The world has been a scary place in the news this week. I had the unenviable job of trying to explain to my six year old, why the lovely lady and the smiling happy man on the front of the newspapers had been killed, shot, by someone they knew, who was cross with them (he can read, we were in a shop and he read the horrific front pages complete with screenshots of the unimaginable shooting in Virginia). He remembered reading/hearing/seeing something about a shooting in a cinema a while ago and he was horrified to the point of obsession. He’s starting to realise that not everyone in the world is good, that sometimes, awful things happen and often to decent and kind people. I have never promised him these things won’t ever happen to him; cruel as that may seem, I can’t force myself to lie to him or his sisters. Because one day, what if there was that dreadful realisation that I didn’t have the power to say those things and promise that protection? What if they had to deal with something awful and the fact that I had lied? Yes, that may make my children a bit blasé about death and overly matter of fact (‘Dad, you can’t see your Mummy on Mother’s Day because she’s dead, isn’t she?’ Er, Yes…), but I can’t see a better way to deal with this in our family. I’m trying to teach them, that although I can’t promise to keep them safe from all harm, I can teach them how to avoid it for the most part. I completely respect everyone else’s position on this and am (trying) to teach my children to do that too.
Sometimes as Mum and Dad, there are days where we want to keep them locked away at home, safe from harm. Last year at work (I was, until 6 weeks ago a secondary school teacher) I completed Tier 2 Child Protection training; I came home and cried buckets. I solemnly promised that I would never let my precious son and daughters be alone with anyone, go to anything, ever be at risk from anyone… until my husband rightly pointed out that that, in itself was a form of abuse. So they go out, they do things, and every day at some point – I find myself thinking what if? Those fears are so suffocating some days, that a trip on the kerb, a refusal to hold hands, that moment in a big shop where you can’t see them…what if.
I have to talk myself out of this strangling fear that something will happen to them, out of my control that is just awful. I have to remind myself of all the reasons why my children will be ok. And promise myself not to ruin them by communicating these fears. Here are 5 of the things that won’t protect them from harm necessarily, but will certainly stand them in good stead.
- They Are Persistent
Tell my son he can have a biscuit in half an hour and he will ask you every 45 seconds how long it is until he can have that biscuit. My oldest daughter refuses to acknowledge ‘the look’. I still get ‘the look’ from my mum now, the ‘I want you to stop talking now and I will tell you later as to why’ look. The closest we’ve got to understanding this, is ‘Why are you looking at me with that funny cross face?’ It’s a start. If my youngest does not want to get in her car seat, hell nor high water will make her get in that car seat.
This kind of persistence has to be a positive trait, right? The refusal to give up; in the face of adversity (or biscuit shortages) my kids will prosper.
2. They Love Each Other
Case in point; in our Lidl, at the end of the till there is a 4ft high shelf to pack your bags on (one day I’ll post on the traumas of a Lidl trip – there are many) next to that long shelf that runs the length of the checkout, are 3 chairs I allow my children to sit on while I pay. Predictably, as I paid one day I saw my daughters crawl past on this shelf, wobbling perilously, waving cheerily. I told them off, in front of everyone. As I did it, I felt a tugging on my sleeve; my son.
‘I feel I should tell you… I totally started this and did 3 circuits before you even saw us. I’m sorry.’
I loved him for that. He could’ve been home and dry, but it sat badly with him that I was telling off his sisters and he was getting away with it. I resisted pointing out that had the situation been reversed, his sisters would possibly have sold him out in a heartbeat.
3. We Love Them – Unconditionally
So many children in the world lack the love and support we give our children without question. The fact that we love them has to be in their favour, doesn’t it? Last week I spent a long time explaining to the oldest 2, that even when I’m my ‘most cross’; I love them more than they can ever understand (until that day in the future, when they may have their own children, only then will they know what I’m on about).
4. They Have The Support of Professionals
These children of mine are supported by a whole host of amazing professionals in all facets of their lives. From 8 months old my son (and now our whole family) was taken under the wing of our child-minder; in all the years we’ve attended, never have any of them been anything but delighted to be there (coming home, they sometimes cry, which I’m trying not to take too personally).
My son’s teachers have worked so hard to know him these past 2 years, to understand his learning style, see the best of him, praise him until he feels 6 feet tall and support him on the days when the best of him must seem unachievable. They care to hear about his life and all that he’s interested in.
Our GP took one look at our [then] 3 month old daughter and referred her to hospital at a moment’s notice when she was limp, disinterested and feverish on my say so that ‘something wasn’t right’. She had Viral Meningitis.
So often the professionals who support us in our day to day life (particularly those who work with children) receive such a slating in the news, it’s important to remember that some – most, save lives and make lives. Teachers, nursery workers and child-minders, health visitors, midwives, nurses, doctors, librarians and so many more, are in the huge majority fighting for the same outcome: happy, healthy children. But then no one wants to read an article about a well diagnosed medical case that ended up fine, or a child who went to school happy every day because the teacher realised they shared a common interest in football, X Factor, Doctor Who – whatever, that simply wouldn’t be ‘good’ news.
5. They Have (And Occasionally Listen To) Gut Instinct
I think a lot of the time I don’t credit my children with this enough. Granted, I have seen my children make ridiculous, dangerous, heart-stopping decisions; but more often than that, they know what the right thing to do is. They know when they’ve hurt someone’s feelings, strayed too far in a public place or if someone they don’t know (or want to talk to) tries to engage them in conversation. I’m hoping this continues as they grow up, so that by the time puberty kicks in, they will feel as though they know enough about the world to decide how to handle all that peer pressure, hormones, friendships and everything adolescence will throw at them.
Although this feels like a downbeat post, it’s not intended to be. It’s an acknowledgement that parenting isn’t all jolly good fun and a laugh a minute, definitely; but it’s also a nod to the fact that these little people we’re raising are amazing, adaptable creatures with the capacity for more kindness and good deeds in their little finger than some see in a lifetime. We can’t protect them from everything, but we can (and should) encourage them to hold on to these qualities for the future.