Baby Makes Six: Teaching kids that bad things happen

Last year, we ordered a magazine subscription from a fundraiser our oldest child was doing for his school band. When the copies of Macleans started arriving at the house, something odd happened: We could never find them.

The mystery was solved last month when one of my kids walked by as I brought in the mail.

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“Oh, is that Macleans?” he said, eyes alight. “Are you done with it, Mom?” He’s been reading the magazine and all its serious news coverage for months.

While I believe in sharing and discussing news and world events with kids in most circumstances, his interest surprised me. He’s an easygoing kid who prefers to read comics and graphic novels.

I asked him why he was reading it and he said, “Oh, I just like it. I’m learning a lot about politics this way.”

Part of a parent’s job is to protect our children from harm. We cover the electrical plugs, install the car seats, put the bleach out of reach. When something bad happens out in the world, it’s natural to want to limit our children’s exposure to it. After all, there is little statistical chance of a school shooting or a foreign invasion happening here in B.C. There’s no reason to allow small children to become worried or stressed about it and plenty of reason to protect their feelings of safety and security, especially since, in this place and time, they are safe.

But, if we are lucky, our children grow, and eventually start to grow up. Part of our job as a parent is also to help form our children into moral adults and responsible citizens, people who will create the future from their collective and individual decisions. We can’t do that if we don’t allow them to see the uglier side of the world they are growing up in and help them understand it as best they can.

One Sunday afternoon when I was about nine years old, I stumbled upon a documentary about the Holocaust as I was flipping channels. The images of the starved children and the bodies in mass graves horrified me.

My father found me sobbing (which was not an uncommon occurrence) and asked what was up. I explained and then begged him to tell me it wasn’t true. No one could do that to children.

“It is true,” he said as he hugged me. “You need to know it happened and you need to know it could happen today. You need to know that so you will be ready to try to make it stop if it ever does happen again.”

For the next few years, I read every book I could find on the Holocaust, starting with Anne Frank’s diary and eventually moving on to war histories from both sides of that conflict. While the atrocities horrified me, it was the stories of people who risked their own lives to protect strangers, often for years, that convinced me people are inherently good and are looking for opportunities to prove it.

So, my husband and I try to raise children who are aware that bad things happen, while also teaching most people are good most of the time and can be trusted. It sounds like a contradiction, until you accept the fact that people do evil things for reasons. Sometimes those reasons are unfathomable to us, other times you can see them coming through the lens of history or circumstances or human nature.

At all times we have the duty to try to stop them, and if we can’t, to fight them, and if we still can’t, to stand as witnesses to their evil, to say No in the loudest way we can muster.

My kid swiping the family news magazine will soon be entering the adult world he’s now reading about each week. The time to ponder and prepare will serve him well, I hope. At the least, maybe it will help him know just how large a life lottery he won by being born in this country, at this time.

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