I recently took my kids to the nail salon with me. There, they learned about recent school shootings, the war in Israel and the battle lines in Ukraine. All within one 15-minute news cycle. We can’t shelter our kids from the world and the reality of humanity. Nor should we. What we can do is discuss and decide how to support our kids in a world where there is uncertainty and chaos. It ultimately has the possibility of affecting our families in a much more real way.
We were faced with that possibility when my husband was put on 24-hour deployment notice. As the world was heating up with conflicts, we knew that preparing our kids for the possibility of him leaving had to be done. As I see it, we owe them the honesty of their reality. We also are responsible for providing it in a respectful, compassionate and child-appropriate way. These are some ways I feel enhance my support of my kids in the face of hard realities.
- Have open communication. Sadly, often the topics we shy away from are the conversations we should be having. When kids hear snippets of adult discussions, they feel the emotions attached. Right now, in a lot of households around the world, there are a lot of chats about the state of the world. Kids are hearing and feeling these words and emotions attached to them. I’m not advocating for mealtime talks centered around the news, wars and all-around negative worldwide headlines here. I want to normalize sharing our fears and worries and ultimately our emotions with each other. It starts by creating a safe place for our families to share their feelings and be honest about how we feel.
- Have a game plan. When you decide to bring up something that could challenge their reality or perspective of the world at large, it should be done with prior planning. Both parents should be on board; presenting as a team is important. When it was time to let our kids know that their dad could have to leave on short notice, it took a couple of discussions to decide how much and what exactly we were going to say. Ultimately for us, the details are constantly changing. It was important for us to let our children know the possibility of it happening. We wanted to give them time to digest this information and space to process it while he was still here to address their concerns and answer any questions.
- Don’t have expectations. If you are like me then you probably play these conversation scenarios in your head 100 times before actually having them. Detaching from those illusions allowed me to see my kids for who they are. I appreciate all the things they said no matter how small or big they were. Secondly, these chats have ripple effects. It’s important to pay attention to your child’s behavior so if anything is out of the ordinary, you can address it. For us, the one who seemed unbothered in the moment was affected more as time went on. Our other one thoughtfully asked several questions and then processed them quickly. That isn’t to say worries didn’t come up again. You know your kids. Be there to listen to them and hug them when you notice they aren’t themselves. Help them carry the weight of their feelings by being present and listening.
- Support yourself. You can’t be the calm supportive parent you want to be if you aren’t advocating for yourself in the same way. Check-in with yourself often and see how you are feeling. Talk yourself through your emotions and share them with your spouse for support. Unlike popular belief, we can’t do it all. We need support too. Sometimes it must come from us. I am a strong believer in therapy and making the time for your emotional check-ins. Leaning on a community, if you have one where you are stationed, can help regulate your own emotions, too.
At the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Feeling safe and secure is something we all want to provide for our children. Supporting them in the way we all want is hard. It takes thought, listening, supporting yourself and having conversations.