of the most horrifying phone calls of my life.  It was 11pm and when I saw it was my mom calling, I instantly knew something was wrong.  She never calls that late.  My worst fear at the moment was that something happened to my brother in Afghanistan.
I answered the phone sounding alarmed and she cried as she told me a sweet elderly couple I had known most of my life had been murdered.  My reaction was not to cry, but to yell.  Unfortunately, my 10-year-old was still awake because he got to stay up and watch a movie with me.  My filter was just gone at the moment.  I yelled angrily, "Why would anyone do that to them? Why wouldn't they just take their stuff and leave! They wouldn't be able to fight them!"
My mom had just had hand surgery and was having a hard time typing, so she asked me to write to my brother and sister to tell them the awful news.  I couldn't stop shaking and I felt sick.  I wanted answers and I wanted them now.  What kind of evil person would do this to them?  My brother was devastated and furious.  There was no one there to offer him a hug either.
I burst into tears the next morning when it was reported that their grandson was unaccounted for.  As the story unfolded, we found out he had just been released from prison that day.  His grandparents drove a rather long distance to pick him up, took him to run errands, threw a welcome home party for him, gave him a place to stay, and after the family left, he strangled them both.  I was even more enraged when I heard that other inmates knew of his plans.
After committing this heinous act, he took the wedding ring off of his grandfather's finger, cash, credit cards, other valuables, and pawned them.  He waltzed around Wal-Mart buying various things including an iPad.  It chills me to think that my children and I could walk within inches of such a person without knowing it.  I kept thinking, "This doesn't happen to people I know.  It happens to other people!" 
I didn't tell my kids all of the horrible details, but I didn't hide my emotions either.  This man's troubles started with an addiction to prescription drugs and I decided I would make it a teaching moment.  This is an example of how addiction destroys lives.  I told my kids again that I expect them to stay away from drugs.  I won't protect them from the legal consequences.  I wanted them to remember that doing drugs is not a victimless crime.  It's a very personal decision as to how much we tell our kids about these kinds of things, but I don't think my kids will easily forget the way their mom grieved because of a man whose life spun out of control.
I shared more with my 13-year-old than my other kids.  With my 4-year-old, I just explained that I was very sad because a bad guy hurt my friends.  It broke my heart to say it.  I don't want her to have to think about that kind of thing.
How do you talk to your kids about something so awful?  It was hard enough explaining why we lost friends to cancer and another to asthma.  I had to face that I can't promise my kids nothing bad will happen to us.  I wish I could. 
I can promise them that through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, no one can take our eternal happiness.  That has been my greatest comfort throughout this ordeal whenever I think about the way my friends suffered. 

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