It’s Begging to be Asked…

How do you deal with adversity and your kids? Do you address all possible outcomes or only preferable ones? Do you downplay negative outcomes?

These questions come on the heels of two personal events that I am currently seeing personified in other families: cancer and deployment.

When my cousin Andy was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in 2007, of course the best possible outcome was that chemotherapy and radiation would shrink and/or destroy the tumor allowing Andy to lead a long and fulfilling life. My aunt and uncle honestly did not want the alternative discussed. They also did not want to hear of cancer stories that ended in death. On their caringbridge site there was some monitoring going on of stories of friends or relatives who had passed from cancer and whose intercession was being sought. As my mom put it, “death was not an option.” On May 9, 2008, God brought Andy home. I remember reading the caringbridge blog in the days leading up to Andy’s triumph over cancer (although we don’t always choose to see it that way, being brought into God’s loving embrace is ALWAYS a triumph). As my aunt and mother blogged about Andy being taken to ICU step-down many good-hearted well-meaning Christian people mistook that to mean he had made a drastic improvement, when, in fact, it actually was a sign that medical science had reached his peak, and only the working of God would create the miracle of Andy being cured. It broke my heart, in a way, that so many people could not see what I had been forced to accept months earlier, that God’s Will was the only right way, not our imperfect human desires.

Last year, my brother deployed with the USMC to Afghanistan. Because my children are very young and his daughter was born at the end of his deployment, we did not have to have any talks with them or her about what their uncle/daddy was doing overseas and the possible negative outcomes. But future deployments will test that. My brother is very anti-protecting children from the facts of war as far as knowing that their father/brother/cousin/uncle may not come home alive. While he doesn’t think they should know the gory details of what is going on, he believes in transparency. I have found, though, living in close proximity to a base; that not all soldiers, Marines, seamen or airmen believe the same is true though for their families. I have known many military families who tell their children that Daddy or Mommy will be coming home regardless.

These two events have challenged me in my parenting personally. Not just with how much to disclose but how to disclose it and whether to downplay negative outcomes. I tend toward discussing all possible outcomes with Joey (at this point, he is the only child able to have a grasp of the gravity of situations). I don’t go into graphic details that are too much for young children, but we discuss things like war, cancer and other life altering changes in terms of what may happen and trying to accept God’s will. I certainly do not expect any of my children to have a full grasp of what it means to accept the will of God in our lives as the greater good. Most adults can’t do that. I emphasize mostly that God loves us and will only allow to happen to us what is best. My reasoning for even introducing negative outcomes is that it hopefully will give my kids a basis for understanding if the “worst case scenario” does occur. It’s probably selfish of me, but I don’t know how well I would do with these understandings and explanations at the “moment of impact” without a foundation already in place for the kids.

And we don’t discuss these things ad nauseum, but as they occur in our lives and reveal themselves as topics of discussions. Also if the kids ask about them.

That’s not to say I think that is best for all families. So I’m curious, how have these realities being dealt with in other households with children?

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2 thoughts on “It’s Begging to be Asked…

  1. The advents in life that shape how we shape our children. When my daughter was four, I was left as a single mom due to a highly abusive relationship. Because he had both attempted and threatened to kill me, I always believed he would one day. I raised my daughter on everything from grocery shopping to getting ready for school like she might have to do it completely for herself. It was so common to use “if I weren’t here, want would I say” or when she was in trouble, “tells me what you’d tell a kids that this happened to.” It just became a daily part of life.

    I’ve always been pretty boldly upfront. When my father in law was dying of pancreatic cancer – it was like everyone else didn’t see what was obvious to me – he wasn’t going to jump out of bed cured. I went in and talked to him about what his funeral might look like and what might matter to him. The day he died, I already had the outline of all that he wanted.

    As I finished the detail on his, I also layed out my own. In 2007, when I faced the brain aneurysm surgery, I went to an attorney and had paperwork drawn up to cover all my daughters needs and I then handed her a copy. We talked through who she’d want to have as her guardian when she was younger – she gave me insights based upon her feelings I’d never considered. It allowed her to share what I consider to be very personal spiritual insights.

    People avoid what gives kids comfort. Knowing that a parent has thought about them even for a worst case scenerio – is extremely loving. We, however, don’t hold the end answer. So it is important to also be flexible, listen and lead the discussion as it naturally comes up in life. I think one of the best ways to do this is to create a time capsule with small items that have very personal meanings and allow each person to discuss the meaning behind the memories and why they will be important in the future just as much today. Then very special things get put away, not to be seen, for a future time – great way to have a discussion.

  2. We haven’t had to deal with a lot of tough subjects personally, but I do try to help the girls, as they are able, to understand that bad things do happen. We pray nightly for a friend’s daughter who has a rare syndrome. My children don’t know the name or details of it, but they know she is sick. When the tornados were all over the news, I didn’t hide it from them but explained what a tornado was and how destructive they could be.

    It is a fine line I try to walk. I don’t want them horrified (the world can seem scary enough for any child) but I also don’t want them so ignorant and shielded that such things could blindside them. In terms of death, we’ve always taught that Jesus died and then came back to life. This (and Super Mario Bros.) lead them to believe that anything that died just came back to life. Certainly our trusting hope in our own salvation propagates such a belief, but they haven’t yet grasped the idea that coming back to life doesn’t necessarily mean this life. We’ll get there. They are still young.

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