Parenting after tragedy strikes: A retrospective

    Today was a sad and scary day. My heart is grieving for those hurt and killed in Boston. Aching for their families and friends, heavy for the locals in Boston, and heavy for our country as well. And just heavy for all of us as we grapple with yet another national tragedy.

    For most parents, this is an instant flashback to 9/11. But I have to remember that for most of our children, thankfully, it is not.

    Perusing Facebook, I see posts from moms with younger children asking what kind of world they brought them into. What kind of a world they’ll grow up in. Questioning it all.

    I lost one of my closest friends in the World Trade Center on 9/11, and I had a two year old son at the time. As all the grief and horror unraveled around us, what my son asked me about most often were the firefighters, for he loved fire trucks at the time.

    When I look back on that little boy, I think of how Mr. Rogers advised parents after tragedy, in an oft cited quote:

    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

    He was such a wise man (and she was such a wise woman).  This sentiment was poignantly true again today.

    Finding answers

    I remember that post 9/11 feeling that we all felt … What is this? What’s next? How can I possibly raise children in this world?

    While I can’t help with the first two, I might be able to shed some light on the last one.

    For the newer parents wondering today what kind of world we’re raising our children in, I do have some perspective.  

    Back in 2001, I was hoping to adopt again, and I remember questioning deeply why I would try to add to my family in such a terrible world. I looked at my two year old and felt truly horrified by the world he would grow up in.

    That toddler is now 14 and as shattering as Sept. 11 was, he has grown up happy and secure. His childhood and his world have been essentially good. And I’m so glad I was able to get past that feeling of dread for the future, because his 10-year-old sister (the baby I adopted 18 months later) has grown up happy and safe as well.

    Even growing up in the aftermath of that hideous disaster, they see their world as safe, because mostly, it is.

    My children, both the one born before 9/11 and the ones born since, have seen far more good than evil, known far more kindness than hate, witnessed far more beauty than ugliness, and have much more hope than I ever would have imagined they would. I believe that will still hold true even after today, and I hope it brings some tiny comfort to parents asking those questions right now.

    My children also know that bad things happen, and they’re sad to hear it, but they don’t grow up believing they are in danger any more than I did. They see these tragic events as the outliers they are, in our corner of the world.

    So when horrors like this strike, it takes my breath away to think of the mamas in other corners of the world who will never breathe that sigh of relief that most of us will have in a few days or weeks or months.

    That they never get to exhale.

    That they don’t even have moments of crisis because it’s ALL crisis, and bombings and terrorism are their normal.

    And yet, they still go on and love and raise their children as best they can.

    It’s for them that I try my best to realize that even in scary and somber times like this, I should be grateful that our children are mostly safe from the dangers of terrorism.

    I hope that reality continues for us. And that it spreads outward far beyond our borders.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.