Tag Archives: death

Talking To Children About Evil

My daughter came home from school yesterday and told me that her best friend had a “hate list.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“It’s a list of all the people in the world that she hates.”

“Don’t make one yourself,” I said quickly. “That’s not nice.”

“Yeah, but I only have one person on it,” she responded.

“I don’t care. You’ll hurt someone’s feelings.”

She looked up at me, wide-eyed. “But it’s Hitler.”

Pause.

At first – of course – I laughed. But then I kept on thinking about it and I realized that not everyone would find it funny that their six-year-old knew about Hitler. I remember once writing a post about talking to your kids about death, which dealt with my (failed) attempts to explain death in any meaningful and convincing way to my then five-year-old daughter. The post also touched upon our visit as a family to The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. And I got more than a few comments from people who thought that it was really bad parenting on my part to have exposed such a young child to the Holocaust. As one woman wrote in the comments section: “I think we have a parental duty to protect children from even knowing about the worst aspects of evil.”

Do we?

In my case, my husband is Jewish, we’ve been to Israel as a family and my nine-year-old could practically write a book on World War II at this point. So somehow I don’t really think that we could “hide” the Holocaust from my daughter, even if we wanted to. But I also feel strongly that the Holocaust is quite recent world history. And at some point children need to know that the Holocaust happened in order to comprehend its magnitude and horror and very possibility, if for no other reason than to guard against it happening again.

But the Holocaust isn’t the only evil we’ve talked about with our kids. I moved to London 3½ years ago, the day before a group of home grown British terrorists was arrested for a “liquid bomb plot” at Heathrow airport. The next day, as we tried to settle our new home/country/life, there were TVs on everywhere we went. People were jittery. My then five-year-old son asked me what was going on. Should I have lied to him? Perhaps. But I didn’t.

As I wrote about subsequently, 9/11 and all that has come since has permanently changed the way Westerners perceive and experience terrorism. It’s no longer something that happens “over there.” It is woven into the very fabric of our daily lives through things like threat levels (ours just went up to “severe”), how much freedom of speech is permissible at universities, even what kinds of liquids we can bring on board an airplane. Living – as we now do – in that sort of environment alters the equation for what kids need to become aware of at an early age.

You could also extend this line of argument to encompass natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Haiti (while understanding that this is a very different form of tragedy.) Is it distressing for a six-year-old to learn that 150,000 people just died in an earthquake because they happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time? Sure it is. But my daughter and I have talked about Haiti too. Whether that’s to make her appreciate just how fortunate she is or to begin to teach her about charitable giving, it’s a worthwhile lesson, IMHO.

So, at the end of the day? I’m totally down with the I Hate Hitler list.

But how about you? When do you think we ought to begin discussing the reality of “unnatural” deaths with your children? And are there certain topics that ought to remain taboo?

*****

For those who are interested, here’s a post I did yesterday about what Gordon Brown can learn from the recent elections in Massachusetts and Chile.

Image: Mai piu’ by maxgiani via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Friday Pix: Recommended Reading For The Weekend

This Friday I point you to some worthwhile reading around the blogosphere:

1. In light of my own musings about whether or not stages of adulthood correspond with age, I found this article in the New York Times on redefining the financial age of adulthood to be quite edifying.

2. This fun post about creative and playful business cards from the blog Kim and Jason Escape Adulthood made me think, again, about titles and how we present ourselves.

3. Under annals of parenting, here’s one woman’s frank account in The Guardian about why she couldn’t have it all. And on the lighter side, a laugh-out-loud essay on the NYT’s Motherlode blog by a mother trying to quiet her shrieking child on an airplane.

4. Writers will want to read this fascinating interview with Mary Karr (of The Liar’s Club fame) on DoubleX. (Note to self: Must finally read The Liar’s Club.)

5. Writers will also want to check out my new favorite lit blog, Christina Baker Kline: A Writing Life. You will find inspiration in her post My Ten Year Overnight Success as well as why back-to-school night proved such a great source 0f material.

6. Finally, and on a more serious note, I really liked this final essay on the NYT Happy Days blog about why we need to embrace death.

Enjoy your weekend!

Oh, yes, and do follow me on Twitter!

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The Deadness: Talking to Your Kids About Death

I posted awhile back – on the occasion of my late father’s birthday – about how nothing drives home the fact of adulthood quite so clearly as the death of a parent.

But I think second in line is talking to your kids about death.

I was delighted to do a guest post on this topic for the Times On Line’s Alpha Mummy blog today. Alpha Mummy is the self-described blog  for “mums and dads who work, used to work, or want to go back to work one day.” I’m a regular there, and hope you will be too.

Enjoy!

Image: Nathan Snodgrass Grave Stone – HDR image by Jason Mean via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Coping with the Death of a Parent: A Poem

Nothing drives home the fact of adulthood quite so clearly as the death of a parent.

My own father passed away not very long ago. Today would have been his 77th birthday.

Shortly after he died, a friend sent me the following poem to comfort me during this loss.

Today, in his honor, I share that poem with you:

In Blackwater Woods

–          Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blur shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what it its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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