Every day I am terrified that something awful will happen to my children. I worry that I will receive a phone call or a visit from someone telling me that my sons are injured, or worse. It is a fear which grips me and every parent who cares for their child alike.
On Wednesday there were parents in Belgium who experienced this horror, and in the most terrible of circumstances; and, as colourful hand-drawn pictures are attached to school gates and people hold one another and cry, an ever-growing carpet of flowers hugs the edge of a bridge which overlooks the entrance of a tunnel in which 22 young children lost their lives.
What the parents of the lost 22 must be experiencing at this moment is inconceivable. The children's photographs make their way into the national newspapers, rows and rows of faces with bright eyes and big smiles. They were just children, who one day would have grown into doctors, lawyers, parents. As a father, I cannot possibly imagine what the parents of those beautiful children must be going through. Their words are immortalised in blog posts set up by their teacher to keep them informed of what they were doing on their ski trip; words of excitement and homesickness. There is a photograph of them gathered together on the snow in bobble hats and gloves, smiling at the camera. And now they are gone.
As parents we often find ourselves having to battle with our fear in order to allow our children to experience the thrills that the world has to offer. It is a precarious balancing act, but we realise that it is the right thing to do, that to mollycoddle our children and wrap them in cotton wool will do them no good in the long term.
But it is not for us to know what will happen tomorrow. We cannot even say with full certainty what will happen in an hour. All we have is right now. I'm no parenting expert, but I will say this: if you snap at your son, or your daughter, then apologise and give them a hug. Discipline them, but make sure they know that you love them. Hold them whenever you can, regardless of how old they are. And never, ever let them leave the house with harsh words ringing in their ears. You cannot know what may be around the corner.
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