For whatever reason, humanity has not figured out how to live peacefully together.
People hurt other people, for reasons many of us will never understand. And, sadly, it’s a reality we have to face with our children. It is a scary truth for all parents, but one that is uniquely challenging when it comes to kids like my third son who suffers from anxiety.
That boy can hardly make it through a single episode of American Idol without ugly crying over the stories. His big heart is worn on his sleeve where people are free to enjoy or abuse it at will.
It makes him a beautiful, caring, open soul who has the power to change the world. But it also seems to leave him more susceptible to pain and disappointment. My natural inclination at all times is to protect him — I am a mother; that’s what we do.
So, when news of the horrific tragedy that occurred in Orlando this past weekend made its way into my news feed I immediately thought of how to keep it from him. I wanted to shield him — to protect what’s left of his innocence at 8 years old. And selfishly, I didn’t want to face days upon days of crying and anxiety-filled sleepless nights. It is exhausting parenting through these things, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I was up for the task.
And then my son heard something outside, from another kid — an older kid — who shared only the gory, mostly inaccurate, details of the event, and it sent him inside to question me, his most trusted resource. I can’t lie — I thought about distracting him, about pushing it off as something it wasn’t, pretending it was no big deal, and telling him that he shouldn’t worry.
Only it was a big deal, and quite honestly, he should. All of us should, but especially the children.
They are the ones we are setting up to face a world wherein humans can’t live safely because of whom they have fallen in love with.
They are the ones who will live in communities where violence against others will be carried out without respect or regard for human life.
They are the ones who will witness atrocities of this nature time and time and time again as we all sit and cry in sadness, but refuse to stand up for change.
I want him to be prepared to face that future.
I want him to know that his mother didn’t just preach equality and acceptance and love and kindness toward all people, but stood up for it too.
I want him to know why being brave is important.
I want him to know that being proud is OK.
I want him to know that helping is possible, and that fear is no way to live.
I want him to feel empowered in the face of chaos.
I want him to know that this was wrong.
And that we don’t have to be quiet about it.
So, I wasn’t.
We sat down, and we talked about it — as much as we could, as much as he could.
I told him that man didn’t just hurt them, he hurt us.
That this fight isn’t theirs, it’s ours.
That if they can’t be free, then neither can we.
And that we can do better. Every single one of us can do so much better.
Here’s how we can guide our children in understanding the tragedy in Orlando and how to help:
1. Educate Yourself
Of course you can watch the news on the tragedy and get up-to-date on the facts, but this discussion is bigger than that. This discussion means helping yourself be a better advocate so that your children can become that too. Take some time to understand the fight, to learn the right words, and to become more educated yourself about what it means to be an LGBTQ person in America. I will be the first to admit, I’m constantly reeducating myself — looking outside of what I live each day.
It’s not enough to be all “Well, I have a gay friend.” That doesn’t make you an expert or even an ally. You have to try at this. And sometimes it is hard, but it’s necessary because I want my children to understand what the words “queer” and “gay” mean. I want them to know why a transgender person isn’t scary or bad. And I don’t want them to be offensive in their ignorance.
2. Talk About It
Not just about the tragedy, but about the struggle. About the importance of human life, about the need for safety and acceptance, about the difference between acceptance and tolerance, about why this was wrong.
It’s important that your kids know they can trust you to be honest with them even when it’s not entirely appropriate for you to be completely forthcoming. I know all kids aren’t ready for all parts, but many kids are ready for more than we are willing to give.
I’ve heard people say they don’t want to explain homosexuality to their kids. Fine. Explain love. Explain equality. Explain compassion and empathy and kindness and life. Because that is what it’s about.
3. But Don’t Talk About the Things That Don’t Really Matter
At least not right now. Don’t use this as an opportunity to condemn other people’s lives. Use it as an opportunity to teach and as a chance to help.
My son understands how sometimes money just makes things better. He knows that it is powerful, and that if he can make more of it go in a good direction, good things can happen. He offered to donate $28 (the entire sum of his leftover birthday money) to charities helping Orlando, because when you’re 8 years old, $28 can go a long way. So I am letting him give half of it, and I am matching his donation. If you’d like to give too, you can do so here, here, or here.
5. Spread Love, Not Hate
In an effort to do more, my son and I worked out a way that all kids, birthday money or no, can help show their support. He thought of 1,000 things he could do, and then he just sat down at his craft table and drew the pictures at the top of this post.
He even came up with the sayings all by himself (after a little back and forth about why “I am so glad they got the bad man who did this” was a little too long). He hopes other kids will make hearts or flags to show their love and support and share them too. So those who are suffering know that they are not alone — because, according to my son, they are our family, and they need our help.
Encourage your kids to make a heart or a flag and share it with #ChooseLoveProject. The more love and kindness and joy and understanding we can spread, the more the message that this can’t happen, that all life matters, and that all people deserve love, will spread with it.
Because that’s what my son wants — more love, less hate, for all people.