Sometimes Bad Moms Think It Best To Stay Quiet

By on May 3, 2011

Last year, we spent the spring and summer in Berlin. My kids learned about the Holocaust and they learned about parents who sent their children away to keep them safe. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to teach them about these things, but I knew that I had to. After visiting a memorial with my children, I wrote:

My children do not yet understand how lucky they are. But they will learn. In an age appropriate fashion, we will teach our children about the children who are not as lucky as they are. That will include those suffering from famine, war, natural disasters, slavery and the most horrific human initiated violence and genocide. They will learn, so that they can help. They will learn, so that they appreciate their privilege. They will learn, so that history does not repeat itself or at least not on their watch. They will learn, so that they can demonstrate empathy and compassion, rather than the arrogant entitlement that so often accompanies privilege. They will learn because it is damn important.

A couple of months later, we spontaneously visited the German museum for television and film, which was filled with fascinating and eye catching exhibits on everything from Marlene Dietrich to the Nazi propaganda machine. Everything was going well until we entered the news room. As I was looking at one display, my five year old son was staring at a television that was showing clips from the most newsworthy events since the introduction of television. Before I realized what was happening, he was watching those airplanes flying into the World Trade Center. I can’t remember the details of the conversation that we had after that moment, but I’m sure it involved reassuring him that it wouldn’t happen again (even though I wasn’t sure that was true) and I’m sure it didn’t involve mentioning that the man in charge of that horrific event was possibly still alive (to be honest, I figured he’d been dead for a while).

Now I know he was still alive. I also know that the Americans (with the help of others) found and killed Osama Bin Laden. Do I feel like celebrating? Not really. Do I feel like this chapter of our history is closed? Not even close. Does his capture change the way I feel about terrorism or the terrorist threat facing us at all? Maybe. But when I say maybe, I mean that we could be safer or we could be in a lot more danger. We really don’t know. When I hear about people telling their kids that the world is a safer place today, I wonder: Is it really?

Talking to my kids about history is important. Teaching them about diversity and injustices and privilege is important. But purposely opening this particular can of worms and then scaring them by not being able to answer their questions is not something I want to do right now. The monsters in their closets and the stories I tell them about Stephen Harper are scary enough.  So no, I won’t be talking to my kids about the death of Osama Bin Laden. For now, I’ll be staying quiet. Call it the “smart mom” approach or the “bad mom” easy way out. Either way, I’m okay with it.


About Annie

Annie, aka Phd in Parenting, straddles life on the Quebec/Ontario border with her partner and two children. She shudders at the thought of being considered mainstream in parenting or in life and is always trying to recruit others over to the dark side. Annie is always looking for (and sometimes believes she has found) the 25th hour in the day as she balances running a business, having a family, and carrying on numerous conversations ranging from important to trivial on every social media site out there. Annie writes about parenting, feminism, social justice and the intersection between the three on the PhD in Parenting blog and tackles issues at She is also the mayor of the Cupcake Lounge on foursquare.


  1. S Potter says:

    Great post Annie. I’m nervous about that can of worms too and my oldest is only 3. When is old enough to share certain things? Hard to say. I think taking to opportunity to talk about the Holocaust to teach about tolerance and empathy is brilliant and something everyone should do. That is a story we should never stop telling. If we stop telling these stories they find ways to tel themselves again and real people suffer.

    I must say though, when you don’t have answers or a perspective it’s frightening for both Mom and kids. But it bonds you too. Without giving all the gory details, when I was 12 my mother told me (sparing few details) that she had been a victim of sexual assault for most of her childhood at the hands of a family member. She couldn’t say why it had happened, but it brought us closer together (and at times further, but only briefly) as a family. The only lesson we learned is that evil exists. I believe I was too young for such a personal story, but if it had been evil happening to strangers it would have produced great empathy for them.

  2. kittenpie says:

    I’m with you on this – I don’t feel that mine need to know about this or have the ability to understand it in a way that makes sense quite yet. How do you explain that you think someone’s death was necessary, but definitely not worth celebrating, and how do you talk about people celebrating the taking of a life, be it one person or 2, 973? I hope they have a while yet before they have to try to parse that level of hatred with their experience of the world.

  3. Christine says:

    We inadvertently dipped our toe in it yesterday when my 8yo saw the headline of the NYT and said, “Wait! He’s dead! Yay! The war is over!” and I said something like, “Well. Not quite.” He said, “It’s good that he’s dead.” and I said, “Well, he WAS a really bad man.” I am so uncertain how far into it to go with him. I don’t want to over OR under estimate his ability to understand, to learn, to empathize. It’s so extremely complicated.
    Christine´s last [type] ..The Beauty of Three

  4. Devan @ Accustomed Chaos says:

    another great post Annie & i am of the same feeling. My son, especially (who is 5) is at an age where he loves to ask questions and i answer as honestly as i can given my information. we’ve had many discussions about violence and weapons and i know he would likely ask why was it ok for them to use violence against him – i dont have the answer. There isnt a way i could answer the question & not scare him — & i dont want to bring that up to my five year old. If he asks, we will figure it out from there i guess.
    Devan @ Accustomed Chaos´s last [type] ..My Eyes Are Begging to Sleep An Atypical Birth Story

  5. Emma Waverman says:

    I love your approach Annie to discussing the big issues. Unfortunately, I don’t have the same choice. My son is 11 and I wanted him to know my perspective about Osama before he went to school as I assumed that would be hot news and I was right. He said that everyone at school was happy about Osama’s death, so I was glad that I was able to talk to him before hand and let him know that things aren’t as clearcut as they seem. (Plug alert: and I blogged on my feelings over at

    • EarnestGirl says:

      I’ve learned that with these, the things from which we want to shield them, and other issues like the ones from which we cannot, like sex and like drugs, we do well to take our cues from our kids and then keep every line of communication open. Let them ask the questions when they are ready, because they will, because there is no shortage of questions to ask or media coverage or shcoolyard misinformation to navigate, but do so when the time comes. For come it does. Meanwhile, hold them close for it is there they will find the security they need to manage the rest.
      EarnestGirl´s last [type] ..Daily Grace

  6. Mindy R says:

    My daughter is only three, so I don’t have to worry about this quite yet. But I appreciate your take on it. Thanks for the post.
    Mindy R´s last [type] ..Happy Spring!

  7. Brenna @ Almost All The Truth says:

    Great post! I have been chewing over this one since the other night when I heard the news. I like having my children understand, in age-appropriate ways, what is happening in the world. I want them to realize how lucky they are. I want them to know and feel compassion. I want them to want to help others in times of need. I have written about talking to them about the Gulf oil spill, the tragedy in japan, etc. I do not want to talk to them about Osama Bin Laden. And so far I haven’t.
    Brenna @ Almost All The Truth´s last [type] ..New studies find prenatal exposure to pesticides impact IQ…


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