Updated: May 10, 2021
Today, January 7, 2021 is a sad day full of fear and uncertainty. I feel called to protect the most vulnerable among us, our children. I keep seeing and hearing about everyone’s plans to talk about yesterday’s events at the United States Capitol with their kids; even some reputable sources are giving advice about how to proceed. It seems that people don’t realize this advice is mostly for middle and high school-aged kids. If you read something advising you to expose your young child to the horrors of the world, I’m certain it is not rooted in respect, trust, and compassion for the child.
We Are Not Okay
We should not talk to our children about anything tough without being calm and centered first. Sitting them down and discussing things before the adults in charge have had a chance to process is too emotional and fear-based. Our kids will feel much safer talking to calm, confident leaders who can assure them of their safety and value. It is too early, wait. You will feel much better after talking to other adults, some time with yourself, and some space to think.
Childhood is THEIR most precious resource and should be cherished.
I believe in fiercely protecting childhood. Play, laughter, running, jumping, reading, looking at the world in wonder is what is best for children right now, in this moment. They must first see the world as whole, safe, welcoming, and inspiring. This will give them the courage, strength, and hope to fight when their time comes. They will not risk growing up mean or ignorant if they do not learn these hard lessons right now. I promise.
Even if you think they “understand” they don’t, their experience is not relevant.
You can compare it to “that time you got hit or got left out on the playground” all you want. That is not the same. They have absolutely no reference for anything happening right now. Furthermore, you risk creating an illusion of “empathy”. This is because you lead your child to believe they have a connection, a foothold, a similar experience to something or someone they actually know nothing about. The best connections we could offer, from our child’s perspectives, are shallow. They would be weak examples of empathy and compassion.
They have no power to change it, yet.
Opening a child to anxiety and fear with no outlet for action or control is cruel. Yes, they can draw a picture, write a letter, yell at the moon. Beyond that, anything they “do” that creates change (collecting donations, calling leaders) is really an adult doing it for them. That is not a child taking control, that’s a parent scaring their child and then the parent acting on behalf of the child. Best to wait a few short years when they can take full charge of their own power and control.
They don’t have the emotional bandwidth.
Children do not have the bandwidth to calmly tackle the injustice of receiving the red cup rather than the blue cup at lunch. Why would we throw the injustice of centuries of racism, oppression, history, and politics at them?
Your life is not their life.
We are living simultaneously and with our children, but we must remember this truth; they are separate beings, with a separate path, and separate experiences. They will have their own time to fight injustice, run for office, seek truth. Our time is now, their time is later. My husband grew up in LA, eight miles from the Rodney King Riots. He knew nothing about what was going on other than “We cannot have my sister’s birthday party with friends right now because it’s not safe outside.” He grew into a knowledgeable, political, passionate, compassionate human being. He did not need the weight of the world on his conscience that week for him to grow into a wonderful person. That week was for his parents to endure, this week is for us, next it will be our children’s turn. Do not make their turn come any sooner than necessary.
Our children are not our sounding boards.
When we unload things that scare and enrage us onto our children, we are putting them into a position to be our support. A child should never be put in a position to support the adults in charge. Ask yourself, “Who really needs to talk about this? Me or my kid?” Chances are the answer is “YOU”.
Children are not our “woke” badges.
Trying to create a “woke” child so your ego can feel like you are a “woke” parent is not a reason to talk with your child about current events. Be vulnerable and ask yourself, “Am I really doing this for my child, or is it for other people? Am I trying to prove to others that I am antiracist, socially aware, a moral person?” It seems a lot of parents are driven by fear that people think they aren’t doing enough to create a socially conscious, compassionate human. Don’t worry, they will be fine. Hint: All you have to do is be a socially conscious and compassionate human then your kids will follow you into that eventually.
Fear not my fellow parenting warriors. Compassion, empathy, knowledge, awareness is built minute by minute, day by day, year by year mostly through your example. Live compassionately, seek knowledge, choose love and your children will too.
Edit: I've had some people reach out to me with concerns about this article that I feel need to be addressed. This is not about being "color blind" or "wearing rose-colored glasses". It should be expressed that race, culture, identity, politics, and history matter. These are important aspects of our families, communities, and country. Learning about these things should absolutely be a priority. When and how you teach your child about these things should depend on your needs as a family, your community, and your culture, but most importantly your child's development.
In general, I would recommend offering your kids books, movies, music, and food from diverse groups of people. Also, if you and your family are white it's a good idea to expose your children to things created by people of color. On the other hand, if you and your family are people of color it's a good idea to expose your children to things created by people who look like them.