I get it. I really do.
Whether it is the first time your daughter gets on the school bus or your son’s first foray out into the playground by himself, there is something that stirs deep in our souls that makes us want to roll their hearts in bubble wrap, douse their spirits with anti-bacterial gel and give them a guard dog lest anyone gets too close.
Seriously, have you seen some playgrounds lately? Sure there may be soft recycled ground cover and cool new climby rope structures, but from two feet off the ground it must look like they are about to enter some ultimate fighting cage match.
And why do we watch the news, read the paper or click on any links? At every turn we see stories about children being violent, online bullying pushing kids to suicide and crap, even the soccer field is no longer safe?
What the hell is going on?
Yeah, all of a sudden the whole bubble wrap thing doesn’t seem so crazy, does it?
I remember those repeated moments during each of my daughter’s first weeks in our lives - as they slept soundly on my chest, our breathing in sync and their sweaty little heads dampening my shirt - when I would promise to protect them from harm, to love them no matter what and to do my best to see that they grew into who God intended them to become.
But how do I really protect them knowing that shitty things happen in the world and that violence perpetrated by, upon and around children knows no bounds. Different populations are impacted differently by emotional, physical or sexual violence than others, but children from all walks of life experience and are influenced by the horrors, tragedies and violence of the world.
I guess we could escape the world by sending our kids to some secluded mountain commune, buying our own Disney island or moving to Pleasantville, but short of such dramatic gestures, what is a parent to do?
What I know I can’t do is to let the violence, brokenness and evil in the world drive how I parent my children. For if I give violence and fear that kind of power, I limit their ability grab ahold of possibilities that I believe God places before them, I fail to trust the communities that have committed to also raise and nurture them and I deprive them of the overwhelming love, beauty and goodness that so often lives side by side with that which we do not want them to see.
Now some of you are thinking to yourself, “Well that’s all fine and dandy Mr. Pollyanna Sunshine, but what about keeping my children safe?” Well, I will overlook the “sunshine” comment, but here are some ways for us to think about safety in different ways that I think will can lessen our anxiety about trusting our children to the world.
Safety is not only physical – I firmly believe that most of the physical violence that our children see in their school and other areas is deeply tied to the kinds of emotional abuse that happens in the world today. Violence is so often the symptom - and certainly must be addressed - but we cannot become so focused on particular actions that we become distracted from addressing systemic and social patterns of emotional violence. Every time we refer to “those kids” or model bullying behavior or deny the humanity of another, we are feeding a culture of violence. And at the same, when we embrace a community larger than ourselves, model graciousness in the face of conflict and see the humanity of every being, we do our part in building a culture of non-violence — in body, mind and spirit.
Safety is not an individual endeavor – As I have had conversations with parents from my daughters’ school where we have had our share of violent incidents, there is a common tension held by many parents between the safety of our own children and the presence of the kids who are being physically violent. This is a crucial tension to acknowledge if only to make sure that we do not pretend that we are seeking the betterment of the whole, when what we really want is to guarantee the safety of our own children. This is a natural yearning, but what we fail to realize is that in securing the safety of our own children and not really acting with the whole community in mind, we too often compromise the educational and social experience of the kids who might need it the most in order to make the community safer as a whole.
Safety cannot be guaranteed – We can teach our children how to make good choices in the face of conflict, we can give them the ability to know when to walk away from an interaction and we can create clear channels of communication, but at the end of the day, no one can guarantee our childrens’ safety. We can make settings safer, sure, but if you are expecting any school, municipality or community to promise that no harm will ever come to any child, yours or someone else’s, this is simply not possible.
These questions and tensions are nothing new. Generation after generation of parents have had to learn this lesson, that our job is not to control our kids and shield them from pain and struggle, but to offer them the guidance, the support and love so they can make good choices in life, navigate a world of complexities and discover who God is yearning them to be and become. Each parent will do these things differently, each child will respond in her own way and hopefully, the larger community will be made better by all of our good choices.
In the end, parenting is a journey of guiding, trusting and letting go with the only choice that we really have to make is to what extent we will embrace the challenge.
That said, I will still keep my roll of bubble wrap, just in case
Peace to you my parenting friends – Bruce
PS: If you want further counsel from some good folks, I posed question, “How do we keep our children safe?” on my Facebook Page. [See comments]