I distinctly remember being upstate in a bungalow colony and feeling overwhelming fear because I overheard that the “Son of Sam” was earmarking and attacking young women with blond hair. What did I know at five years of age? I anticipated that my mother was at risk and I gravely worried that she would become his next victim.
It wasn’t anyone’s intention that I overheard the news and was stricken with fear and worry. When I finally couldn’t hold it in any longer, I cried and expressed my fear and was reassured that it was happening on another side of town and that my mother was safe from any imminent danger. I’m amazed that the incident still sticks out in my mind and when reflecting upon it, I can recall the intensity of fear I felt almost forty years ago.
It led me to think about what my children and other children experience today with all the discussion of political unrest, racism and terrorism. It’s hard to shelter children today from all the violence that is so overtly out there. It’s in our face 24/7 via social media. Around the clock, we know about what’s going on in our communities and in the rest of the world. It’s broadcasted and re-broadcasted. There’s no way to shield ourselves from it. Even for those who desperately try to.
I feel so incredibly protective of my children and want nothing more than to ensure their safety. The boundaries of this safety is far-reaching. It extends in not wanting them to see it, hear about it, or experience it. I want to shield them from the violence that plagues our society. I yearn for them to be carefree and want so desperately to preserve their naivety. Besides the one incident, I feel I was afforded with that. I didn’t concern myself with politics, racism and/or terrorism. I wasn’t exposed to any of that, because it wasn’t so overtly out there for me to view.
As a parent, I wrestle with my responsibility in it all. There’s a part of me that wishes that I never brought children into this volatile world. Of course, when I think of myself absent of my four children, I become sad and despondent and feel a twinge of guilt and shame for having those thoughts and feelings. There’s another part that wants to shelter them from all the chaos, cruelty and violence. I want so desperately to maintain their innocence and avoid them from feeling fear and worry; especially from information that may not be developmentally appropriate for them to understand and cope with.
There’s yet another part that wants them to know everything. If they are privy to the information, they’ll be knowledgeable, cautious and grow up to be interested in contributing to social action and social change. Some of these parts are at odds with each other and causes personal confusion and concern. I try to reconcile it but find myself having a harder time doing so.
I don’t fundamentally understand cruelty, a lack of empathy and a lack of moral consciousness. If I can’t make sense of it for myself, I think, how can I possibly make sense of it for my children? It is all dilemmas I think about day in and day out.
I think the danger I’m most concerned with is that my children will become jaded somehow. I see this through them either getting so “used” to this being the norm that they develop intense sadness and disappointment which initiates a numbness or cutting off of their feelings and lack empathy for all those suffering. They develop a learned helplessness, whereby they become conditioned to believe that the cruelty in society is unchangeable or inescapable and do little to initiate change or they become fiercely frustrated and angry and choose to ignore the dangers, putting themselves in harm’s way of it.
I also fear that it will shift my children’s perceptions and the lens in which they view the world. I grew up believing that the world was generally a safe place, with kind and thoughtful individuals who were striving to make the world a better place. I want so much for my children to maintain that world view but I’m concerned with all that they’re exposed to, they will view the world as increasingly frightening, unsafe and unpredictable.
I recognize that I have a lack of control over my parenting. What gets communicated to my children and what they are exposed to is not up to me anymore. That right was taken away from me. It’s been given over to the media, their schools and all the murmur they pick up from overhearing adults and their sometimes misinformed and confused peers.
I distinctly remember after the shootings in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there was debate at my children’s school over whether to tell the kids, what to tell them, and how to tell them. The school ultimately decided and parents either adhered to what the school decided or made personal decisions on how they wanted to handle it with their individual children. I recognized that even though I decided to send my children in late to school because of wanting to explain it to them myself, that the communication would eventually be out of my hands.
I can truly say that I never worried more than I do now. I’m putting it out there. I keep it in check and return to the present moment for the sake of my children, in wanting to provide them with security within a volatile world. I know other parents share these concerns, we don’t generally put it out there because it’s so laden with intense emotion and it’s easier to deal with if we distance from it. We all get it and can relate to it. As parents, we will forever be united by our worry and love for our precious children.