I haven’t written in a long time. I’ve started posts in my head about all sorts of topics, but couldn’t get my words on the screen. I was just too emotional, too angry. It was all just too raw. And it stole my voice.
It’s been four months, and I’m starting to gain some perspective. I’ve had time to reflect on what we could have done differently, what I’ve learned through all this. Coming out of any challenge, I always reflect on what the takeaways are. I ask myself how I can do things differently next time to increase the chances of a better outcome.
While I know people can be hurtful and down right nasty, I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid being the target for all of my 40 years (unless middle school counts — and really, don’t we all just delete that from memory along with the teased bangs and pinch-and-roll jeans that went along with it?). As such, in my personal life I approach people with the notion that they have my trust until they demonstrate they don’t deserve it. Sure, not everyone deserves this benefit of the doubt, but I figure that life’s just too short to play it any other way.
But four months ago this notion was seriously challenged for the first time.
My husband does not work in politics, but, as he likes to say, his job requires him to swim in political waters. The short of it is he left his job for a new one. And while his employers (he reported to more than one person) all gave him their blessing to take the new position, in the end they changed their minds. That came with negative consequences for both the employer and my family. And if the story ended there, we would have simply licked our wounds and moved on.
But angry people didn’t stop there. The very people who days earlier told both my husband and I they were so happy for us and our family, how thankful they were for my husband’s strong job performance over his tenure, strategically used newspapers and radio to publicly slander him. While it broke my heart to see my husband run through the mud, he had the confidence and integrity to weather such a storm. What tore me up more was seeing my children witness it.
When We Can’t Protect Kids from Adult Drama
You see, we live in a small town. (To be sure, what went down with my family here would never have been an issue, or made the front page of the paper for weeks in a row, in a larger city.) And despite the fact that we intentionally did not discuss this adult drama with our children, we couldn’t put our 10-year old twins in a bubble in this city of six square miles.
Teachers asked them questions at school. They’d see newspapers with their dad’s name in the headline. Then they’d ask questions, “Why do people hate dad?” After reading an article in the paper during which someone used the word “evil” in reference to my husband’s actions, our son asked with grave concern, “Why does he use that word when talking about Dad?” And then add the fact that our sons knew some of these adult accusers. These adults were their soccer organizers and people they knew to be our friends. They were scared and confused.
It’s a challenge to answer these questions. And while you may never find yourself in a situation like my husband and I did, your kids are bound to ask you questions that have no easy answers. Questions about emotional, sensitive, hot-button topics. Or simply questions about adult situations for which they deserve age-appropriate answers.
When talking with our kids about our situation, were were careful to respect them and their emotions while arming them with information that calmed their fears and increased their sense of security.
Empathize with Their Emotion
My kids were scared and confused. And, truth-be-told we were confused too. The way the situation unfolded was so surreal that we hadn’t even fully wrapped our heads around it. We acknowledged their confusion and told them that it made sense that they were confused because, quite frankly, we didn’t fully understand why it was happening either.
And we shared that we understood why they were scared, then gave them reassurances that helped them regain a feeling of security. We asked them to help us understand exactly what their fears were, and then provided facts that worked to defeat the scary scenarios they’d created in their minds.
Provide Age-Appropriate Information
My husband and I were angry. And, like angry parents going through a divorce, it can be tempting to exercise that anger by feeding kids adult information that they aren’t equipped to handle. But data that is too mature can ultimately work to increase their sense of insecurity. Kids with information they can’t understand feel overwhelmed and overburdened. And instead of the knowledge being a source of power, it’s a burden that can make them feel vulnerable and inadequate.
We used analogies that our children could relate to to help them process the situation. While I understand the psychology behind why people were treating my husband the way they were, using that language with my 10-year olds would overwhelm them. Instead we used playground scenarios to help them understand why people were behaving this way in regards to their dad.
Be Available for Questions
It’ll take some time for kids to process these conversations. And that processing time will likely result in even more questions. We were sure to let our boys know that we were available anytime for questions.
If you think writing questions down is more your kid’s style, consider a question box that he can slip a written question into at any time. Then choose a day to sit down and talk through the concerns from the box.
Equip Them for the Outside
Because our situation was so public, it was important that we prepared our kids for questions or situations they may face when we weren’t with them. To that end, we asked them about questions they’d been asked from other adults and kids, and added some we thought might come up, and helped them formulate answers they were comfortable with. This gave them confidence to address the situation at school, during sports, or whenever we weren’t there to back them up.
Taking this proactive approach to helping our boys process this very adult situation has given them the tools to respond to it with resiliency. They still ask us questions, but now their approach is with curiosity instead of palatable fear and confusion. We respected and validated their emotions and armed them with age-appropriate information and a sense of understanding that allowed them to face the situation with confidence.
We’ve recently decided to make steps to move. While we knew we’d leave eventually, our initial intention was to stay here for a year or two longer. But the meanness, while no longer shouting at us in the media, lurks around corners as I run my daily errands.
Keeping the same guidelines in mind, we told the boys about the potential move. In response, their faces beamed with eager anticipation. While they are sad to move away from friends, they are excited about all the opportunities that await them in a new city.
As I looked into their faces, I couldn’t have been more proud. Proud of them for approaching life with such openness and joy. But proud of us too. Proud of the foundation we’ve thoughtfully laid for them, that nurtures that sense of security and confidence.
And I pray that it is strong enough to suffocate the mean when it happens to them.