Parenting: Sandy's Lessons

David Murphy says the lesson from Sandy for your kids: no matter how bad things get, it could always be worse.
November 1, 2012

Living in the tradition of our Colonial forefathers (candles for light, blankets for warmth, foraging for food---at least, in the dark kitchen---and then figuring out how to prepare it) was fun, at first. About two hours in, everybody was shivering, bored and miserable. Of course, we now know, Colonial life stunk.

Modern Times

But it didn't take long, especially after the power came back on, for those in the neighborhood who had been cut-off from news of the storm began feeling a little better about their inconveniences. The awesome and terrible pictures of homes destroyed and word that some people would be without power---or even a home---for weeks, had jaws dropping, even days after Sandy had dwindled to nothing more than an afterthought spinning from Western Pennsylvania toward New York and Canada.

I took my teenaged son for a walk around the neighborhood which included the sight of several tree surgeon trucks tucked into people's yards, a pair of enormous branches which had crashed into somebody's front yard, squashing another smaller tree, and debris everywhere. Then, the power returned and we got a load of the pictures of the far worse destruction elsewhere.

In a perfect world, it would've been nice to have none of this to deal with. But in our imperfect world, it was also nice to know how much worse it could've been. There's a lesson here, generally, that can be passed along to our kids with the hope of it sticking. Life always has disappointments. In fact, I suspect that for many of us, they increase exponentially as the years go on, or so it seems the longer you hang around the planet and add-up the negatives. But no matter how bad things get, it's probably worth remembering that in nearly every negative situation that arises, there is almost always a worse scenario.

Old Lessons

My father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in his mid-thirties, which at the time was extremely rare (in fact, he was thought to be one of the youngest people ever stricken back then). He had to retire in his forties and by his early 60s he was in a nursing home because he had become so prone to losing his balance and falling. It was a pretty bad hand to be dealt; almost anyone would agree with that, I think. I sure felt that way. But a couple of years before he died, when I said this to him, how bad a break he had gotten and how unfair it was, he waved me off. "Yeah," he told me, "but don't feel too bad about it. I've always thought how much worse it could be. I could have cancer. I could be in pain. I could have no one to support me, or to care about me. No, I've had a good life. I have kids I'm proud of, a family who loves me, a career I enjoyed. I've plenty to be happy about."

The skeptics among you may be thinking that these were simply encouraging words from a good dad who was trying to make his kid feel better about life, and that may be true to an extent. But I've always took the message to heart. And when subjects like disappointment, aging and mortality come up in family conversation, I've often commented that if tomorrow, I was dealt the sort of fate as my father, it would stink, but I'd also be darned pleased that I've had the same sorts of positives in my life that my father spoke of: a good family, great memories, great opportunities---and the good sense to spend a lot of my life reflecting on those things and smiling about them.

Get real

The message to kids is twofold. First, no matter how big your troubles, you can almost always think of somebody else who has greater woes, as well as plenty of people who are having the same issues you're having. Very often, realizing this instantly makes you feel less alone and woebegone. Second, bad times are a lot easier to take when you've had the good sense to recognize and savor the positive experiences life has also served-up. These lessons won't solve problems, but they do help a person to take a deep breath and gain some perspective. That's often a first good step toward tackling a problem.

By the way, the lights and heat came back on after only two days. The cost: a little wasted food and a little inconvenience. We were and are fortunate indeed.

---David Murphy

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