As a parent, when horrible and senseless tragedies like the mass shooting in Orlando occur, it is difficult to not feel helpless and hopeless. It is difficult to not feel guilt and shame for the world in which you are raising your child. You struggle for the right words to say—sometimes knowing that there are no words. Sometimes the only thing you can do is hold your child a little longer—a little closer. You cherish those moments as you fight back the tears—knowing that, due to these unspeakable acts of hate, there are parents out there who are preparing to say goodbye to their children for whom they would give anything to be able to hold in their arms again.
You wish you could do something to help make the future just a little less bleak for your child. You wish you could rid the world of hate. You wish you could shield your child from the senseless violence that, with each occurrence, silently erodes your ability to trust and to feel safe. You try to believe that it won’t happen to you or your family. You try to desensitize yourself to the violence and hate around you. But, it doesn’t work. Regardless of how hard you try, it is impossible to shake the fear and the grief. It is impossible to ignore the fact that every life lost was someone’s child. It is impossible to ignore the fact that every life lost mattered to someone.
You can’t tell your child that everything will be okay, because nobody can ever truly know. It is difficult to not allow fear to overcome you—to keep you from doing the things you want to do and enjoy doing. You don’t know what tomorrow holds, but you can make the choice to keep going—to keep living your life. Because, if we let fear overcome us, then fear wins, right? You provide your child with a safe, stable, and loving home, but you also do what you can to prepare them for what they may encounter in the world. If you choose to share with them some information about tragedies when they occur, you attempt to do so in an age-appropriate way, but also in a way that teaches them that, while there is evil in the world, there is also a lot of good.
From the moment you bring your child into the world, or into your family, it is your responsibility to help shape who they will become. It is your responsibility to instill in them the values and principles that will help pave the way for them to learn how to become compassionate, functioning, and contributing members of society. You encourage your child and build them up while also doing your part in holding them accountable for their actions. You are there to help pick them up when they fall and you hope they are able to learn from their mistakes. You watch as they tackle challenges and adversities and encourage them to be open to the lessons life tries to teach them along the way. You teach your child the importance of motivation and hard work to achieve their goals and their perceived successes in life. And, when they are ready to be on their own, you can only hope that they hold onto some semblance of the values, advice, and lessons you shared with them along the way.
I believe in advocating for change that will positively impact the future for our children, for ourselves, and for our world. However, I also believe in the importance of teaching our children to be kind and respectful to others, to show compassion, and spread love—not hate. We also need to make sure our children are aware that, regardless of what they believe, the rules DO apply to them. We can advocate against the injustices of the world, but laws and regulations mean very little if people refuse to abide by them.
If we truly want to change the world for our children, we need to help our children become a reflection of the world in which we wish for them to live.