These past few months have been difficult. It seems every day we wake up to some new tragedy, some new horrific display of hate, some new senseless act of violence. There is a part of me that would love to pack up my family and move to some remote destination, one without internet or television, one on which I could shelter my little ones from the sadness and hurt that seems to be a constant presence on the outskirts of our lives. But the realist in me knows that would be impossible. And so instead, we talk. They ask questions, and we answer them, honestly and truthfully, as difficult as that may be. Yes, they are young. It saddens me to have to explain these events to them, to put another chink in their innocence. But, in our eyes, it is an absolute necessity.
As much as I want to, I can not shelter them from everything. They are perceptive enough to notice when the flags are flying at half mast, old enough to read the magazine headlines while we wait in line at the grocery. They pick up on adult conversation, hear the discussions taking place on the car radio. They know the basics, and it is our job, as their parents, to fill in the rest. Admittedly, the conversation we have with our three year old is vastly different than that which takes place with our pre-teen. But, regardless of their age, that conversation takes place.
They need to know that tragedy, hatred, and injustice are not just problems of the past. They are, sadly, problems of today and, judging by the current state of things, will continue to be problems in the days, months, and years to come. More importantly, however, they need to understand that they do not have to be a part of that problem. By exposing our children to the truth today, by presenting them with the facts rather than the opinions that fly freely around them, we are giving them the ability to see each situation for what it truly is. We are allowing them to feel for the victims, to hurt for those innocent people who are suffering because someone lost sight of our common ground. They are given a chance to question the motives of those who inflict the hurt, who feel that violence is a perfectly acceptable method of dealing with one’s emotions. They have an opportunity to see how one person’s choice can affect the lives of many. Slowly, deliberately, with each passing day and each new tragedy that unfolds, our children are learning to care.
We see them joyfully playing with strangers-turned-friends on the playground. We hear from their teachers how they consistently look out for those children who are new or lonely or sad. We see them provide comfort for those who are hurting, whether through a smile, a squeeze of the hand, or a hug. We see them stand up for those who are mistreated, defend those who are unfairly judged. And we see them learning to make positive choices, ones that will bring only good, not just to themselves but to others as well.
Through the course of their lives, our son and daughters will encounter countless people. They will see the physical differences, note those things which make each and every individual unique. We hope, however, they will understand that these differences are not to be feared. With understanding comes compassion, with compassion comes empathy. Our children may not be able to heal the world. But, by raising them to care for others, to honor their feelings and view them as people who deserve our respect, they will do much good for a world desperately in need of just that.