Recent Events Make Parenting a Challenge

“Life is fragile and temporary. The faces of today quickly become the faces of the past. Sorrow, pain, and anger… it all fades- except love. Love is forever and there after, even when we’ve fallen to our graves.”Lee Argus

I went to pick my son up from school last Thursday and was talking with a mom in the parking lot. It turns out the school was under lock down for a brief time that morning: an irate parent was on the phone threatening to kill his two children who were attending the school. The school handled it well and handled their communication with us in a timely and informative matter.

Fortunately, nothing serious happened but it made me stop and think about school security at my son’s middle school, which seems to be non-existent. Little did I know that this small threat was nothing compared to what would happen on Friday in Newtown, CT.

My husband and I had taken the morning off to run some errands, do some holiday shopping and go out to lunch: a rare treat for two busy professionals. At one point, Brad went off to meet his trainer and I roamed around downtown Santa Barbara window shopping. I chatted with my friend Kathy Garland in Texas about her new grandson and enjoyed the Christmas decorations while I waited for my husband to join me for lunch. The glow and delight in  her voice reached through the phone and warmed me. Children are such a gift: to me personally but also to the world at large. Their joy, curiosity and wholeheartedness never fail to remind me to be grateful and to see the world with fresh eyes.

As soon as my husband saw me, he told me what had happened and the tears instantly welled up in my eyes. I think I was already raw from the emotional and very real threat the day before. Even today, each time I hear a new story about what happened or about the brave adults who lost their lives protecting the children, I cry. I met my friend Alice for coffee this morning and we shared tears with our coffee for the families affected.

Through Facebook, I am connected to a woman who’s son attends the school. She did not lose her son, but did lose a close friend. Even though I have never met this woman face to face, my heart goes out to her, her family and her community. Being even loosely connected to the event makes it that much more real and devastating.

I think what hit me the hardest about the senseless deaths of the children and adults in Connecticut was the time of year. I adore Christmas and this year I am so grateful to have a large part of our family coming to visit from across the U.S. and Canada. This should be a time of boundless love, celebration and togetherness.

My heart hurts.

My heart hurts for the families and the entire community in Newtown. My heart hurts for Adam Lanza and his family.

My heart hurts watching my own children and trying to explain to them how someone could commit such an act of violence against other people. I want them to see my grief, to understand the emotional impact such an event has on so many people. I refuse to hide my tears or protect my children from reality.

My empathy and vulnerability will hopefully model for them what grief and empathy look like. We cannot hide our emotions or pretend that we are not impacted by tragedies large and small. We have to talk to our children and what is happening beyond our front door. Our children also need to know that they are not the cause of our sadness.

Children can easily assume that they are the root of our distress. They sense when we are not our normal selves. Reassure your children that they are not the source. Even if you choose not to share details (especially if you have younger children) it’s okay to let your kids see you be sad.

If we don’t talk to our children about events like this, someone else will.

I don’t want my children to live in fear for their personal safety. I want them to go through their life with the same joy, curiosity and keen interest in the world they show now. I can remind them what we do and what their schools do to keep them safe. The incident at Conner’s middle school was an example of how quickly things can happen and that our children’s safety comes first. I can teach them not to panic in an emergency and remind them that rules are in place to keep them safe.

I can share with them the story of getting mugged with a girlfriend while walking back to our hotel in Spain: adrenaline kicked in and I fought off the mugger, trying to save my friend’s backpack with all of her money and her passport in. We were lucky he gave up and left and neither of us were hurt. I learned what it felt like to be scared and move through that fear. When I returned to the hotel, my legs were shaking so badly I couldn’t stand up.

The Mayan Prophecies

To add to the emotional mayhem this week, the subject of the End of the World on Friday has come up as well. In fact, it’s come up often throughout the year.

Conner: “Mom, do you think the world is going to end on 12-21-2012?” He is fascinated by the idea of the Mayan calendar, curious about the concept of an apocalypse and maybe needing some reassurance that he will be okay. His Dad and I are not stockpiling food and water, showing fear or even much curiosity about the event.

Me: “I don’t know, Conner, but if it does at least we will all be together. If it is the end of the world, not much we can do about it, is there?”

That’s usually the extent of the conversation. The goal of the conversation: to allay his fears.

Allaying my children’s fears and taking their fears seriously is a big part of my job as mom. Fear is a real emotion. As a parent our heart’s hurt when we see our children get hurt, be sad or be afraid of the boogeyman under the bed or in the closet.

As Newtown, CT showed us, the boogeyman can show up anywhere. All we can do is to remind our children that they are loved and that we will do our absolute best to keep them safe from harm. Our children need to know that we are their rock.

My heart hurts for the children in this world who don’t have a rock to hold onto.

Parenting has been a challenge this week but at the end of the day, my children know they are loved and for now, we are safe.