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Parenting When You Don’t Have the Answers

parenting when you don't have answers

Last night as I was perusing my Twitter stream, I read a tweet from Jill Krause from Baby Rabies regarding her feelings about a letter from her child’s school giving parents a “heads up” that they would be discussing the events of 9/11 today. There was a bit of a twitter conversation on the subject and that’s when I realized: they might talk about it at my daughter’s school, too.

I had never talked to my children about 9/11 or any of the other horrible events that have happened in our country, or in the world for that matter. Because why would I ever give a glimpse of those nightmares to a 3 year old and a 7 year old? I know that I can’t shield them from everything forever, but why let them know about such terrible things so early in life? There is no need for them to know that these things happened until they are old enough to process it.

The trouble is, 12 years later I still have trouble processing it. I can’t get my head around 9/11 or Oklahoma City or Columbine or Aurora. Or Boston. Or Newtown. These are amazingly awful events. If my children never knew about them or never had reason to know such evil exists, that’d be fine by me.

All of these events were tragic and had an impact on the lives of many people in this country, but the difference between the events of 9/11 and all the other events is that 9/11 is part of American history. It actually has a legitimate place in the classroom. It wasn’t just a terrible crime, it was something on which people in the highest levels of our government based decisions.

So today after school when my daughter, in all of her 7-year-old naiveté, asked me if I was alive “way back” on September 11, 2001, I just pulled her up on my lap and answered her questions and then asked her more about what they talked about at school. In her Social Studies class they talked about how some bad guys crashed planes into skyscrapers and the buildings fell down and lots of people died, including the bad guys. Her point of view was so innocent that I didn’t really know how to respond when she asked, “Why would anyone do that?”

I hadn’t planned this conversation at all and wish I’d been more prepared, but all in all I decided my approach worked:

  • Listen to all questions in their entirety, even if it takes a long time for her to get it out. If I interrupt, I might miss the most important part.
  • Answer all questions as honestly as possible. In order to continue to have these conversations as she gets older, I need her to know she can trust me to give her the truth.
  • Ask her how she felt about the situation and if she has anymore questions. Sometimes she needs to hear she has permission to ask more.
  • Remind her she can always come to me if she has more questions, and that I love her.

From her recap, it sounds like her teacher covered the subject appropriately. I think it must be very hard to be a teacher standing in front of a room of second graders explaining such a terrible event.

And I think I was wrong that my daughter wasn’t ready to hear about it – I think it was that I wasn’t ready for her to hear about it. When we can have a conversation about something like this, even at a basic level, it means she is growing up. And I can’t get my head around that, either.

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