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What I Tell My Children When the World Gets Heavy

Shadow of many kids playing in nature, sunset, summertime
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Sometimes, social media is a happy place of funny memes and cat gifs. Sometimes, TV news actually gives us hope and highlights good things done by good people.

But other times — far more often than any of us would like — the news is scary, and makes us want to pull our blankets up over our heads and just not get out of bed.

It’s on those days that I wake up and am instantly horrified, angered, and frightened at what I see during my morning scroll.

When bad things happen in the world, my thoughts always turn to my children. I worry about keeping them safe and sheltered in this new world of school lockdowns and mass shootings. As if that’s really possible. My two boys are both 7 years old, and they’re pretty much oblivious to how ugly this world can be. But I know these days won’t last forever.

Although they casually toss out phrases like “lockdown drill,” the reasons why we practice what to do in an active shooter situations or other emergencies eludes them. “Scary” for them still means the zombie shows that their dad and I watch after they’re (supposed to be) asleep. Or Mama losing her crap over the LEGO on the floor and threatening to take away all the electronics.

My young children have no real concept of true danger or the fact that there are twisted individuals who walk among us. They understand hurricanes and other natural disasters because we live in Texas and our neighbors in Houston got pummeled by Harvey; but they really don’t grasp what it means to be unsafe. They don’t “get” that the world we live in has so much danger and hostility and violence outside the confines of our home.

And do you know what? I’m okay with that.

On those days, when the news is intense and the headlines are heartbreaking, I keep the TV off. I have the luxury of doing that now, at their ages — at least for a little while longer.

I am mindful about what they see on my phone or on my tablet. I am extra careful not to have conversations about violence, homicides, mass shootings, or terrorism within their earshot. I’m on high alert to combat anything and anyone who wants to clue my 7-year-olds in to the harsh reality that there are people out there who hurt other people.

I keep them bubble wrapped, unapologetically.

Because the truth is, I don’t know what to tell them when the world gets heavy. I just don’t. And it makes me feel helpless, because I know in my heart I can’t really offer them protection if one day, the violence winds up on our doorstep.

I could tell them nothing bad is going to happen to them on my watch. I could shower them with assurances that Mama will always, always keep them safe. Maybe I can tell them that as long as I’m around, nobody will harm them.

But I’d be a liar.

I can teach stranger danger. I can tell my kids to pay attention during lockdown drills at school. I can let them know to look for the helpers or the mothers if something bad happens when I’m not there.

I can helicopter and monitor all day long, but I can’t offer my kids any guarantee that some nut job with a gun isn’t going to find his way into their school and start open firing. I can’t offer them any kind of assurance that harm won’t come to us while we’re out shopping, playing at the park, sitting in church, or unloading groceries in our own driveway.

Because evil is out there and I’m afraid of it. And I have no idea what the “right” way to explain this to my children really is.

So just like all of us, I’m fumbling my way through this, the best I know how.

I answer honestly when they have questions about something they’ve heard or overheard. I try to balance teaching them basic safety skills and good judgment with keeping them cocooned from the atrocities on the news or on Mama’s computer.

I don’t talk to them about every shooting that makes the news. Hell, if I can help it, I don’t talk to them about any shooting that makes the news, because I want to shield them from the fact that those kinds of things happen.

I don’t know if I’m doing any of this right. I just know that pulling back the curtain on the ugliness that’s out there feels wrong, at least for now.
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I often ask myself if that’s the right approach. For now, the answer is yes.

Because there will always be another shooting, another random and senseless act of violence. And saturating them with explanations about how the world sometimes just sucks? No. I don’t want that for my kids.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I’m doing any of this right. I just know that pulling back the curtain on the ugliness that’s out there feels wrong, at least for now.

When the world gets heavy, I hug my kids tighter. I indulge them in small ways, like usually-forbidden soda at dinner or a bubble bath in my garden tub. I give them extra hugs and kisses and I hold them and tell them I love them.

I fight the urge to cancel plans, to keep them cocooned inside our house, where no one can hurt them. And yes, I know that nowhere is safe. As my mom always says, “When your room is ready, your room is ready.”

We can practice good risk management as parents, but we can’t avoid living life because we’re afraid of the bad guys. So instead, we go out. We live. We learn. And we try to forget that there are people out there who can snuff out bright lives in a blink just by squeezing a trigger.

My kids look to me to protect them. I know that I can’t always do that, even if they don’t. For now, I protect them by keeping them bubble wrapped for just a little bit longer. Because I can.

There will come a time when they come to me with deeper questions about something they’ve seen in the news. I’ll take a deep breath and have an honest conversation. They’ll eventually figure out that I can’t protect them from everything and I’ll accept that they’re growing up.

What do I tell my kids when the world gets heavy? I tell them I love them. I hold them tighter and love them harder.

Because that’s all I know how to do.

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