Letting Our Kids See Us Process The Hard Things

our kids
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The world in general has been a tough thing to process lately. Between crazy gunmen and politics and alligators and gorillas, my heart has been through the wringer. And my kids have see me reading things, crying over things, writing things in the attempt to change the thinking and the laws and our lives.

Is it their right as children to be protected from the horrors of the world for just a little while longer? Or do they need to be prepared because they are a part of this world? I’m on the fence with this one. Usually I filter things a bit without letting them go out into the world thinking that nothing bad ever happens.

When they ask me,“Why are you crying, Mom?” after seeing me read another news story, about another tragedy, with the inevitable water pouring out of my eyes, I often just say, “Some people died, and I’m feeling sad about that.”

What I’m thinking: A gunman walked into a party and killed 49 people because this world is a fucked-up place.

What I’m thinking: A baby was pulled under the water by an alligator.

What I’m thinking: Children went to school and never came home.

What I’m thinking: Why the hell are people walking around with automatic weapons?

What I’m thinking: Where has all of our compassion and humanity disappeared to?

But I don’t say what I’m thinking. I will someday, when they’re older, when their brains can process the information. For now, they know I’m sad, that people died, and that the world isn’t always a safe or happy place. I think that’s enough for right now.

But then there are some days when I break all of my own rules. For instance, this past weekend we went camping and our campsite happened to be directly beside a rushing river, filled to its banks from all of the recent snow melt. I took one look at it and made the decision to scare the crap out of my kids — on purpose. I told them all of the horrible stories that I knew about rivers — about little kids and big kids and grown-ups getting pulled away from their families by swift, unpredictable currents. I broke every rule about not giving them details. I gave them all of the details.

When I was finished freaking them out, my 4-year-old, staring at me, wide-eyed and properly horrified, asked me, “Did the kids die?” And I said, “Yes.”

I knew that she would walk away from me frightened of the world a bit more, that her innocence would be shaken. But I hoped that it would be enough to keep her away from the water in that moment should I ever take my eyes off of her. I needed her to be horrified to keep her safe.

Yet, despite us protecting them most of the time, I think that our kids probably know a lot more than we give them credit for. They have grown up in a world where they run drills at school in case a gunman happens to terrorize their school. They have grown up in a world where they put their seat belts on without even thinking about it. Mine even live in the forest, so they know what to do if they come upon a bear versus a mountain lion versus a moose. And now mine also know to scream when they see their friend walking toward that rushing river. My daughter did — she screamed.

We can only protect our kids so much. Someday soon, too soon, they will be the ones making the judgments, the laws, the decisions about their world.

And I really hope that they do a better job than we have done lately.