Family Friday: How Do you Tell Your Children that Sometimes Life Just Plain Sucks?


Sometimes there is no possible way to candy coat the dreadful news, no silver lining hiding a glimmer of hope, no deeper lesson to be learned through the mire and the muck. Sometimes life just plain sucks for no apparent reason except that it does.

Today was one of those days where all that can be said is “Life just plain sucks.” Period. Because today I learned that one of my daughter’s Kindergarten classmates was diagnosed with cancer. A beautiful, loving little girl who plays dollies, colors rainbows and says, “Excuse me Mrs. Young” in a tiny voice that melts your heart.

Cancer in Kindergarten. I realize it happens…a lot more than we’d like to think, but I can’t stop myself from wanting to scream, “NO, they are only kids! They shouldn’t know about cancer or tumors or horrible treatments that strip your body of life from the inside out.” It’s not like any of them chain-smoke or work in a coalmine such that there’s a logical explanation – a cause and effect that you can be angry at.

It’s times like these as grown-ups you know that the crying and the grieving is simply a part of the process and that searching for an explanation is futile at best. The years of experience have taught you that sometimes life just plain sucks and that no amount of rationalization or thinking or searching for an answer will change that solemn fact.

But how do you tell your children that sometimes life just plain sucks?

How do you explain that the bad guys sometimes do get away or that even when you try really hard, you still don’t win, or that really bad stuff happens to amazing people for absolutely no reason? How do you explain to them that their understanding of the world is fatally flawed? That the moral code taught in cartoons where rainbows smile on you and make everything better isn’t true?

Or do you even tell them? Do you let them continue believing in a world of wonder and magic? Do you let them continue to shape a world where miracles do exist? Do you close your eyes and hope that they are right and wonder does exist? Do you hope that they are never given any reason to wonder about the Karmic justice that allows little girls in Kindergarten to get cancer?

I wish I knew.


About Author

Carla Young, Publisher If there’s living proof that women can have it all – and then some – it’s Carla Young. Building her multiple businesses on a virtual work-at-home model, Carla is an inspiration to other mothers who want to start a lifestyle business. During her early days as a mom entrepreneur, Carla made every single mistake in the book (and a few new ones for good measure). Realizing that “doing it all” was unhealthy and unsustainable, Carla started by getting organized to the extreme, developing support systems for both her work and family. After other mothers started asking how they too could enjoy her lifestyle, Carla launched to support moms at work, at home and at play (because every mommy deserves a little me-time)!


  1. I say let them continue believing in a world of wonder and magic. As much as they need to know the fact – yes a playmate has an illness – miracles do exist. It’s about making the best out of everyday. How do we teach them to do their best and believe in what is unseen – if we buy in to LIFE SUCKS. Life is Life. It is meant to be Lived. The LIFE SUCKS – feels like giving up. Never Give Up. Our family was told, several years ago, “She likely won’t make the next 24 hours”. She was my Grandmother. Now almost 6 years later – she is still with us. You just never know for sure.

  2. Yes to letting them continue to live in the world of magic and wonder, but how do you answer questions about fairness and why bad things happen when they come up? You can’t hide the world from them…at best you can temporarily shield them from parts, but how much and for how long?

  3. Unfortunately our family has endured a great deal of heart ache over the past several years. Our 1 daughter has undergone 8 operations and our oldest was just in a car accident & sustained a brain injury. Our philosophy is that everything has a purpose and reason. What we have gone through will make us stronger & more understanding of other’s. If may not be fair, but God has his reason even though we do not understand them. No matter how bad our situation is someone else has it worst. We stick together as a family & we will get through it and we will be stronger in the end. God does not give you more than you can handle & once you are through it you will realize it. Life is tough, people are cruel but you have to believe in yourself & have courage.

  4. Oh, this breaks my heart. I wish I knew the answer. I think on one hand knowing that there are people less fortunate than they are helps kids develop gratitude and appreciation, but cancer. In a little girl. I just don’t know.

  5. Children should not get sick – period.

    I can’t handle handle things like this either. If I were a gazillionaire, St. Jude’s would get all the money they need to find a cure.

  6. Life happens. That is true. It is how we as adults handle it that makes a difference in a child’s life. We need to turn it over to God. Everything happens for a reason. We don’t know why, it just does. This might be the most amazing experience that child will ever have. We have no idea. When life was at it’s worse for me, I turned it over to God and opened myself to receive his grace and it was truly amazing.

  7. The interesting thing is that I didn’t have to explain her sickness to Gracie. I just told her that sometimes people’s brains have a part that goes crazy and makes a “superball” and it makes your brain not work and so they operate to take it out. Very matter of fact and so that is how she thinks of it. I’m the one who has drama about it.

  8. Matter of fact is definitely the best way to deal with it. What I have trouble with is answering the questions about why these things happen. Um…? Life is random?

  9. Children definitely look to us for cues on how to process this type of information. I love what Elizabeth said about approaching it as a matter of fact.

  10. on

    The one true thing I have learned watching my 20month old go through leukemia and chemo these last 6 months has been that kids are the most resilient beings on the planet. They won’t understand why what’s happening is happening to them or the people around them but they will know they are loved no matter what and that they are strong enough to fight this and hopefully to survive it. Please tell your daughter, let her know her friend is sick and is not only going to need medicine but all of your love and support to get through the next few years. Tell her don’t be afraid of what happens because no matter what she will always be her friend. ***hugs***

  11. I never say things happen for a reason. I firmly disagree with that statement. I never lie. I never let my children live in a world of mysticism. I’m not religious and I don’t believe in miracles. I have explained cancer and leukemia to my children and I never ask “why?” The equally valid question is “why not?” Cells do things for reasons we don’t understand. It’s a waste of energy to try to find an answer. I am always amazed that the body does things “right” so often…

    Often, parents don’t tell children the truth because they don’t have answers to the question “why.” Part of being a good parent is admitting when you don’t have an answer. Often parents will not talk about issues of death and illness because it’s THE PARENTS that are uncomfortable with the discussions. They are meeting their own needs, not that of their children.

    I love what Elizabeth PW said… that she is the one who had the drama about it. That represents so well what I have seen with my own cancer and the children I know with leukemia: the children just deal with it. They just want to know what’s next, what they need to get out of the way so they can play, be with their friends, feel better.

    It should always be age-appropriate information, and not doom and gloom… but honesty is always the best policy in my book. My children are better friends to those with cancer and those whose parents have cancer because they feel comfortable talking about it.

    Life isn’t always fair. There isn’t a justice meter. The sooner we accept that and teach it to our children, the sooner we can focus on teaching them coping mechanisms. In the long run, those will be more valuable.

    I am sorry for the kindergartener’s diagnosis… I hope they have access to good doctors and facilities. I wish them the very best. I am sure you and your family will be a great source of friendship to them in the days ahead; they will need the support of those around them.

  12. I love what you said (and refer to it in my comment above). I think that statement speaks volumes about what a great mom you are and your perspective on your experience. I appreciate your honesty in saying that and hope others who haven’t been through it can learn from such a simple, yet powerful observation.

  13. This is so heartbreaking… I hate the very thought of children suffering from cancer. Life is so unfair and I don’t know how to explain it to kids. I love many of the answers that others have left in these comments.

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