The juxtaposition of parenting in our chaotic world is that we can go from the minutia of wiping up the morning’s breakfast dishes, shuffling kids between activities, and playing Legos to then trying to explain terrorism, hatred, and racism.
When we receive the latest chaotic news it makes us want to lay in our bed and get swallowed up. We are grief-stricken and overwhelmed at the questions that spin in our heads. And then we hear it, “Mama, what happened?”
We want to stay in bed.
We want to shake our fists at the screens.
We sob. Loudly.
We cover our mouths with our hands in sheer horror.
This is the chaotic world in which we parent. This is our superhero horror book come to life where the monsters and villains are real-life, breathing humans. And we are all scared. Especially the parents, because what is the first thing that crosses our minds? How do we raise our kids in this chaos? Where are the superheroes who will save us?
The desire to pull the blanket over my head resumes. I don’t know how to parent in this world. I can’t explain the hows or whys that this is happening to myself, let alone to my children.
“Mama, what happened?”
Be Honest About Your Emotions
When I was growing up I rarely saw my mother cry. A completely loving and empathetic person, crying was just not something I ever saw her do. Maybe she was tough and maybe she did it with the door shut. I grew up thinking crying in front of others was not a positive trait, weakness in fact. It changed for me when I became a parent. Not because I necessarily yearned to be a different mother but because I wanted my kids to know that life was imperfect, I was not perfect, and that devastation and sadness were real, and that hurting was human. I cry openly and often at the chaos of our world and I allow my children to witness it.
Crying is okay.
Laying in bed under the covers is also okay.
But eventually, we do need to get up.
And that’s when we need to talk honestly.
It feels uncomfortable and we aren’t sure how much they can handle, but then we are gifted with the right words at that moment.
We watch our words sink in and it’s like injecting sadness into their sweet, innocent bodies.
And then we don’t let that be the end of the story.
When we think of the beautiful precious children under our care, we hope to instill in them their own awareness of calling out hatred and evil, acting out and advocating with a full heart, and learning continuously as they soak up the world through empathy.
Be Informed and Show Empathy
As adults, we must first listen to those closest to the hurt before we begin to strike up a conversation with our kids. Let us first be informed. Read, listen, and observe, not so that you may reply but so that you may start to understand. Educate yourself first through perspective and information gathering. Brene Brown, calls empathy, “feeling with people.” You need to first start with your empathy work, not sympathy. Sympathy is seeing your friend in a very messy place and you, from a distance say, “That’s messy and that’s too messy for me. Good luck with that.” And that’s not the type of response I want to teach my children.
Don’t Stay Silent
“We don’t give up, do we, mama?” Her young voice spoke confidently. And it gave me a renewal in my heart to act. We will do something. We won’t be silent with our hearts, minds, and actions. We will sit with our family, friends, colleagues, and community members in their hurt. We won’t leave them alone. We also won’t stay silent and inactive.
To do something means that we will channel our inner talents for the good of others for a cause that will fight against evil. It is incredibly easy to feel powerless. There’s a toxic wave that washes over you saying, “there’s nothing I can do,” or “this really won’t make a big difference.” It’s normal to feel like this. We can do hard things, we really can. I know it feels like you are about to hold your breath and go under fire water but you’ll make it through and it makes a difference.
As parents, we need to make time in our family to volunteer and do service projects. How will your kids know the needs and hurts of the world sheltered in the dance studio or baseball field? Show your kids that your family makes time regularly to help others.
Helping others isn’t a one-time action or donation. Because there will always be more hatred, terrorism, and chaos. If we really want to raise empathetic children who will be the defenders of inclusion, love, and peace we need to teach them through experience.
Why can’t we talk politics? There is a stigma that we can’t talk politics at dinner parties or in groups. Why? Politics is about who gets what, where, when, and why. That’s an important conversation. Talk about politics with your kids, with your family, and neighbors. Listen to feel and gain perspective. Contact your legislators regularly and pay attention to what they are doing. Our political involvement doesn’t end with the voting booth and a sticker, we need to teach our kids that too.
There are no simple answers for how to parent in our world but we must reject the evil and injustice that has become the norm.
I reject this normal.
Our love is bigger.
Our hope has endurance.
We won’t be silent.
We will speak up and act.
It can feel heavy parenting during this time. But imagine the heaviness felt by those most impacted by terror, evil, and hatred. We can do hard things. We can teach our kids to do hard things.
Photos: Sarah Hudson Photography