When to Talk to Your Children about the Bad Stuff

       Yesterday my heart broke into pieces.  Yesterday a city I once called home experienced the worst shooting in American history.  Yesterday I watched Facebook for hours upon hours waiting to see my Pacific time zone friends check in that they were safe and unharmed by the chaos during a concert.  When you have lived in a city that experiences such a horrific act, you are bound to know someone, if not many, who were directly affected by the mass shooting.

       I saw one of my friends post on Instagram the questions so many of us moms and parents face on a daily basis.  Do I tell my kids?  How much do I tell my kids?  How do I shatter their innocence with the evil that exists in our world?  How do I burden their heart with the pain that so many are experiencing?  There are no right answers, and for each child and every family the right answers may be different.  But I don’t have those questions anymore.

       Yesterday a mom had to tell her little ones their dad was in the hospital.  Yesterday a dad had to tell his littles that their mom had died.  Yesterday parents had to tell their children their big sister had been shot.  Yesterday students lost a teacher.  Parents have a choice to talk or not talk about the bad stuff until it is unavoidable.  And for so many yesterday, it was unavoidable.  The pain, heartache, and tears were all unavoidable.

        When we found out our baby Ella no longer had a heartbeat at 24 weeks, the conversation of death was unavoidable.  As a mom, I am so thankful that was not our first conversation of death.  We had merely hours to prepare our girls for what was to come.  We had merely hours to talk about death, heaven, sin, reasons why, and wipe away tears before we left them with grandparents to head to the hospital.  Those were also hours when we as parents were experiencing a whirlwind of emotions ourselves.  I can only imagine how much harder those hours would have been if that was the first conversation our family had had about death.

       Death is a part of life.  It is a painful part of life and a topic we adults usually prefer to avoid.   But it is still a part of life.  Evil exists in this world.  Sin is all around us, and sometimes it comes out in unimaginable, horrific forms.

        A few weeks following the death of Ella we got together with some friends.  They had just experienced the unexpected death of a family member.  There we were.  Two moms sipping coffee while our children played.  Both so fragile.  Both so broken by recent events in our own lives.  Both so unsure of how to parent through this phase of life neither of us expected to be in.

        Then it happened.  Our two oldest began a conversation.  We were in the middle of clearing and rinsing dishes when we heard my seven-year-old and her six-year-old begin a conversation about death.  Our two children matter of factly discussed the recent events of their lives.  They talked about burning bodies and spreading ashes.  They talked about the decaying process after a person dies.  They talked about heaven, heartbeats, and brain waves.  They repeated conversations we had with them in the prior weeks.  They repeated our answers to the many questions they had for us during funerals and mortuary visits.

        We listened to their innocent voices discussing topics we never intended to bring into their lives at this age.  We were two broken moms clinging to each other’s arms, holding each other up.  Each of us wondered if we had answered their questions correctly.  Had we shared too much?  Did we not share enough?  Did we guide them well?  Did we teach them how to process the last few weeks?  Did we prepare them to discuss this correctly with friends and strangers?

        Eventually their conversation moved to another topic, and our grip on each other lightened as we both began to exhale.  Our fragile mama hearts were still ok.  Our children discussed death and all the information their little brains had soaked up in the past few weeks.  They didn’t say anything offensive, hurtful, incorrect, or negative.  Most of their conversation was purely factual and very casual.  In so many ways they spoke about death so much better than we do as adults.  We looked at each other, and without saying a word, we both knew what the other was thinking.  We had done ok.  We taught them well.  We answered their questions correctly.  We had brought them to this moment when they could talk to their friends about death.  In our most difficult parenting moments, we had done ok.

        Following the death of their baby sister, I learned a lot about my two girls.  They understand hard truths better than I used to give them credit for.  They have experienced pain.  As their mom, I wish I could have shielded them from that pain.  They have seen me cry, break down, and fail.  They have seen me grieve.  There are so many times in the last year and a half I was sure that I was failing them, but I look back now and see how they have grown and what they have gained.  They experienced pain, but they have gained compassion.  They understand death, but they also see the beauty in heaven.  Their innocence will never be the same.  But they have gained wisdom.  So often they have the ability to talk about their feelings, death, and the bad stuff so much better than we do as adults.

        Parenting is hard.  Momming is hard.  Did I guide them through the hard stuff perfectly? No.  But I did the best I could.  And they are ok.  They are stronger.  They are more prepared for the hard stuff.  And with each hard conversation, we get the opportunity to talk about the good.  Because with all the bad stuff, there is always good.  There is always hope.  There is sin, yet there is forgiveness.  There is death, yet there is heaven.  There are people who cause pain, yet there are people who help.  There is Satan, yet there is Jesus.

        This mom business is no joke.  There are so many situations we face without a clear path.  Do you share the bad stuff?  Do you shelter your children?  Is there a right answer?  I still don’t know.  But I do know that we should expect the bad stuff. That truth is written for us in Scripture.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

        The trouble is coming.  It is coming for us.  It is coming for our children.  And when the bad stuff knocks down your door, when you no longer have the choice to shelter your children from it because it has shattered your world, I pray that God gives you the words to guide them through the bad stuff.  I pray that when you face the trouble, you are able to navigate the many questions that will arise.  I pray that you can take heart.  I pray that you will have peace in Christ.  I pray that with the peace of Christ, you will know how to help your littles face the bad stuff. 

        Dear moms in Las Vegas and around the world who have suffered from the shooting on October 1 and to the many parents who do not have a choice to shelter your children,

I am praying for you.  I am praying for the many difficult questions you will have to answer in the coming days and weeks.  I pray that you have the strength to show your children how to live and love through pain and uncertainty.  I pray that you can find the good to point to amidst the very bad you are currently facing.  I pray for you as you help your children grieve when you are grieving yourself.  I pray for you as you send your children out into the scary world that they are no longer sheltered from when they go to school, to friends’ houses, and to classes.  I pray for your heart as it aches with fear.  I pray for you during this unimaginable time.   Take heart, dear mamas. He has told us in this world you will have trouble, and it has knocked down your door, but our Savior has overcome this world!


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