12/17/2012 11:10 am ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

Talking to My Children About Sandy Hook

Like the rest of the country, I have been struggling to make some sort of sense out of Friday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. I am the mother of four children ages 6, 8, 9, and 16. I somehow felt like I needed to understand what had happened before I could talk to them about the tragedy. But how does one understand the incomprehensible? In desperation I sat down and sent a frustrated email to two of my most brilliant friends, who just happen to be environmental psychologists, demanding answers. I wanted to know, what it is in our environment that is making these horrific scenes so frequent.

I thought I knew the easy "answers": increased violence in the media, increased access to more effective guns, desire for fame in the Twitterverse. I'm not denying that these are present factors, but they're obviously not the whole story, and the relevance of the first one, to my mind, is shaky at best. I understand that this was a disturbed young man. Still, we've had disturbed people in our midst since we've had a midst, and this type of act seems new. Why is it so often schools? Why is it so often young victims and perpetrators? Is there something in our environment that is driving already borderline personalities over the edge?

Predictably, sagaciously, my dear friend wrote back that I was demanding rational answers for an irrational act. Each of these tragedies is unique. The motivations of the perpetrators may help us to cope, but they won't necessarily help up to prevent the next act.

After praying that they hadn't already seen the stories on a random news source or heard about it from a friend, I decided to talk to my kids about the shooting. It was very difficult. I said exactly what a good mother should -- that they would always be safe, and that this could never happen at their school, and that this was a one crazy person. I knew I was lying to them. The fact is, of course, I know that I take a calculated risk every day I send them off. I didn't like lying to them, and I know that one day when they realize that I can't always keep them safe they will resent me for it, but, talking to scared young kids using qualifiers is obviously a non-starter. I did what I imagine all the rest of the concerned parents in this country did. I hugged them much tighter, I was/am desperately sad for the families in Connecticut and exceedingly grateful that it was not my children who were harmed, and I lied to my kids.

Again my friend weighed in with words of wisdom far beyond my own:

Yes, you lie to your children. Every parent does... Every spouse lies to their partners. We reassure when there are no grounds for being reassuring; we express confidence where we have little. We would like to believe that we can manufacture safe and productive lives for those we love, when in fact we struggle every day to manufacture a safe and productive life for ourselves. And we lie to ourselves, too. "If I do X, then Y will happen." ... We play the odds and pretend they're certainties.

But what choice do we have? Obviously, I will continue to send my children out into the world, because life inside a protective bubble is no life at all.