Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
-Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, 1923
As the Nation approaches Memorial Day, a time of reflection begun in the 1860s to remember those who sacrificed their lives to keep our country free and safe, we all are confronted with a war, and although not a military one, a war, nevertheless. The racially motivated massacre of ten Black Americans in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, on May 14, 2022, and this week’s May 24 slaughter of nineteen Robb Elementary School students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, have become predictable and frightening. Both shooters were 18-year-old adolescents themselves. This is a war state, an internal one. This is especially true for our children, whose limited life experiences cannot fully comprehend the violence, but they recognize that their parents, caregivers, teachers, and even armed police officers, are challenged to keep children safe.
Why do they want to kill us? What did I do? How can I keep myself safer in school? Can you keep me safe, anywhere? Am I safe in the house? Are you safe?
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
As a mother, grandmother, and caregiver, the poet’s eloquence reminds me of my adult role and responsibility to children. You see, we belong to them, as they represent a future that we will not see. Our obligation is to reassure them about their safety even as their world is bombastic, filled with destructive, and terrifying imagery, and driven by social media, visceral and raw, from across the world. How do we do this?
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
Recently, I experienced transformational loss, mother, son, two best friends, like so many others. The impact provided me with more clarity, I think, and helped me accept my own mortality and that of others. We adults must be the stable bows for our children, as they ultimately will navigate their own thoughts and souls.
- Be dependable, consistent, do what you say, walk the talk.
- Reinforce a foundation of self-respect and respect for all others.
- Do not allow numbing; in age-appropriate fashion express your pain and sadness about these on-going situations. Model how you handle your grief and support children in expressing their fears, concerns, and disappointments.
- Utilize your own support system for self-care. Ask for help when you need it from your network of friends, family, faith leaders, and professionals. Consider what actions you may be able to take; individually or collectively.
- Share values about “good vs. bad.” Children seek and are taught morality by parents. Adults show them what matters.
- Emphasize the importance of humanity for all, its best and its worst. Clarify every one’s right to be treated humanely.
- Explore on a developmental level, concepts of fairness, equity, and social actions that can make our world better.
Gibran reminds us that as adults we are the archers who launch our children, our arrows, into a tomorrow we “cannot visit, not even in our dreams.” What we must be are the stable bows in this season of chaos and confusion, hatred, and violence. We must be the archers who shower our children with open hearted gladness and joy, for the children are not ours.