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3 Big Parenting Lessons of 9/11

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KIDS AND 911
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Ten years ago, I was a single law student, standing on the sidewalk outside of a Starbucks, watching the Towers crumble with a group of complete strangers.

A decade later, I am a tax lawyer, married and a mother. I am still walking distance from Ground Zero, and I think about those New Yorkers -- their reactions and their reflections -- almost every day, now, as a parent. Of course, I had no idea then, but these strangers taught me three of the most important aspects of protecting your child's present and future, in any city, under any circumstances.

1. Expect the unexpected.

Every parent imagines the future: seeing your teenager run across a soccer field, snapping that picture of your kid throwing his or her cap into the air. But, unfortunately, things happen. Life can throw curve balls at any family. And the best parent prepares today, no matter how hard it is to accept that the world isn't always what we envision.

Like most people on 9/11, the people around me were stunned that such tragedy could unfold a few blocks from us. They kept saying, "but those people in the Towers are just normal" or "ordinary." They "just went to work like they always do." And it's true. They were just ordinary mothers and fathers who went off to their jobs on a normal Tuesday, and never came back home, or were seriously injured, unable to resume their lives for long periods of time.

As a parent with young children, you can't afford to just hope that nothing happens to you or your partner. While these issues aren't easy, you need to make sure your family has adequate life insurance coverage, in case something happens to your primary earner and your source of income. You also need a disability policy, if one of you has to take a long leave of absence from work. And you need a will in which you designate a guardian, in case someone else needs to raise your child.

2. Say something.

Anyone who has been a parent for even a few weeks can tell you it's the hardest job there is: you never get a moment of total "down time," when you can stop thinking about your kid's safety and well-being.

Ten years ago, the rug was ripped out from under us. People on the street turned to each other, and asked, over and over, "how could this happen here?" Our bubble of safety suddenly burst, and in those first few days, we all felt vulnerable and exposed.

As a parent, it's more important than ever to be aware of your surroundings -- on subways and trains, in airports and in malls -- wherever you live. You may feel that you're "overreacting," but it's so much better to speak up if you see a bag left in a corner or anything else that makes you uncomfortable. Trust your gut, and don't worry about what other people may or may not think about you.

3. Don't let building a future get in the way.

Every parent strives to give his or her child the best opportunities possible. And so many of us work long hours to save for our family's future -- to buy a home, to send our kid to college. But don't let those financial goals get in the way of being with the people you love the most in the present.

That September morning, people kept saying they wished they'd spoken to someone who lived near or worked in the Towers. In the thick of everything, they expressed so much regret about not calling or visiting friends or relatives. While building a nest egg is certainly one of the most important parenting responsibilities, don't forget to spend as much time as you possibly can with your kids too. At the end of the day, that's what you and they will appreciate the most.