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The Aftermath of Beirut, Paris: Parenting Isn't the Same

Photograph by Getty Images

Today, I sit silently and watch my children play. They laugh at each other and dance around the living room to their favorite songs, while I struggle to reconcile the scene in front of me with the images I have seen on my Facebook feed. Nothing about what has happened in Kenya, Syria, Beirut, Paris and most recently Nice makes sense with the life I live.

(I wrote this shortly after Beruit, and I am left feeling the same today in the aftermath of Nice.)

I spent most of the weekend trying to grapple with the anxiety I have felt since I saw the first story on Friday afternoon. I know I am not alone. Mothers everywhere are holding their children a little closer, more aware than ever that they are raising children in a dangerous world.

As I go about my day-to-day, washing dishes and changing diapers, I am overwhelmed with sadness, knowing Friday started as a normal day for so many. I am reminded, as I drive, as I send my husband and oldest daughter off to the movies, as I leave my children with a babysitter, that in a moment's time, everything can change. If I am being perfectly honest, nothing feels safe or OK.

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As parents, it is difficult to grapple with our own anxiety while to trying to do our best to parent our children well. So often, the first temptation is to hold on tighter than necessary. But parenting out of fear isn't healthy for us or our children.

As much I want to protect my children from the dangers in the world, I know I am not really in control.

How we respond to trauma directly affects our children. Even if our kids can't grasp the reasons why, they are aware of our anxiety. My girls, at 3 and 1, are much too young to know how dark and dangerous the world can be. They are naive and carefree, and I think it's best that they stay that way for now. It's important for me to parent well and be present during turbulent times, which often means sorting through anxieties and making decisions with a clear mind. I can't tell you what will work for you, but I can share how I am learning to parent in a scary and broken world.

First, it has been really important that I step away from the computer and turn off the TV. After 9/11, studies found many were suffering from vicarious traumatization directly related to how much media they had consumed concerning the tragedy. Now, I don't want to live with my head in the sand, but I also know I need to care for myself in order to better care for my children. In the past, specifically when tornadoes devastated a town near my home, I watched too much news and my anxiety took over for at least a few days. I wasn't sleeping well and I was struggling to keep up with my responsibilities at work and home. Now when I feel the anxiety creeping up, I turn everything off. Of course, if I do decide to read or watch the news, I don't do it while my children are awake because they are much too young to be exposed to what is going on.

I am also finding it really helpful to return to the basics of my everyday life. I get up in the morning, and I do what I always do. I make breakfast for kids, I sip my coffee, I lay on the couch with my sick toddler and I give thanks. I relish in the normal, boring and mundane of my life. I soak it up for all it's worth.

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As much I want to protect my children from the dangers in the world, I know I am not really in control. What I can control is how I parent the two little ones in my care. I can raise children who are kind, helpful and brave. I can have ongoing, honest conversations with them about complicated issues as they get older. What the world needs is not more people who are retreating in fear, pulling their curtains and ignoring the mess. The world needs more people who are taught to be courageously compassionate and the first to step in when things are scary or messy.

And so, when it all feels like too much, I do what I can do. I teach my children to be kind, that all humans have value and deserve to be treated with dignity. And I find hope in knowing I have made a difference, even if just in my daughters' lives.

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