Adventures in Parenting: Why Bad Things Happen

Kids are full of questions, and I am full of answers

Why is the sky blue? Why do birds sing?

The sky is blue because molecules of nitrogen and oxygen in the air scatter and refract to create blue light and hence a blue sky.

Birds sing as a means to communicate. They are looking for a mate or defending their property.

But my kids don’t ask me questions that simple.

Who? What? Where? Why? And How?

My children are curious about how things work. They ask “How are buildings made? Where does steel come from? What makes a car or airplane go?” My kids are long passed the birds and the bees. They want to know about electrical engineering and particle acceleration. I have answers for most things, even told them where babies come from, and yet they still want to know more.

Recently, my oldest asked me, “Why don’t we ever read books where bad things happen? Or see sad movies?” I don’t know. I thought “How to Train Your Dragon” had some sad parts.

Why are mommies and daddies mean?

Sometimes I'm a “bad” mommy. Mean isn’t “sad” they explained. I say a lot of “No,” “Don’t do that,” and “Do as I say.”

I told my kids that they have to listen to us, their parents, so that in case of an emergency they’ll be trained to follow urgent directions. “Stop” might save a child from dashing into a busy street. “No” might save a kid from eating poison. “Run” or “Hide” might save you from fire, genocide, earthquake or tsunami.

Those words, as you can imagine, lead them to more questions. We found reputable news sources online and watched a few videos of the situation in Japan. For a long time they didn’t have any questions except, “Is that real?” But I knew a final important question was looming.

Why do bad things happen?

I grew up going to church. I still go. I love religion. Not just my religion, but I like lots of other people’s religions, too. Everyone turns to God, or the lack thereof, to answer why bad things happen. Is it sin, justice, weakness, karma, or penance? Is the answer in Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other sacred text?

Did anyone ever think to ask a mom, “Why do bad things happen?”

Bad is relative.  If you watched enough "Twilight Zone" (the way I did growing up), you’d know that good is relative. Does anything good ever come to the person who gets three wishes? Wins the lottery? When asked why bad things happen, we must first change our perception of bad and good. 

Bad is better than worse. The first time I got a speeding ticket, I was devastated. I cried. I was shocked, but I was also trained by my parents to look on the bright side. It took me a few days, but what if getting a speeding ticket prevented me from being in an accident. What if it was the ticket that saved my life?

I told my kids that earthquakes and floods and tornadoes are hiccups on the planet. Without each little disaster, they’re might be a bigger disaster that could hurt and kill far more people.

What if there are some questions that don’t have answers? There are some things that science and religion can’t fully explain. What if our puny human brains just can comprehend the answers?

Good things are equally perplexing. But no one sat around on Saturday wondering why the day was so beautiful. And what did we do to deserve it. Our planet is a strange place filled with devastation and beauty. Snow and sunshine.

The biggest task of parenthood is answering life’s question when we don’t quite know the answers. The biggest task of childhood is to care enough to keep asking.

Lamar March 20, 2011 at 12:46 PM
Good advice, Thanks this will be very helpful.....
Brenna Crowder March 20, 2011 at 07:27 PM
Very insightful Nicki! I guess I never have sat outside and wondered why a day was so beautiful, just enjoyed it while it was there to enjoy. I think the happiest people are the ones who figure out a way to put bad things into perspective as well as the good things. :)
Nonie Ravenberg March 21, 2011 at 03:28 PM
Way better than, "It's the Lord's will." As a child, that answer always left me thinking either God wasn't very nice (and therefore, why should we like Him?) or that the adult I was questioning simply wasn't smart enough to know what the real answer was. I had high expectations of others even as a child, it seems.
Nicki Salcedo April 03, 2011 at 10:26 AM
Stumbled across this article this morning "Acts of God? A Jewish Perspective on Natural Disasters" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-laura-geller/acts-of-god-a-jewish-pers_b_842215.html. I'm a "It's the Lord's will" and "Deus ex machina" kind of girl. I guess I don't attribute the punitive to bad/good/will. And I spent a good portion of yesterday enjoying yet another beautiful day. Earlier in the week, my daughter and I walked to the mail box while it was raining and she turned to me and said "You love the rain." I do. Rain isn't bad. The more it rains the better my lawn looks.


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