The horrific news from Florida has all of us reeling. It’s leaving far more questions than answers in its wake. And it’s possible your kids are contending with some of the same questions we as parents are: “Is my school safe?” (If it helps, Keys for Kids just posted this devotional story to read with your kids.)
A few thoughts as you consider what to say to them.
They’re taking notes. As our kids seek to understand some bitter realities of this world, they’re picking up a lot from our nonverbal signals. They see whether we’re speaking to them out of anxiety, for example, or seeking to trust even when we’re afraid. They see that we, too, have grief and anger. In our reactions, we can help them deescalate. They’re seeing, too, whether we’ll tell them the whole truth and provide substantive, thoughtful (rather than clichéd) responses–or whether they should stick to Google, the kids on the bus, and the other rudimentary tools in their kid-sized toolbox. Let’s talk to our kids about this.
Leave space for lament, anger, and questions. Ask your kids questions about what they’ve heard, what they’re thinking about and feeling, what questions they have–and let those questions guide your conversation. Personally, I’m not choosing to say “That won’t happen at your school”–because that can undermine my trustworthiness with my kids. (My kids usually sniff out someone pulling one over on them.) Instead, I talk about what we can trust (see #3, 4, & 7). I want to listen to their worries, validate them, talk them through (here are some talking points, and part II of them, which I used when my daughter was having some legit fears), and check back with them later. We don’t need to create answers for all of the questions flowing from this open wound. We can simply make space for comfort, listening, and hope in a God who redeems this broken world.
Understand who keeps us safe–and that safety is not truly the end goal. Our hope does not lie in meticulous control. As my friend Kristen wisely writes here, events like these force our hand.
Oh, we can be wise, but we can’t be in control…If you watch old home videos of me with my kids, I say “Be careful” 4256 times. But I didn’t give them breath and I can’t determine when they take their last…
We might not be in control, but we cling to the promise that He is and works things out for our good.
I’ve also got David Platt’s words rolling around in my head this morning:
The call of Christ is to deny ourselves and to let go of our lives. To relinquish control of our lives, to surrender everything we are, everything that we do, our direction our safety our security is no longer found in the things of this world. It is found in Christ. And that is great risk when it comes to the things of this world.
Set our hearts on another world. As Christians, as we slowly pry our fingers open from safety, we need not ultimately fear even even for our kids; death has “lost its sting.” Yes, death means profound loss. But death is also our last and defeated enemy. Death is transportation to the only place of ultimate safety, peace, and justice. Professor Denny Burk reminded me today, “The delay of God’s justice isn’t the absence of God’s justice: ‘He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished’” (Exodus 34:7).
Personally, understand the bullying connection. Our own kids, depending on their age, may not need to see the connection between the powerlessness felt by bullied children, whose schools sometimes even unknowingly reinforce the social hierarchy though unfair treatment. Being bullied is, of course, never an excuse for violence. But our kids can be part of a daily solution (out of love, not a mantle of fear). They can constantly reinforce kindness to the underdogs of their world. Have discussions about the social order in their own classes, including who’s on the bottom and who’s at the top. Without mentioning ties to our world’s events, brainstorm with them ideas to advocate for the “least of these” in their classrooms–disconnected kids who really can do very little in return. They’re kids who may desperately need a sliver of hope, even in the form of a kind smile or a friend at lunchtime.
Personally, understand the screen time connection.Studies have shown that following certain amounts of screen time, kids’ ability to accurately discern human facial expressions diminishes. That’s a decrease in their ability to empathize, folks. Those children also demonstrate increased depression and aggression. So even if you’re monitoring what (potentially violent) worlds your children are entering through the rabbit hole of their media, the amount of time matters too. Monitor quality and quantity. I’ll quote neurologist Dan Siegel on this one:
If repeated experiences actually change the physical architecture of the brain, then it becomes paramount that we be intentional about the experiences we give our children.
God uses even this for good–and yet the act itself is so clearly not good. I keep remembering Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, weeping. He even knows that within minutes, God will use this death to enact one of the greatest miracles of all time. Let’s guard ourselves and our kids from pat answers, or whisking away the hard emotions. Instead, let’s help them construct an emotionally healthy framework for responses to any nightmare in their future.
It needs to be said. Blogging about parenting can feel a little like heading for an outhouse in a snowstorm, y’know?
Because honestly, there’s waaaaay too much I don’t get right. (And aren’t we all a little skeptical of the people who seem to be doing it with Pinterest perfection?) Sometimes I pull up a chair to blog about parenting and I’m thinking, Which failure shall I blog about this month?
From the beginning, I think God’s had it out for me to shake up my (firstborn, overachieving, idealistic) parenting goals. As in, pretty soon after those two little lines turned pink.
Something tells me you’ve got your own parenting expectations that kind of vaporized in the presence of real children. Goodbye, baby wash commercial. Hello, price-club paper-towels-that-double-as-ottoman.
Today, I’m posting on my friend Kristen Welch’s site, WeAreTHATFamily.com, about what to do with all of our expectations as parents. Want to think about it with me? Hop on over and check it out.
If you like it, please share it! (And consider subscribing up there in the right hand corner.)
One of my favorite moments from Christmas break found my daughter and I in my little sunroom, paintbrushes in hand. She was trying out her new easel, and I was leaning against the loveseat, watercoloring. A happy surprise was how much she shared about what was going on at school. And one that will stick with me even longer? Her observation about how she was contributing to the problem, not just how other girls were mishandling things.
