Talking to our kids about tragedy: One homesteader’s take

Well, my goodness.  It’s been a helluva week.  First the tragedy in Boston and now when I turn on the news, I hear about the fertilizer plant in West, Tx that killed multiple people, injured countless others and leveled many many homes and businesses.  It is enough to make a parent want to put their kids back to bed and shut all the curtains until ..oh, forever?

While being a hermit may sound appealing, the hard truth is that this is the world we live in now.  Horrible people do horrible things on a massive scale.  Dangerous facilities that aren’t supposed to be dangerous can erupt in a mountain of fire when conditions are right.  As I thought about this, I have to draw upon my own professional experience.  I’ve counseled hundreds of people through loss, grief, sadness and change.  However, I’m not a counselor by education or trade…it’s merely part of my “day job”, so instead, I want to share with you decisions as parents we made in our home.  Regardless of terror, nature or accident, the bottom line is that innocent lives are lost every day for various reasons….and we need to be prepared for how to talk to our children about that.

Earlier this week as the news of the Boston Marathon broke, my first thought was to a couple of my oldest friends whose son runs the marathon every year.  Typically they go to Boston to cheer him on and my gut reaction was for their safety.  As Blueberry attempted to look over my shoulder as I looked up race checkpoints and tried to figure out when their son might have crossed the finish line (he’s just fine btw), I realized that she was picking up on my worry even if she didn’t see any of the video or pictures of what was happening.  And then this morning, she was sitting with Sheldon and I as we watched the morning news when they broke in with an update on West.  As much as we want to shield and inoculate our children against the horrors of a modern world, we simply cannot.  It’s everywhere…and even if we go on a no TV/Internet diet, let’s face it-our kids all know how to read worry on our faces.

So, as I think about how to address these horrors with our little Blueberry, I try to think about a homesteaders spin.  I cannot speak for all homesteaders, but generally speaking, those I have talked to seem to be straight shooters who are interested in educating and communicating with their children in a direct way.  Most of the homesteading parent blogs/articles that I have read lead me to believe that many are like us-we want to protect our kids but still understand that they need to grow up informed, educated and prepared to face a world without mommy and daddy constantly hovering like a helicopter.  That kind of parenting outlook needs to bleed into how we address tragedy.  If you’re struggling with this concept, I can’t give you the perfect answer.  Only a parent knows what their child can/cannot take.  But I can tell you how we handled some events over the last two years or so.

In some cases, we opted to not mention it at all.  For example, the case of Sandy Hook.  That was a tragedy that as a Mom, I simply could not bring myself to talk about without a high degree of emotion.  Both Sheldon and I agreed that we would not expose Blueberry to any of that coverage, nor would we discuss it as a family.  Articles like this one from PBS agree that you have to make a determination by age if it’s even appropriate to address.

In some cases, we talked in generalities.  For example, the Boston Marathon bombing.  I discussed that something had exploded in Boston and some people were hurt.  I also took that as an opportunity to talk about police officers, fire fighters and countless others who were doing whatever they could to help make people safe.  Boston’s Children’s Hospital has some excellent yet simple advice for walking through this process with your kids from talking about tragedy to helping them cope with frightening events.

In other cases, we talked openly.  As the story of West broke this morning, we didn’t restrict it at all.  At the time I’m writing this post, it sounds like it was an accident caused by just some really unusual circumstances coming together.  It’s a huge tragedy, but one that needs to be understood so that conditions aren’t repeated.   I think it’s important that if our kids can handle it, then they hear about things like this.   Modern, industrialized commerce comes at a cost and this one was a terrible, terrible cost.  The thing that I don’t want to do is get up on my homesteading bandwagon and talk about “we shouldn’t be producing this kind of crap!  It’s too dangerous!  Curses to chemicals!”  Sigh.  It’s too easy to do that when you hear about terrible stories like this caused by chemicals that I wish we weren’t using, but I truly believe that it disrespects the humans who were just trying to make a living and lost their lives for it.

In addition, we’ve had a number of family losses over the last 18 months through the death of a parent to the loss of multiple grandparents.  This has caused us to expose our little Blueberry to death much sooner than we would have anticipated or liked.  With each event, we were able to talk about what happened typically without too much detail, how we hoped that person was at peace and headed to Heaven-that’s our own belief system.  It’s led to a ton of questions, which we have welcomed.  These are often out of the blue and typically are related to death as a process.  The Child Development Institute suggests that parents encourage questions and reassure kids that it’s ok to feel however they feel.  In our case, we have done this, but an unexpected joy that has been born about these questions has been that she has wanted to understand more about Heaven, Hell, The Holy Trinity, birth, love and more.   She’s rarely sad when she asks these questions-it’s more of a desire to understand than a desire to be morose.  As a result, I’m not sorry we approached it the way we have.  At almost 5, our kiddo has a sensitivity that is appropriate for her age, but also understands a little more that life is precious and death is inevitable.  And let’s face it-a handle on death is a necessary attribute for even the littlest of homesteaders.

So, that’s how we have handled both the distant and local tragedies.  Basically the same way we work to approach homesteading.  Directly, honestly, with respect for the beings involved and with the understanding that we don’t know it all.  Would love to hear from some other homesteading parents about how you handle this “messy” part of parenting.   And our prayers continue to go out to everyone who was impacted by the tragic events this week.  Take care y’all!

 

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