I had a very real discussion with a fellow mama friend recently. Our kids are about the same age and she asked me about a social media post I had made on Facebook after the mass shooting and violence in Orlando. The post read:
“I refuse to raise my children to be afraid.”
She sent me a private message asking me to elaborate. I know she and I are not the only two moms having these conversations. It’s the kind of topic that is unsettling, and doesn’t make for great small chat in our mommy and me groups. I know that when I check Facebook, I want to see updates about family friendly restaurants, summer movies at the park, and how to make time for date night. But with recent events I felt compelled to write about raising children who aren’t afraid, in a time when gun violence is at an all time high, and unforeseen terrorist attacks happen far too often.
I find myself having flash back moments to 9/11/2001. I think about how I felt, what I thought, and what I wished my parents had said to me to help me understand what was going on. I was a scared high school senior. I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I didn’t know how this would change the world I lived in, or the world my children are now living in.
I grew up in a simpler time. In California, our biggest fear was experiencing an earthquake at school. During earthquake drills we would duck under our desk and hold onto our legs. We couldn’t move until the teacher gave the us the “okay.” Sure, we had fire drills. Looking back, I realize how simple things seemed. Things are much different today.
Today, my kids’ school drills teach them “Shelter in Place.” It teaches them what to do if there is an active shooter on campus, how to gather together in the corner of a locked room and not make a sound. Think about that for a second. Our kids are going to school in a time when they have to be taught what to do in the event of a shooting. Is this the new normal?!
I don’t think my parents knew what to say to me and my siblings when faced with the harsh realities of world events. I understand this now being a mom of three. I don’t always know how to explain the inexplicable. I have a tweenager, a nine year old boy, and a toddler. Domestic terror and gun violence wasn’t even on my radar when I started having children. It is now. So what do we do? How do we take the burden off of our kids and get these conversations started to allow them the opportunity to share their thoughts with us?
Dr. Yolonda Evans, author of Teenology 101 lists these 4 conversation starters to help open up dialogue in our homes:
1 – Don’t ignore trending stories. Most kids are on some form of social media. They see what’s trending even if they aren’t talking about it.
2 – Ask your child if they have any ideas or opinions about stories that come up. Ask open ended questions to avoid yes or no answers, and listen before interjecting. “Has there been any discussion at school about the events on the news?”
3 – If the story hits close to home, talk about it. The Orlando shooting took me back to the 2001 terrorist attack when I was still a student. I shared my emotions, my experiences, my opinions, and acknowledged that not everyone will share my view point.
4 – Seek out resources if the event directly affects your family. Research your area for resources to help your children and yourself deal with traumatic events. Local children’s hospitals are an excellent place to start; they often have many ties in the community and will be able to direct you.
I would love to hear what works in your families when it comes to starting these difficult conversations, please comment below.