Searching for Answers
As parents, we are learning as we go. We consult friends, read blogs, remember sayings we learned from our parents...yet, sometimes they all fall short of giving us peace about a situation or allowing us to explain the 'why's of life' to our children. Recently, our community has been faced with many questions we, as parents, find it difficult to answer. These questions confound our children as they seek to make sense of their world. As we try to help our children process the disappointment, pain, loss, and uncertainty, I wanted to give you a few guidelines that may help you along the way.
First of all, there is no perfect way to do this, nor is there one way that each child grieves the loss of a friend or the loss in what they come to expect life to be like. Each child approaches this process differently, and thus, so must we. I have three boys who approach it differently. One is highly inquisitive and wants to talk it out, one is tight-lipped and I have to work patiently to walk him slowly through the emotions, and yet another who feels he has it all figured out and we spend most of our time unpacking and testing his theories about how he believes life works. You have to learn your child's individual language and speak it with skill, patience, honesty, and love.
Second, you must postpone judgment. There is no right or wrong view when it comes to how our children "feel" about it. Their feelings are the starting point of the conversation. The sure way to shut down the conversation is to jump to the place where you diminish the value of their opinion or beliefs about the issue. This is where the true test of patience comes in. I am constantly amazed at the amount of confidence our kids' place in their friends' opinions. Enter the conversation with the understanding that you are up against social media, movies, friends, e-publications, and multiple other channels that compete for shaping our kids' realities. However, none of them care about your child as you do and none can show the empathy, honesty, and authentic understanding that you can. We as parents, need to also let our kids know our own feelings when it comes to situations we face. It's okay for us to let them know we are sad, angry, confused, hurt, and worried. I believe it is the false impression of the "perfect life" that causes so much pain for our kids when that falsehood is exposed – it is a hard painful fall. Life is messy, we need to help our kids understand that.
The last piece of advice is to not put a time frame on it. I’m a project-oriented type of person. I like to find a challenge, tackle it, and then move on. I'm reminding myself that just because I feel that I've had a conversation with my boys, it does not mean that the processing of their thoughts is over. Think about a traumatic experience or loss in your life...how many times does it pop back up in your mind? Processing the uncertainty is just that, a process that will take its own pace. So, embrace the struggle, the questions, and yes – the tears if they come. These are hard life lessons we all learn at some point. I am thankful my boys are still home with me so I can help them through it.
I hope, in some small way, this offers a little comfort to many of you who find yourself where I do; in a situation where your own children are struggling to find answers to some of life's hardest questions. My wife and I may not do it perfectly, but we will do our best to love our children through the journey of anger, loss, pain, frustration, and questioning. I know on the other side of the struggle, they will have a greater resilience for challenges they will face in their lives...and one day, help others on their own journeys.
As you process these conversations in your family, we as a school are already evaluating our processes and ensuring that the best training, safeguards, and procedures are in place. We are responding internally with plans for faculty, staff, students, and parents as we approach the new school year. In the meantime, I urge all parents to talk with their children about these issues, in an age-appropriate way, and get questions out in the open in an honest and caring forum. The Maclay Community goes through our successes and struggles, together. I continue to be honored to serve our wonderful community and take this journey with you.