We all know this truth: the world is full of sadness and brokenness and atrocities our hearts can’t seem to comprehend. It feels like there is always another story, another group being marginalized and abused, another people displaced and suffering, another disaster striking and destroying everything a family has and knows.
Right now, with all the brokenness accompanying what is happening at our borders, I have been wondering, how do we raise our own children to stand for what is right and break the patterns history repeats? How can we help them understand their privilege and raise goodness within them?
There may always be suffering and people choosing to inflict pain and oppress others with their power in the world, but there is something deep in each of us that knows we can’t allow ourselves to just get used to it, to begin accepting it as part of life as long as it doesn’t impact us personally. It is easy and natural to want to shield our children from it completely, to allow them to keep their innocence and not have to worry about what is happening in the world. And while I agree that discretion should be used in determining at what age and how much is appropriate to share with a child, I also believe it is essential for us to be preparing our children to take a loving and compassionate stance as they age and enter adulthood.
Many of us, as we watch our children grow, have hopes they will learn to navigate life with good judgment, choose to stand up for what is right, defend the weak, and speak out against injustice.
But how do we even begin to grasp at such a large task and how do we do it in a way that honors their emotions and sense of security and current developmental stage?
I think one of the biggest gifts we can give to our children is to answer their questions, even when we don’t have the answer.
We have probably all been hit with that unsuspected moment when your child asks you a question like, “What happens to people after they die?” or “Why would someone want to shoot someone?” and for a moment eyes freeze and lips numb, as our mind races to come up with the “right” answer. Many times, as adults, we bring our own baggage with us to these questions. Personally, I have had sift through many dogmas and beliefs I was taught growing up and have often responded hastily, distracting and essentially shutting down the question, out of fear of indoctrinating my children the same way.
Yet, many times, children just need to know you are listening and holding space for them. Lisa Miller, author of the book, The Spiritual Child, writes how often parents respond with “I don’t know”, when we dont know what to say. But this can actually halt the discussion and dismiss the question. What if you really don’t have words? She suggests responding with a “what do you think?” and see what comes next. The important thing is to not cut off the wondering, invite the questions and be willing to sit with the unknown.
As a parent, I have felt at times inadequate and poorly equipped to answer these big questions, teach empathy and work toward instilling the values in my children that I believe will allow them to care for others, contribute positively to their communities, lead others toward goodness, and be the most amazing human beings they can be. It has taken intention and work and listening and trying again and having grace for myself as I take this task on, to nurture and encourage their spiritual development, as an essential part of raising my kids.
But often, I find myself surprised by how much depth and understanding even the youngest souls offer when presented with these big and hard and complicated issues that adults can’t seem to wrap their heads around or find solutions to. Somehow, they manage to find the simplicity, point out the profound.
So, when they ask the questions, I have learned to do my best to invite more curiosity, to help them find the answer, or at least, enough for now.
They might answer the question for themselves,
you might offer just the right words,
there might be no words at all.
Maybe You will learn something from them,
maybe you will have to look into the answer together and continue the discussion.
But, answer the question and affirm the importance of your child’s thoughts, feelings and curiosity.
I am in this journey along with you and have no claim to expertise or perfection (far from it!), but I have found that in our life, we are given endless opportunities to nurture our children’s spirituality. They are found in the margins, in the every day and ordinary moments, we stumble upon these sacred moments and spiritual encounters.
While the way these opportunities present themselves and how we each uniquely relate to our children will be different depending on our own family dynamics and values, personalities, and where and how we live, every parent, regardless of their beliefs and background, are the ones with the greatest influence on the development of their children.
So, I may not have specific how-to’s to offer, step-by-steps or concrete examples – I am no expert.
I am just a parent, like you, trying to remind my children of their privilege and grow in them a heart of compassion through practicing gratitude and learning about other cultures and imagining what it would be like to live in different shoes and giving up something to help others and learning stillness and sitting in silence and staring up at the trees and speaking truth and goodness and love and praying and allowing our hearts to be broken and knowing we have a responsibility to do more and love harder and look with intention outside of ourselves.
So, remember to breathe and that
- It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers
- If it feels like you have no time for anything more, you are not alone, breathe
- Try and look for space in the margins of the day, even if it is just a few minutes here and there
- No one is perfect
- Some days it will feel hard and like you failed
- Some days you will have all the right words
- We can only do our best in each moment we are given
- This is such important work you are doing, don’t give up
- You are exactly who your child needs