Why It’s Okay For Kids to be Sad (sometimes)


A couple weeks ago I received one of those phone calls that everyone dreads; my mother was on the other end of the line and she was in despair. My sister had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away.

The first few hours after the call were a blur, but one decision my husband and I quickly made was not to tell the kids. They were too young, our daughter “Sun-Bun” is 4 and our son “Pookie” is 2 plus I was too fragile to compose the loss into kid-friendly terms. So I hid out in our bedroom, to cry and to call family and friends.  Living thousands of miles away from my family made logistics challenging, factoring in my job, the kids and a dog, it seemed mission impossible to get me anywhere quickly. Thankfully my in-laws came to the rescue.

Later that night I turned the plan upside down when I told my husband I couldn’t go alone, I wanted to bring Sun-Bun with me. “Oh no,” he replied, “There will be too much crying, it will scare her.” I assured him she would be fine. Reluctantly, he agreed.

On the plane I told Sun-Bun that her Auntie had gone to heaven and we were going to have a special gathering to say goodbye. “Will there be ice cream and cake?” was her first question. She continued to ask questions until the hum of the airplane lulled her to sleep – “How do you get to Heaven?”, “Can we visit Heaven?”, “Do angels fly like fairies?” I stroked her hair until I fell asleep myself.

In the days leading up to the service Sun-Bun was kept busy by relatives and ate her weight in baked goods that neighbors delivered daily. The day of the service I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. Then Sun-Bun started to cry. I tried to choke back my tears and tell her everything was “fine.”  Sun-Bun looked confused, “Then why are you crying?” I laughed because she was right. I was crying because I was sad and that was okay. Sun-Bun and I hugged each other through the rest of the service.

Modern day parenting can be filled with contradictions. We want our children to share, yet sharing is rarely necessary, we buy “one of each” to prevent siblings from squabbling. We don’t want our children wasting food, yet they are hardly ever hungry, as we tote snacks on any outing longer than ten minutes.  Most importantly, we want our children to embrace life, yet we shelter them from death, replacing hamsters, goldfish and even beloved dogs and cats before our children even have time to miss the predecessor.

I think sometimes our children deserve more credit. I am pleased with my decision to share my sister’s passing and funeral service with my daughter. It has been during this time of grief that I have gained a profound appreciation for the iron clad bond of family, for my role as a mother and the wondrous joy children can bring us, even in our darkest hour.





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4 Responses to Why It’s Okay For Kids to be Sad (sometimes)

  1. Sandy April 16, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Tina-welcome to Momicillan!
    I agree with you whole heartedly. Most days we do not give our children enough credit. We want them to grow and mature but are always doing things for them, buffering their existence…not that some of that is not needed.
    Thank you for sharing such a painful and poignant moment of your life. It was a brave thing to do.

    • avatar
      Tina April 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

      Thanks for the warm welcome Sandy. It was difficult to share but so often I have benefitted from other moms being honest and sharing, I felt I it was right to try to do the same. Being a mom truly is a balancing act, that’s for certain.

  2. Katie April 16, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

    I completely agree. Without some sadness there is no measure for happiness. I think it’s totally appropriate to tell kids about a death if it happens. no need for gory detail, obviously, but denying our grief to spare them discomfort, only confuses them. Kids can tell when we’re upset. If we force it down, it seems that we tell them it’s not ok to be sad and grieve a loss.

    • avatar
      Tina April 17, 2012 at 6:44 pm #

      Katie, those are such good points about measuring happiness and about how easy it is for kids to translate our trying to protect them into it being “not ok” to be sad. Thank you.

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