Maybe that sounds weird, to like that behavior. But as I type to you, I realize I want kids who voluntarily discard the blindness that naturally shrouds all of us. I want kids who, from constant practice, see the log in their eye. Who can step back from any situation and see how their sin is contributing and destroying–so they can make it right.
I know, I know. Confession can sound like, well, not that much fun. Maybe a bit like sniveling. Or depending on your background, something like Bless me, Father, for I have sinned rolls around in your head.
But what if it sounded more like handcuffs falling off?
THE KEY: To create a culture of frequent confession in our homes–to one another, and to God. This keeps our need for Jesus in front of our eyes, and gradually makes “have mercy on me” (Luke 8:13) a part of who we are. It breeds humility in us and our families, rather than the appearance or requirement of perfection and self-righteousness. And it welcomes grace, giving shame the boot.
She was already cuddled up for the night beneath her comforter, pillows blooming around her olive skin. While I perched beside her, we spent a minute chatting about her favorite teacher.
“But Mom, he doesn’t know Jesus.” She looked down.
(Sometimes God does stuff in my kids’ hearts that only he could be creating, y’know?)
Raising kids who were creating change in the name of Jesus felt a little more clear-cut in Uganda. Today I’m contributing again on my friend Kristen Welch’s WeareTHATfamily.com on this topic. Hop on over and check it out! And may God continue to give you and your kids wisdom as you love courageously in his name.
I gotta tell you guys: Blogging’s a humbling venture. Sometimes it’s like sending a piece of my heart into cyberspace, and just trusting God to do whatever he wants with it. Sometimes it’s less than I hope; sometimes it’s far more. My husband reminds me that instead of numbers, I can look at the hours of worship God is hopefully generating. He’s continued to do more than I imagined even through a tough year.
But really, this is the part where I get to finally thank you, readers. So many of you, I don’t know–and yet you continue to care about these things along with me. Thanks for caring about the relationships that matter most, and for sharing these posts with people you care about. Here were the posts that resonated most with you this year.
The Broken Heart: On Leaving Africa: I’ve wondered for awhile now how I would write this post; what I would say. Eight hundred words seems only enough to barely outline the dimensions of what I’ve wrestled with for the last several months.
One of my favorite aspects of my African lifestyle was a lean muscularity of simplicity. Forget keeping up with the Joneses. You are the Joneses, when your kids are going to play with kids whose families (who may or may not be literate or have lost a child) live in one room, which may or may not have electricity and running water.
So people expect my light fixtures to, say, look like I swiped them from my church in the eighties. They anticipate that when I serve lemonade, it will cascade from an ugly plastic pitcher.
Perspective is everything.
Randy Alcorn explains in his (highly-recommended) The Treasure Principle, “The more things we own—the greater their total mass, the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them.”
Our kids are going to be under authority their entire lives. With the exception of a few horrid dictators of suffering countries, everyone on this planet is under authority of some kind. (Jesus is, too.) Offering our kids the gift of submission is one of those keys that opens doors for the rest of their lives.
We were headed to church, exhaling clouds of steam in the still-cold car. Up in the front seat, I happily remarked to my husband about the expanding diversity in our small town–as judged authoritatively, of course, by my trips to Wal-Mart. After five and a half years in Africa, I can feel a little stifled amongst all the vanilla around me.
My daughter, from the backseat: “Why does ‘diversity’ make you happy?”
She didn’t, it turns out, know what diversity was. So we talked about it: That God expresses Himself through every culture. That differences make us more vibrant and loving and whole. That we want people of all types to be welcome here.
In light of this year’s extensive, heartrending violence, maybe you’re wondering along with Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, “How did we get here?”
Here’s what we know. The Church must–must–lead the way in accepting each other as Jesus accepted us (Romans 15:11)–when we were still His enemies. As pastor and radio host Bob Lepine recently pointed out,
The source of all racism and white supremacy is the person the Bible describes as the father of lies (John 8:44). Racism is demonic. It’s diabolical. To believe that one group of people has more value or worth than another is the spirit of antichrist…
Racism is a sin against God Himself. It is God who created us in His image, after His likeness (Genesis 1:27).
….Christians must publicly, humbly, and boldly stand against racism. Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of the chorus speaking out against what has taken place. Especially when white supremacist groups claim that what they’re espousing is somehow a Christian way of thinking.
There should be no equivocation on this. No nuance. We must speak clearly and forcefully in proclaiming that all men and women bear the imago dei–the image of God.
Honestly, if I were a weather forecaster, I should have seen this perfect storm whirling my way, shooting out a few lightning bolts. It was brewing for two weeks as my husband and I sprinted to keep up with the pace of American life, which still overwhelms us. (Me to him: “I don’t know how people do this well.” Him: “I’m not sure they do.”) As much as we’d thinned out the “must do’s” from the “should do’s”, the calendar was still practically leaning over with the weight of all that ink. Mix in more work deadlines than I have fingers, and my brain was starting to resemble mashed potatoes.
Do you ever get tired of being the driver in your home? Y’know–driving the homework. The dishes from their hands to the dishwasher. The manners and respect. The time with God. The self-control in conflicts. The propriety in dating.
I need to admit: I get tired of the lack of my kids’ ownership in the values my husband and I care about–whether it’s peace, or order, or worship, or personal responsibility. And as my kids get older, in some ways, my control diminishes.
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.