My key for parenting in a scary world: Open the door. Say “I love you.” Go.
It was one of those weeks that make me realize what supermen and superwomen we truly are parenting in the scary world we live in today. How are you getting by parenting in a scary world these days?
My husband was away this week, which doesn’t happen often. And while this week was topped off with a beautiful love story highlighted by a royal wedding, it also included a tornado close to home (really close!), an injury in gym class (he’s ok, though), another school shooting, playing school with my son and having him say “now let’s have a lockdown drill,” (I know I didn’t include that when I was a kid playing school with my mom), and who knows what dealings between the US and other countries (I chose not to watch a lot of news this week). So, those days that I wonder “why does this seem difficult and stressful sometimes?” were far and few between this week — because this stuff is all real. Of course there were difficult things for our parents to handle while we were kids, and plenty of them — but the events of right now are our reality, and some of them can cause quite the anxiety, whether we stop to realize it or not.
So how can we get by without letting the constant newsfeeds and the responsibility of raising our kids and protecting them and teaching them kindness and respect? It can be paralyzing sometimes. And, yet, we keep going. Here are 5 ways I snap out of the fear to keep parenting through anxious times, to keep parenting in a scary world, to open the door and keep going.
1. Only worry about what you can control:
This is a big one. My dad has always said that we can truly only control about 10% of what happens in our lives, and that’s what we should focus on. Where to live. Whether to get married. What job to take. Things that are really up to you to decide and influence. The rest is going to happen regardless, so we shouldn’t waste time worrying about it. So when there was an actual tornado in my town and surrounding towns this week, rather being frozen by a mental image of us flying through the sky as our house was demolished into bits of debris, I gathered flashlights and snacks and my boys, and hung out in the basement with toys and blankets and water, swaying with my youngest in my arms, watching the weather reports, and texting with neighbors who were also weathering the storm. My neighborhood was spared significant damage. But now I know I can handle these situations, can convey a sense of calm and control with my kids even when facing a potential crisis, and know how to take reasonable precautions when the uncontrollable is coming my way.
2. Probability-check yourself:
My husband recently took our kids to an amusement park. I lost sleep the night before as I thought of the possibility of a mass shooting happening there. When I got up in the morning, my thoughts turned to fear of one of the rides breaking and my kids being flung from it and seriously injured. That’s when I stopped myself. Which of these was more likely to happen, and should I also begin to worry that there could be a car accident on the way to the park, or that someone would choke on their picnic lunch there? As far as I’m aware, the probability of any one of those things happening is enormously less than the chances of my kids having a blast with Daddy. “Focus on those smiles and the laughs and the memories they’ll make,” I told myself. And that’s how it played out.
3. Tell them what you want them to know, every day:
Despite having the same routine every day, somehow getting out the door in the morning is always a frenzied shuffle. But my kids and husband now know my rule – you don’t leave without saying goodbye to Mommy. That’s my chance every day to send them all off with a hug, a kiss, an “I love you” and a “Have a great day.” They may think it’s nothing, but it’s the world to me. Even if we’ve had disagreements or I’ve had to scream seventeen times (wait, let’s be honest — it’s usually at least 28 times): “Please put your shoes on!” the final send-off is calm and loving. That way, in the horrendously depressing worst case that something bad happens to one of us in the day, our last interaction would have been a good one.
4. Love those little moments:
Our days are made up of tiny moments strung together. Take time to experience them in slow motion. Watch how your child’s tiny, chubby hands hold a spoon while he messily eats dinner. Listen to the 15,000 times your kids call “Mom, look,” and notice what it is that’s catching their attention. Remember the stories they tell you about how they view the world. Capture their innocent questions, like “Does wind make the trees move, or do the trees moving make wind?” This is the stuff our days are made of when we focus on the moments, not on fear.
5. Continue to see the good through the bad:
I recently discovered the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote “Be silly. Be honest. Be kind.” It so wonderfully summed up what I want for my boys’ lives that I wanted to instill it in their minds. We did a fun craft – fingerpaint handprints of all three of my sons, overlaid with adhesive letters that spell out the quote, framed and hung in our new playroom. I’ve captured for all eternity those colorful little handprints, and we now have a reminder of these wise words in plain sight in our house every day. It’s important to acknowledge what’s going on in the world (if/when it is age-appropriate for your kids) and to make sure your kids are aware of their surroundings, but it’s equally important to continue to forge ahead and teach them kindness in hopes that they pass it on.
I remember years ago talking to my mom about a tragedy. I told her I don’t think I could live through something like that, and she said, “You go on. Because you have to.” As always, she’s right.
Now open the door. Say “I love you.” Go.