The Power of Parents in Times of Fear and Hate

I will remind him that he is a member of a family, and a member of a community, and that respect, dignity, and a sense of belonging are something we can give to others without prerequisites.

Recent events in Charlottesville, VA may have been shocking for many of us, but it is no secret that we are living in times that are exceptionally tense and scary, times where differences divide in ways that many claimed – and even more hoped – were a thing of the past. Many others knew that the same tensions remained lurking below the surface.

The fact of the matter is that whether we saw it coming or not, we have found ourselves in times where we are divided, we are angry, and we are afraid.

Watching the news has been something that weighs heavily on my heart, knowing that I have a young son who is going to spend his formative years in these openly volatile times. Maybe before becoming a mother, the first thought I would have had may have been to wonder what I could do to change the world. Before becoming a mother, my reflex may have been to think outward, but now my thoughts turn inward – to my own family, to my own home. Of course I’d like the world to be different, to be safer, to be kinder. Of course I’d change it if I could. But right now, as a new mom, the center of my universe is admittedly small. Right now, the answers my heart seeks are smaller but no less complicated. How do I protect my son from the unkindness of the world? How do I keep him from contributing to it?

I have to believe that there is no parent out there who feels good about sending a child out into such an angry world. Maybe this can be our common ground.

This is our call to arms – a call to arms not in the sense of fighting and violence, but in the sense that now is the time to open our arms, to nurture, to care, and to lead by that example as we raise them, before they veer down a road we cannot follow them down, even for the purposes of pulling them back. My heart broke when I read the letter of a father disowning his adult child who participated in the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville – it broke for that father, who in the same breath cut ties with his son and then begged for him to come back to the love and the acceptance that he had been taught at home.

We can not guarantee our children will hear what we teach, but we can try our best.

I will remind my son that the abundance of love with which I have brought him into the world and led him through it is the same love I hope for him to bring along with him and share.

I will give my son the right to feel what he feels – even when it is anger, even when it is fear. But I will also remind him that he has a right to be happy, as do we all, and at the end of the day, life is better when we help one another to that end. And even then, I know I will have to turn him loose one day and let him encounter what he encounters. I know that I will still switch on the news and need to explain the world to him.

And when I need to explain these things to him, I will tell him the truth – that not everyone in the world holds the same values dear as we may in our home, but it is not a reason for us to stop holding those values dear.

I will remind him that he is a member of a family, and a member of a community, and that respect, dignity, and a sense of belonging are something we can give to others without prerequisites.

I will teach my child to disagree with your child, ardently and vocally if that is in fact his truth, but I will also teach mine to never lose sight that yours is a person with a heart and a mind. I will teach mine that he does not need to like yours, but that disliking someone is no excuse to deprive them of their dignity.

I will teach my son that while yes, I hope he grows up to be strong and successful, I also hope he grows up to be compassionate and kind, because it is in compassion and kindness – not in brute force and intimidation – that we can do the most good for the most people.

I will tell my son to love because he is loved, to cherish because he is cherished, to value because he is valued. And I will hope that he remembers these things when he faces the world. I will hope that he takes these small lessons with him, because while I can not erase the unkindness from the world he will face – as much as I would like he to – I can at least remind him that if enough people are touched and shaped by kindness, this unkindness does not have to win.

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