We’re also taken back by the instant rise of the March for Our Lives movement. We are applauding it, inspired by it, and humbled by it. I attended a local march. The multi-fold lessons from it help me negotiate the confusing terrain. I left the event with an open-hearted willingness to listen to hurt; the experience of balance found in certain conversations, poetry and music; and the importance of belief in oneself and one’s voice and being part of something bigger than oneself.
The teens’ realness reminded me of the value of honesty and vulnerability. I began to sense what it’s like going to school in this era of mass shootings, lock downs, and frequent school threats.
An initial part of real change is sharing and listening to the pain and the tears. It takes both people willing to tell the story of the pain, and people with open hearts willing to listen to it, honor and even feel the pain. I’m thinking of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and practices of non-violent and compassionate listening.
This is a mission that is a stranger to our society. We are often uncomfortable listening to pain. Although trained to listen to hurt, I must ask myself about the times I too, as part of society, failed to hear and feel my own and others’ pain. As a mega-busy school counselor, I did not hear the pain and fear of children who sat in a lockdown with an armed man across the street, and the children who knew of violence near their homes. Feeling gagged and powerless by my own limited time, I regarded it as “what is” and moved on. Was I the frog in a pan of warm water then added to slowly progressive hotter waters until I too became numb?
I say this without personal blame. We live in a society that has historically denied the pain experienced by ourselves and others. We have often, without knowing, found ways to continue it by stuffing it and often inflicting it on ourselves and/or others. It’s carried, with everyone doing their best, through family and cultural lineages. This is ever apparent now.
We naturally want to protect our children from the pain. Yet, no matter how much we try to shield them, we know that there is so much they pick up from what’s around them, including our own obvious and hidden feelings. It’s natural that they play with others who have been less shielded and report more about the world.
The high school students taught me that they all feel a lot that is worthy of being heard.
In order to hear our own pain, and that of our children, we need to first invite it back to the table to be heard. We need to have tools to welcome it.
The best resource for our children is ourselves, not our denial. Taking care of ourselves, we find ways to talk with others about what’s going on, how we are impacted, what we are feeling and what we are learning. We sort out ways to appropriately talk about events.
Our conversation partners need to listen and let us feel, without trying to fix or blame. Staying in blame keeps us from feeling, listening, caring, and clearing the confusion and pain within ourselves.
Another part of self-resourcing or self-care, is the art and practice of balance. It starts with curiosity about when the scales are tipping out of balance. Balance can be micro-moments of quiet or noticing sensation and presence, as well as the spontaneous times for celebration, joy, gratitude, appreciation, play, and nature. There are planned and seized moments for enjoying life, ourselves, and each other.
Although we know that there is no way of understanding the rapidly changing events and disasters, we can still bring a sense of security to the lives of our children, find ways to hear their feelings and thoughts, and help them make some sense of what’s happening around them.
Hand in Hand Parenting is a veritable treasure trove of good information for talking with children. Although the emphasis is on younger children, the information applies to all ages of being human. The invaluable podcasts and blogs address: what to do with news that makes us scared; how to manage information; conversations that help us care for ourselves and support us being with our children; and what we can expect of ourselves and our children.
Helping Children Exposed to Shocking Events
– Here are excellent pointers. If you only have time to look at one article, this is it. “You in your everyday acts as a mother or father, move us toward a sustainable, peaceful world.”
Helping Children Face an Uncertain World
– A superb podcast by Patty Wipfler and Anna Cole. Topics included are: supporting yourself and your children during difficult times; understanding and dealing with fear; talking about inequality in society; addressing about tragedy; being part of the solution; explaining violence to children; and holding a space for children going through their feelings.
An Open Letter (of Hope) to Parents Around the World – The letter captures the importance of our role as parents, and offers genuine hope.
Talking to Your Child About Disasters – The blog discusses what to do about fear, handling tricky questions, and taking care of yourself.
Rebuilding Hope After World Events – This podcast by Abigail Wald and Elle Kwan looks at when we are rocked by events, and how to take care of ourselves and our children. “As parents, we can be the change that stops events from dividing people.”
Another resource, particularly for talking to children 10 and over, is The Morningside Center. Although for educators, it has valuable information for parents. The lesson plans and discussions provide inspiration and helpful background for important discussions. Topics include equity, violence, climate changes, gun control, activism, refugees, me too, and opioid epidemic.
It’s tough to know where to start discussions with each other, let alone with our children. It can be hard to know how to step out of denial and blame when that’s what surrounds us.
We begin with each other. We first listen for the pain, not the blame. This is how we begin to heal and mend injustices that breed hate. We seek out “conversations that help more conversations of understanding”, as Wipler describes in her blog and podcast. The conversations support us in listening to our own feelings and thoughts. In turn, we are more open to listen to the feelings and thoughts of our children.
These conversations free empowerment and creativity. They actually add to the security of the ones we are trying to keep safe.