The Myth of Protecting My Children

It is a pivotal and excruciating parenting moment when we realize that we cannot protect our children from the world’s evils. For those of us who parented through the 90’s and 00’s, it feels sometimes like we have been bombarded with events that reminded us of this heart-clenching fact.  Although one of the hardest things in parenting was letting go of the myth that I could protect my children, there was something even harder yet to come.

Myth of Protection, memorial fountain, Dunblane massacre, Dunblane, Scotland

For my family the dissolution of this myth began on March 13, 1996. I had two children in nursery school and another closing in on his due date.  The kindergarten classroom massacre that morning in Dunblane, a small Scottish town, sent me reeling as I could not find a single excuse why my sons, being educated in a small English town, could not have been in harm’s way.  Parents were frightened, a nation grieved and the only hope we could hold onto was that such acts of unspeakable evil would rarely, if ever, happen again.

Like every parent, for weeks I was haunted and felt raw.  I think that feeling of exposure came from letting go of the illusion that, even though my children were tiny, even though as millennials they were encased in a world designed to ensure their safety, such safety could never be assured.  Knowing something and experiencing the realization, for me, were two different things.

For many years I knew this truth and my children didn’t.  They learned of Columbine and still either believed that such horrific events would not come into our lives or, that if they did, that I as their parent could offer them protection.

Then came 9/11. With our home and the children’s school 40 miles north of the World Trade Center, we rushed them home from school and did nothing to shield them from the truth.  As scared as they were I found that they were still young and believed that they lived in their parent’s protection.

Last spring, on the day of the Boston Marathon, when my college son called from Boston to say that he was fine and nowhere near the race site, he did not sound scared or even panicked.  He knew I would worry about his whereabouts and just wanted to offer reassurance.  He and his friends often travel the streets on which the marathon was run and so it felt very close to him.

But then I heard it.  In between phrases we have all said to each other, “I can’t believe this.  It is just so horrible,”  was the painful recognition that he might have been there.

On another day, a different week, he had walked along those streets where the bombs were left. He may have wanted me to tell him that it was okay, that he would be safe in the city he has grown to love. But he and I and the world around us are beyond that. And while in the very rational place in our grown children’s minds they know they are not in our protection, it is an event such as the bombing that makes them experience it on a visceral level.

So there it was, the moment where he and I acknowledged that I had never really been able to protect him, that we had both been vulnerable and that only I had known it.  The hardest day was not when I realized that I could not protect my son, it was when he did.



  1. says

    And there you have it. Exactly as you’ve expressed, it’s the horror and the gulp and the realization in between the words. A rite, a sad rite, but a necessary rite of passage into adulthood. I often think of Mary, as in mother of Jesus in the New Testament, who the scriptures say, “kept these things in her heart,” after he was crucified. We keep the good, the joys, the horror and the sorrows and most of all, for our health and I believe our children’s security, the hope and the trust, in our hearts.

  2. says

    Our childhood seemed to be so blissful and carefree. While probably an illusion, our children grew up in a time of no such illusion. School shootings and terrorist attacks remind us that we live in an unpredictable world over which we have no control. You are right- the toughest part is knowing that our children have come to accept this as part of their new normal.

  3. says

    What a moving post. I had to describe some basic elements of the Holocaust to my 12 year old the other night, and it’s heartbreaking to have to teach your kids how impossibly grotesque human beings can be. I had to end our discussion with stories from that time of a more hopeful nature so she didn’t go to sleep completely bereft, but I wish there were some things I truly could shield her from forever.

  4. says

    Very, very well written. I often feel if I truly let myself panic I would never let anyone in my family leave my house. We are only safe here right? But, it’s not realistic and I have to relax and trust my children and the way we raise them and God with theirs (and my) well being!

  5. says

    Its a true realization that you had and not an easy one. Although I know that various people in my life protect me on various levels, they CANNOT protect me from that. I rest in the Lord for my and their protection, that’s as good as it gets!

  6. says

    Unfortunately we can’t always protect our kids from harm, although we can educate them and teach them to be reasonably cautious. Recently there was a shooting at our our local mall and I used that as an opportunity to teach my kids to be aware of their surroundings and to park in well-lit spots (that aren’t remote). It helps to feel a little more in control . . .

  7. says

    Beautiful, Lisa. My son was just in Israel and I too thought about all the horrible things that could happen to him there. Compartmentalizing those thoughts and assigning them to a certain part of my brain was difficult, but something I had to do in order to deal with his being there. Only when he came home did he tell us about a hair-raising incident–when sadly, he, too, realized we can no longer protect them wherever they go.

  8. Carpool Goddess says

    Lisa, I got teary eyed reading this. For me, it was so hard to let my kids go off to college and live across the country, but I did. Somehow I have this false sense of security when they’re nearby, but it is just that, false. I used to be relieved when they were at the movies instead of a wild party, but now a movie theater has seen the worst violence as well. Longing for simpler, more peaceful times.

  9. says

    My children are still young, but we are slowly loosening the leash on the older two. My almost 10-year-old is starting to become more aware about events – and he actually was asking me a number of questions about the Boston Marathon bombings given all of the anniversary coverage. I hate to strip away his innocence, but I know there will come a time when he will realize there are things outside of our control. I suppose we can only teach them to be aware, kind and make smart choices. And that we cannot live in fear – after all, I worry enough for my entire family!

  10. says

    Thank you for sharing. As the mother of a toddler I fear this moment. I suppose parents through out time have all had to deal with the moment their children realize they can’t protect them, still the reality of this in the face of hate and violence is something I hope will one day change. I suppose motherhood is a slow journey of letting go.