Parenting Amid Threats of War

(written in February 2002)

We are in the midst of a challenging time, with the possibility of a new war looming. It's a time to be listening and learning. This article will focus on the challenges of parenting during this swirl of highly charged events that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on our lives.

We have access to a useful perspective because we are parents. As we cradle our children in our arms, we know that all the soldiers now mobilizing are someone's precious children. Many of them also are fathers and mothers, and have had to leave their children behind. The damage that war does has already begun; bringing long separations, deep fears and a profound sense of loss in children, who need their Daddies and Mommies.

Individuals, families, villages, and towns around the world are already hurting, and are dreading the worst. As parents, our hearts ache. The parents on all sides of the conflict love their children and families deeply. As parents, we know how precious each human life is. If we think carefully, we can fathom the reservoir of love, resource, and struggle that is poured into each and every human being on our planet. We know the terrible human cost of war.

Act as parent-citizens

As citizens of nations being drawn into war, it is valuable to keep our perspective as parents foremost in our minds. We are parent-citizens. As such, we need to ask ourselves: “What actions will keep me best able to love my children well, lead my family responsibly, and be an active citizen during a damaging time in our human community?”

While talk of war dominates the news, all sides are exposed to sound bites designed to instill fear and anger. The spin on the news obscures history and reason by jangling the personal feelings that each of us carries. We've all been treated unfairly at times, and as children, we've all been threatened. Most of us have had members of our families harmed by war.

Fears and leftover insult from our personal experience become spliced onto the present situation, when leaders make threats and outline dangers. Our feelings don't help us reason our way to a constructive course of action as parent-citizens. We need to exchange listening time with others, so we can uninterruptedly “have our say,” while letting our feelings release. Then we will think more clearly. We need to offload fear, anger, and hopelessness so we can notice the opportunities, to help build community in a time of worry and disruption.

We may need to restrict our exposure to the news in order to preserve our momentum as we do the important things that are within our power to do.

Even in time of war, our work as parents is important. If the news reports overtake our ability to play and enjoy our children, we can decide to get our updates when they're asleep, or on every third day. It is in our power to refuse to dwell on anything that depletes us of hope.

It's important to cuddle our sons and daughters, resolve disputes, set limits, listen to their feelings and play as hard as we know how. We are parents. We insure that in an imperfect world there is a family—ours—that offers its members a haven of respect and love as much of the time as possible. In our corner of the world, we foster understanding and admit mistakes.

It makes sense to apologize to our children for problems we grownups have not yet solved. We haven't yet figured out how to make a just and fair world, and how to rein in leaders who make plans to hurt people. It's not our fault, of course, but it is our responsibility to come up with solutions and to work together to implement those solutions. It's good for our children to see the concrete, everyday ways we respect each family member as we work to balance individual needs and resolve differences.

We must find times and places to grieve openly and fully for the lives of young men and women who may be forced to target and kill each other because they happen to be a certain age, in a certain country, at a certain time. We recommend finding a listening partner, someone who listens reasonably well, and to take long turns listening.

Peacemaking must begin where we are, with the people we know. Non-Muslim people must make it very clear to Muslim friends and neighbors that we want to build mutual respect and support. Every community has people whose hatreds will flare under the pretext of war threats.

We can make a difference by standing against such attacks, and against the loose talk that members of our families and our friends might engage in. Our children need to see us oppose hatred and violence when grownups vent their feelings of antagonism in public. In doing so, we help protect our children's hopeful and open-minded nature.

Principled people acting together are capable of solving urgent problems without wholesale destruction of people or the environment—Nelson Mandela’s leadership toward the peaceful ending of apartheid in South Africa provides one sterling example.

As parent-citizens, we must not settle for international policies that decimate families. And we need to stop the use of war as an excuse to shift resource away from people who are vulnerable to those who are wealthy and powerful. We need to speak and act decisively with other parents to insure that adequate resources are available to fund our schools, community programs, and public services.

Special Time is an important discipline during a crisis

During a crisis, it is more important than ever to do Special Time with our children. Special Time pulls our minds away from hurt we can't immediately stop, and focuses us on the “can do” work of nurturing our children. We get to walk outside in the mud with bare feet, or splash water all over the bathroom floor amid peals of laughter. We get to admire the skateboard stunts they're learning, and fall down at the touch of a poorly thrown pillow, as though it had knocked the wind out of us. A strong human connection is the foundation for solving all kinds of complex human problems, and Special Time is our training ground for building such connections.

Special Time is for us. Special Time keeps us focused on the present moment as we actively love our children. We motivate ourselves to play by “doing it for our children,” but the truth is, playing with our children gives us a much more balanced perspective on what's important in life. The feel of mud is interesting. The skateboard stunts are entertainment of the very best kind. The splashing of bathwater does create excitement for at least a few moments! And the trust in the shining eyes of our children after Special Time—or perhaps after a good cry that follows—shows the love that we, and they, were born for.

Closeness, built by play and by listening, is at the heart of healing for us and for our world. Luckily, we parents get to build that closeness every day.

Special Time is a practice, a concrete way to decide daily that our minds will not cower with fear or wilt with hopelessness. The sky is blue, the sun rises each morning, birds sing, and the animals will welcome spring in our hemisphere in a rolling greeting, from south to north. Our children can help us to resist falling prey to fear. They know it's the best thing in the world to be close and have fun. Our lives go better when we follow their sensible lead, and remember our importance as parents.

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