Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed this evening, a photo of a body covered in plastic made me stop in my tracks. A lone stuffed animal rest beside it. Death staring me in the face on my social media; the implication of it being a child was a punch to the deepest part of my mother’s soul.
A confusing mix of emotions came over me. Anger that we are so desensitized to violence that no one thinks anything of filming a tragedy or sharing somebody else’s loved one lying on the street. Sadness that we live in a world where terror attacks are an almost daily occurrence. Finally, a feeling that I can’t put into words — I suppose my mind can’t wrap itself around the absolute unfairness that any child should suffer the consequences of it all.
And then, fully aware of the irony, I put on a smile and led my girls, 8 and 2, to the bathroom, “time to brush teeth and read bedtime story!”
In these moments I am both a protective mama bear, shielding them from the cruelty of our human kind, and a hypocritical pretender, acting as if there is not a care in our world. It’s a juxtaposition that challenges me every day.
Here’s my conflict: do I prepare my girls for the harsh reality of the outside world or do I let them discover it on their own?
Do I preserve their innocence for as long as possible or do I introduce them to the tough things in life on my own terms?
We don’t usually watch the news in our house. However, we tuned in to a local station during a major flooding event in our city earlier this year. There was one devastating clip in particular the news favored that day: stranded horses from a nearby stable struggling for their lives in a rapidly rising current.
“Will they die mom?”
I told my oldest daughter the truth: “I don’t know. Some of them might, but I hope not.”
What else could be said? Some did die. Most lived. Life sucks sometimes. I wish they didn’t have to see that. Not now, not yet.
But it isn’t all bad news. We CAN protect and prepare our children at the same time.
One of our jobs as parents is to stay positive and deflect the negativity the world throws our way. We are a barrier between our children and this negativity, though we can’t shield them from everything.
My children inevitably encounter things that don’t make sense to their innocent souls, and I choose to answer their questions as honestly as possible. I feel that it is better for me to explain to my children than for them to guess or hear the spin of a sensationalist television account. Hopefully this will help ready them for when it is time to face the world head on.
However, I also choose to avoid the evening news during my girls’ waking hours. We don’t watch scary movies. We don’t go looking to bring negativity into our home. Aren’t they children still? Do they really need to see all of that if it’s not forced upon them by circumstance beyond our control?
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me — when it comes to parenting strategies, nobody seems to agree on what is the “best.”
What I do want for us to agree upon is the responsibility to teach our children love and acceptance, even if it at times like this it seems futile.
Because that’s the thing, love isn’t futile.
Times like these illustrate perfectly why teaching children love and acceptance is crucial to our future.
Our children grow into the adults that run this world. If we teach love, they will live it. If we allow in negativity, they will absorb it, with consequences unknown.
All of the terrorists that plague this earth were once children. Some of them grew up in far-away places with situations that we can’t understand or imagine. But some of them grew up here. In the safety of our free world. All of them had parents that steered them in one direction or another.
Leading our children down the right path doesn’t just mean that we avoid bad influences from the outside. We must take a hard look at ourselves and the message we spread through our own words and actions.
We can’t write our children’s entire life story for them, but we can give our them a head start by creating an outline that sets the tone. A solid structure will guide our children as they author their own story, a story of light, even in dark times.
To teach our children LOVE, we must be intentional in:
- How we treat our loved ones – First and foremost, we should take care to speak and act respectfully in our homes. Even when we are upset, it is so important to avoid name-calling, put-downs, and foul language. Our children see and hear it all. If we don’t even treat those closest to us with love, then won’t our children assume that everyone else deserves worse?
- How we treat strangers – The same rules should apply even with people we don’t know personally. Working in an online space, I am surprised by how often people are cruel to each other; bullies hiding behind the safety of their keyboards. Even if impersonal, words still hurt. The saying “treat others as you wish to be treated” will always be the golden rule.
- How we treat them (our children) – Respect is earned. Mom and Dad are the boss, but our children can’t learn what respect is if we don’t let them experience it.
- How we treat ourselves – This one is often overlooked, but couldn’t be more important. Say NO to negative self-talk, NO comparing ourselves to others. Building confidence and love in your children starts at the very core of our own being. Children must love themselves to love others.
Some days it is hard not to feel hopeless when we’ve been pummeled with so much negativity, violence, and sadness. But I don’t want the world to be a hopeless place for my children, for our children. So on those days, I remind myself just how critical my job is, and why we must continue teaching children love.
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