Before I had children, I watched a lot of news. I also watched newsmagazines, talk shows, and true crime shows. On the one hand, I just watched more television in general. I had a lot more free time, after all. On the other hand, I was interested in what was happening, and I wanted to be informed. All of that changed when I became a parent, though. Not because I didn’t want to know what was happening in the world anymore, but because I couldn’t stand it when what I heard was bad. And, if you’ve ever watched the news, you know that much of what you hear is bad.
Having children exposed my soft underbelly, and turned my empathy up to 11. I can no longer handle news stories about children being hurt or abused, and I definitely can’t handle stories about very young children dying. When I heard a news story a few years ago about a boy who died in his bed from “dry drowning” after inhaling some water while swimming, I became panicked every time my own daughter swallowed a little bit of water in the bath tub, or choked on a drink. I feel the pain of all the other parents in the world, and I am just that much more tuned in to potential dangers my kids could face. I decided just to stop watching TV news altogether. I could no longer handle the stress.
My news hiatus went up a notch when my daughter Hannah was three or so. I was in the habit of listening to talk radio in the car, but I had to stop that, too. Every half-hour the news came on, filled with stories of terrible happenings near and far. When Hannah reached the age where it was obvious that she was both listening and understanding, I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I just wasn’t up to handling questions like, “What is ‘sexual assault’?” Or, more frequently, “Why did that man kill the other man?” My kid never let me brush her off, either. She kept pressing for every sordid detail. I found that listening to Bobs and LoLo on CD was much safer.
While I claimed that I stopped listening to talk radio because I was concerned about scaring my daughter, the truth is that she was largely nonplussed by what she learned. Young kids don’t have a lot of concern for the pain of others, as evidenced by the way that they hit you and then laugh as if they’ve just told the funniest joke in the world. But as parenting caused me to lose my own taste for bad news, it also introduced a new element, which was a desire to protect my children from unpleasantness. Listening to the news might not have upset my daughter, but hearing her questions as she listened to it upset me. I didn’t want her to live in a world where she had to understand why people sometimes do incredibly terrible things to each other.
In the years that have followed, I’ve had increasingly complex conversations with my daughter about increasingly complex issues. We’ve discussed where babies come from. We’ve dissected my parents’ divorce. We’ve talked about poverty and politics and labour disputes. We’ve wrestled with difficult questions as we read Little House on the Prairie together. I’ve also had another child, who’s gotten to tag along as Hannah and I chat. I’ve seen that there’s no way to shield my children from the world: they inhabit it just as I do, and if anything I need to equip them for it.
All the same, I still avoid the news whenever possible. I do read the newspaper, but even there I’ve found myself hiding a section in the recycling box when it contains a particularly heart-wrenching headline or photo. I can’t just shrug off all the bad-ness anymore, because my stake in the world is so much greater. I didn’t know it, but I made this bargain when I gave birth. I get a front-row seat to all the little ordinary, every day miracles of raising children. I get to experience all of the highs and lows. In so doing, I allowed my heart to be permanently exposed. It’s filled to overflowing with all sorts of good things, but it’s also easily bruised. I need to be careful with it. It’s a bargain I’d willingly make all over again.
I don’t really know what’s happening in the world around me. When people make allusions to current news stories and use words like terrible, I nod knowingly and change the subject. I’d rather not hear about something that I have no control over, but that will cause me to lose sleep anyway. For me, it’s just safer that way.
What about you? Did you find that your reaction to sad news stories – especially those that involve children – changed when you became a parent? And how do you react when your children ask you hard questions about current events? I’d love to hear your stories!