Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting: Emotions In Conflict

In the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, we know so many of you have something you’d like to share about your thoughts and feelings regarding this terrible tragedy. Please feel free to comment, or to send us a contribution via

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Amy & Laura

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by Marjorie Worthington

Before I ever became a parent, I’d heard people talk about the depth of emotion involved. “You’ll never believe how much you can love someone.” “Children become the center of your life.” And perhaps the scariest one: “You look at that child and realize you would die–or even kill–to protect it.” Then I had kids and, of course, all those emotions hit me. I won’t bore you with the details of my love for and devotion to my kids: as profound and important as it is to me, there’s nothing new or unexpected there.

But one feeling WAS unexpected. Little did I know (and no one ever warned me) that looking into my children’s eyes, striving to protect and understand them, to anticipate their every need and soothe their every hurt, would lead me to a deeper understanding of other kids as well. I started to look at other people’s children with the eye of a caregiver.

If my kid cries because someone pushes him down, I felt horrible for him, but also for the pusher, because I had seen my kid butt in front of him in line for the slide. If my kid doesn’t want to play with a girl who’s bossy, I sympathize, but my heart also goes out to that poor, rejected other girl. I can’t help it! In every little person, I see what I see in my own kids: fragile, scared and clueless souls trying to figure out how the world works.

What’s more, I’ve found that I see it in the adult faces I encounter as well. That woman at the office who shoots down every new idea before considering it? In her I see someone compensating for hard-to-please parents who were never satisfied. That neighbor who spreads everyone’s personal business all over town? I look at him and see a little boy always chosen last for kickball, using gossip to forge friendships.

I’m so focused on children and their concerns that I now see the child inside everyone. Or perhaps, it’s that I now recognize that we’re all still children, really, still just trying to figure out how the world works.

Between these two conflicting instincts–protecting my children above everything else, including myself, versus seeing the struggling child in everyone I meet–I have found that the world I inhabit is a much nicer place if I focus as much as I can on the latter. If I can remember that everyone is inherently just trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got, that at heart everyone is a nervous little kid wondering if they’ll have someone to sit with at lunch, I accomplish a lot more and get angry a lot less. I had decided that this was the way to live; I thought that this was one way in which parenthood had made me a better person.

Until last Friday, December 14.

The massacre at the Elementary School in Newtown, CT tugged on both of the impulses I’ve described. On the one hand, I can see the troubled child in the young, mentally ill man, clearly in so much pain that he felt the need to harm himself and others. On the other hand, I felt the deep anger that any person would feel when loved ones, particularly ones so young, are harmed.

My parental emotions are in conflict. Yes, I felt sorrow for the young man and his pain, but–as always during these all-too-common tragedies–I am enraged that someone would inflict their now ended pain on others, magnifying and multiplying it, ensuring that the pain will last far longer and spread far wider than his individual feeling ever could.

For now Lanza’s pain has spread to the innocent children he killed; it has spread to the teachers and administrators (heroes all) who dedicated–and, in some instances, sacrificed–their lives to protect those children; and it will reverberate forever through the families and the community of those who were lost.

In response, I try to summon the compassionate parental impulse, the impulse to see the hurting child inside every person–even Adam Lanza. When I can do this, I know that what we need is the necessary support and resources for families coping with mental illness.

But that other impulse–the impulse to protect one’s children at any cost? That’s important too, and it shouldn’t be ignored, especially now. After all, the courageous teachers who felt that impulse saved lives on Friday. When I call upon that impulse, I realize what else we need: stronger laws to curtail such unthinkable incidents. We need to draw upon our collective, protective parental instincts to force this conversation, to bring these laws about, to keep our children safe at any cost.

Marjorie Worthington lives in Champaign and has an eight-year-old girl and a five-year-old boy in the Champaign Unit 4 School System.

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  1. Erica Reynoso says:

    My heart aches. When I look at my little 3year old boy I can’t imagine how a person can look in a child eyes and not see the innocence they have. I’m broken my heart is torn and my prayers go to the new town community.

  2. Great, thought-provoking post.