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Talking to Kids about Life’s Tragedies and Realities

Sep 13

Posted by: ACHA
9/13/2012 11:07 AM  RssIcon

By Alissa Butterfass

As I write this, it is 9 p.m. on September 11th. Eleven years ago, I was on my way to work at the World Financial Center. I exited the subway train at the World Trade Center station only to be rushed by a police officer to the street-side exit, away from the exit that led to the two towers. My initial thought was that there must be a mugger with a gun in the station. If only…

I wasn’t going to bring up September 11th to my kids quite yet, but at dinner my 6-year-old son asked if I knew that today was a holiday. I asked what holiday and he told me it was the day we remember the fighting in the two towers. He told me the mother of a girl in his class was in the south tower that day but she wasn’t hurt. He asked me how many people died. He asked where I was and I told him I was there. I told him that I found some friends and together we walked up to one of their apartments. I told him I called Grandpa Bob—not Oma (my mother)—because I knew he’d be in his office to receive my call that I was OK. I told him I walked home from my friend’s place, and even though it was a sad day, one thing I was happy about was that by chance that day I had chosen to wear my more comfortable, less dressy shoes and it made walking the many blocks to my home easier.

As we sat tonight at dinner, I spoke cautiously and by instinct. I didn’t want to potentially scare him with any details he hadn’t already known; he didn’t mention airplanes, so I didn’t either. I wanted to be truthful but not frightening.

That is the same approach I take with discussing my heart condition with my kids. The topic doesn’t arise frequently. Usually it comes up when we talk about my 3-year-old’s birth by surrogacy, or if the kids happen to see my scars. Or two weeks ago when I was with them at Sesame Place and couldn’t keep up with them as they climbed fast and furious through the net maze.

I don’t want to hide my heart condition from my kids. It impacts their lives, as it does mine. But I also don’t want them growing up worried about Mommy. So I try to be honest. Keep it simple. Let their questions guide the conversation. Rely on my maternal instincts as to what information they can understand and they can handle.

Eleven years ago, these two kids were barely a glimmer in my eye. Back then, I was so early in my relationship with a man who happened to be an ER doctor in a downtown hospital that I didn’t even call him at work to let him know I was OK. Instead, I left a message on his home answering machine, and all day as he treated the injured, he was worrying about his girlfriend who worked across the street from the Twin Towers. This man is now my husband, the father of my two boys. Together we are doing our best to protect our sons from life’s tragedies but also to enable them to face life’s realities with honesty, understanding, confidence and love.

Alissa Butterfass was born with transposition of the great vessel, which was corrected with a Mustard procedure at age 2. In addition to being a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, wannabe author and chocoholic, she volunteers as the Co-President of her local chapter of a nonprofit organization. Until recently, Alissa worked part time as a senior marketing manager at a Fortune 500 company.

Copyright ©2012 ACHA

Location: Blogs Parent Separator ACHA Blog

2 comment(s) so far...


Re: Talking to Kids about Life’s Tragedies and Realities

Well said Alissa!

By Cari on   9/13/2012 4:35 PM

Re: Talking to Kids about Life’s Tragedies and Realities

Hi Alissa,
I completely agree.

I too have two young children, now 9 and 10. In the years leading up to my transplant last March, we had many discussions about life, death, and yes, heart defects. My son also has a heart defect for which he has undergone open-heart surgery.
When the call came for my heart replacement, my son Riley , who always comes across as so strong, was most afraid of losing mom. They sat in my CCU room for the hour leading up to my surgery. And I have to say, it was the best approach we could have taken.
After the surgery we took the kids to a trusted cardiac counselor, who upon interviewing them deemed them to be happy and kid-like.
Discussing death and dying with children is hard, but my husband and I have seen children who do not get all of the information turn angry and fearful.

By Lorelei on   10/23/2012 11:34 AM

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