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So You Killed Your Cat. Now What?

pet grave headstone“Do you think we should tell the kids what really happened? What they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?”

Recently we received these questions when a parent accidentally ran over the sleeping, aging old family cat. What would you say if they asked you?

I’m wondering if you can help me with an immediate issue. Our dear friends have a 10 year old son & 8 year old daughter. They also had a 14 year old beloved cat until this morning – One of the parents accidentally ran over Ginger (she was sleeping under the car) this morning while leaving for work. The children were asleep so did not see any of this.

One parent thinks they should not ever tell the children that they ran over the cat, and that it died of natural causes. The other parent is conflicted about not being open, but also doesn’t want to lay this on the children. What would you recommend in this situation? As of now, the children know the cat died, but nothing about the accident.

My response:

Great question! Tough situation for everyone involved.

My initial response was to leave it alone, kind of the “what they don’t know, won’t hurt them” philosophy. However, I think there are some opportunities for growth, transparency, modeling and healing in this situation.

I would suggest telling the kids: “We have something very difficult we want to tell you. We thought about not telling you because we know it will be hard to hear and that you might have all sorts of upset feelings, but just because it is hard, doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do. Also, we don’t want to lie to you because we believe that lying is wrong. We believe that as a family we will all be able to handle this together.”

I’m sure the driver feels terrible about it. There will probably be lots of tears. Emotions may run high from anger to sadness and back to anger. The bottom line for me is this: The parents have an opportunity to help their children walk through a difficult time with difficult emotions. They have an opportunity to treat their kids as capable of handling a tough time and not shielding them from real life. There is also a great opportunity to build empathy toward the parent who was driving and how awful that parent feels.

If the parents do tell, they need to be ready to allow their kids to have emotions and not try to squash them. Perhaps there can be a memorial service for the cat.

Hope these thoughts help. I’d love to hear what they decide to do and how it goes.

I eventually did hear back from my friend. Here’s what happened:

Dear Chad,

Thank you so much for your fast response on Thursday regarding the situation with the death of my friends’ cat. I immediately passed along your email to them – and your words were instrumental in helping them decide what to do. Here is the text I received from them that evening:

So you accidentally killed the family cat. Now what?
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“Had a talk with the kids tonight. When we told them how the cat died, they were more worried about making ME feel better than what had happened. Unbelievable – I’m so blessed. Thank you for all that you did to support us today. Your words of wisdom and prayers and emails were so helpful.”

Also, I will be holding on to your advice as a reminder for how to handle future difficult situations with the kids. Thanks again! Your wise words were a huge blessing!

Proverbs 12:19 says, “Truth lasts; lies are here today, gone tomorrow.” The parent who ran over the cat spoke the truth to the kids and became the recipient of their mercy and grace. The parents together gave the kids a loud and clear message: “Even when it’s hard, we’re going to tell you the truth!”

Apply It Now:

  • What age-appropriate truth do you need to tell your kids?
  • What kinds of things are you most likely to cover up for the good of your own kids?
  • This week, pay attention to what things you might be lying to your kids about.

Want help implementing these principles with your family? Check out our coaching options!

[Photo Credit: shaunl |]

Chad Hayenga
Chad Hayenga
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