How to Talk to Children About Abortion
With a home culture of openness to the hard questions of life, an imagination fortified by examples of heroic virtue, and a real friendship with Christ Crucified, young children can begin learning the meaning of evil words such as “abortion.”
With the sad anniversary of the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision, many young parents wonder how to talk to their children about abortion.
I have several priest friends who in past years have independently shared stories of being accosted after a Respect Life Sunday or March for Life homily by angry mothers lambasting them for using the word “abortion” in a public Mass. One was even accused of destroying her 10-year-old child’s innocence.
As their children become more aware of the culture of death around them, parents can become paralyzed by their own fear of having to teach their children about abortion.
How do we explain such a grisly procedure to our small children when they hear the word “abortion?”
First, in the words of Pope St. John Paul II, do not be afraid of this difficult conversation, and do not avoid answering if your child asks. When you made your marriage vows, you promised to raise your children in the Truth. God, in turn, is generous and will give you the words to help your child face any evil in the world with courage and love.
As with every “hard thing,” my first approach is to reflect the question back. If my son asks, “Mom, what’s abortion?” I ask him, “Well, what do you think it is?” This gives me a deeper insight into what he may have heard and the real question he’s asking. In most cases, you will find that they don’t need many gory details or they may already have enough of the truth given their age. My son, for example, told me that he thought it was just “when a baby dies, and that makes us very sad.” For a 5-year-old, that is enough. His understanding is not a lie and helps him understand why we work and pray for an end to abortion: “We want to pray that no more babies die.”
Two years later, he understands more. Aborted babies do not just die in the sad, mourned way his unborn brother died from miscarriage, but they die because they are killed.
This brings me to my second piece of advice: Do not see “the abortion talk” as a one-time event. As with any potentially uncomfortable parent-child exchange (the “sex talk” is a good analogy), the conversation should be ongoing. Perhaps most importantly, your child should leave you knowing that your door is always open should they have more questions later down the road.
We strive as parents to avoid lying to our children at all costs and instead introducing them to the fullness truth slowly, as they are able to digest it. In the case of sex, we begin by providing them with good models of marriage so that they can inhabit the joy and strength that comes with following the Church’s teaching on chastity and procreation. The home culture of sexual morality paves the way for later biological instruction as a matter of course when children are ready.
In the same way, a home culture that receives the child’s questions about abortion with understanding and sincere interest in what they wonder about is one in which children will not feel left to face evil on their own.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, take some time to assess your family’s approach to the battle between good and evil in general. There are many grave evils, hard truths, and frightening words in the world besides “abortion,” and young children for all of human history have grappled with them.
“Abortion” is not the only hard word they will ask you about. We cannot protect them from all evil, but we can strengthen them with faith, hope and love.
In their innocence, children see and rejoice when we show them the goodness of life. The first step in preparing them to learn about the word “abortion” is to dwell, not on the evil, but on the dignity and sacredness of human life. They can participate in parish baby showers for the poor, food drives for homeless shelters for mothers, prayers for the unborn, and the joy of a new baby in your own or another family.
Books like Angel in the Waters can give them a child-level glimpse into the wonder of human pregnancy and demonstrate that you, as their mom or dad, are open to talking about birth and life.
With this hopeful and joyous approach to the unborn, they will certainly feel the tragedy of an unborn child’s death more keenly, but they will also have the tools to understand that those who have or perform abortions are to be pitied and loved rather than hated.
Life is a great gift, and your child will grow up wanting to share this “good news” of human life. Read them many stories in which good overcomes great evil. The old fairy tales are one such example: The Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang provided fantastic tales in which dragons are confronted and defeated.
As Catholics, we have the stories of the martyrs that inspire even the youngest children. By allowing their imaginations to “play” with stories, you will give them a framework for understanding and battling real evil when they encounter it in the world.
Bring them to Mass, where mankind’s worst sin and God’s final triumph are remembered and made truly present on the altar daily.
Give them a way to help. If your child is brokenhearted to learn that sometimes a mother doesn’t want her baby, then find a way your family can help single mothers and the poor so that they can keep their babies. Let them pray for all unborn children. Help them make a meal or cookies for a family with a new baby to show how much that baby is wanted and loved. Meaningful work can heal a sad child’s heart and show them that charity triumphs over despair.
With a home culture of openness to the hard questions of life, an imagination fortified by examples of heroic virtue, and a real friendship with Christ Crucified, young children can begin learning the meaning of evil words such as “abortion.” Most of all, they look to you, their parents, for assurance that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. If you raise them to know the Lord of Life, their innocence cannot be destroyed by the culture of death.