I had a completely different blog post under works for this week, but the horrible tragedy in Toronto that took place on Monday has left me with so many thoughts swirling around my head that I just had to get them out. In this age of digital media, we are no strangers to tragic world events. And the news of yet another tragedy, no matter where or what, always causes me to take pause, feel for those involved directly and indirectly, and consider, even if just for a second, what if this happened to me or someone I love. But then I always find some way to reassure myself that these things don’t happen here. That we are safe.
But it’s so very different when tragedy strikes this close to home. It takes it from an event that happens elsewhere, that affects others, to an event that happens at home. An event that could have directly affected me and my loved ones, that did directly impact people that I know and their loved ones. The feeling of sadness hits a little deeper and lingers just a little longer. I know I hugged my family a little tighter this week.
It also causes me to take more time to reflect, to really think about it, to wonder how on earth we’ve come to this. And I don’t claim to have all the answers, or any at all, but I do know that love, kindness and compassion start at home. I truly believe and am a strong advocate for the belief that there is no one right way to parent, that each family is free to choose what works best for it. But I do feel compelled to share some of the values that guide my journey as a parent, as a person. I’m not willing to shrug my shoulders and say “nothing I can do.” Because there is something I can do, and it starts at home.
In a world of deadlines, alarm clocks and schedules we’ve become so far removed from our natural instincts. We are bombarded with books and articles telling us to sleep train our infants, to punish our toddlers. We are overwhelmed with theories and rules. We hire sleep consultants, potty trainers, night nurses. We struggle with anxiety, fatigue, and depression. We let others set expectations of ourselves and of our children and we go to various lengths to live up to them. And as a result our basic human connection is suffering, at home and with others. In a world of instanteous communication we are feeling more alone than ever.
This tragedy only solidifies my unconscious decision to be a responsive parent. Not only because it reminds me that life is too short to be bogged down with rules and expectations, but also because I just cannot imagine that a home environment that meets a child’s physical and emotional needs could produce a 25 year old man capable of mowing down pedestrians with a rental van. It starts with responding to my infant’s cries at night, letting my babies nurse for comfort, cuddling my 2 year old back to sleep throughout the night, welcoming my 4 year old into my bed after a bad dream. I always have, and always will, respond to my children’s needs (real and perceived) day and night in a loving and comforting way.
In light of all the recent tragedies, particularly the school shootings, I keep seeing posts about bringing back spanking and corporal punishment, that these tragic events are somehow a direct result of children who haven’t learned respect or been punished appropriately for their wrongdoings. I may not be an expert, but I personally believe that couldn’t be further from the truth. First, let us not forget that many, many parents in North America still spank and many more did so 15-20 year ago. So it’s ridiculous to assume that the absence of physical punishment is causing violent incidents. In fact, I’d hazard a completely unscientific guess that indeed the opposite could be true.
Instead of spanking my children, I will talk to my children. I will teach them that physical force is never the answer. Instead of time outs, leaving my kids alone to deal with new and big emotions, I will guide my children. I will teach them to identify and work through their emotions. My goal is not to control or to punish, to make them ashamed or afraid. My goal is to help them learn from their mistakes, to right their wrongs. I cannot expect a child to make perfect decisions when I myself am not capable of perfection. I will not punish her for making a mistake or a bad choice, but I will help her reflect and move forward.
I am not advocating that children shouldn’t have consequences for their actions or that we shouldn’t prepare them for the ‘real world’ (two arguments I hear frequently about this style of parenting) but I am saying I strive to be my children’s soft place to land. A place where they can be their ugliest selves and still feel the unconditional love of a parent. It isn’t about raising entitled children that are free to act without consequences, but more about agreeing to be your child’s guide as they learn to navigate this world and their place in it.
I’m not trying to simplify what is a complex problem or shame anyone who parents differently than me. But I do hope I can cause someone to take pause and consider the idea that love creates more love. I mean in a cold, harsh world, can we really be too loved?
Not only do I vow to always show my kids love and compassion in our interactions – I vow to show myself the same love. I try to take care of myself, modelling how to deal with stressors in positive and productive ways. I work out, I eat well, I take time to de-compress and shut off the stressors of the outside world. We all know the old adage that kids will do as we do, not as we say, so I take my job as role model seriously.
Again, I’m not naïve. I know that loving our kids and responding to their needs isn’t going to solve all the of the world’s problems. I’m not attempting to place blame on the parents of any of the perpetrators, nor insinuate that your kids will grow up to do horrible things if you don’t parent a certain way. But can it hurt?
My own family is no stranger to mental health issues. I am not trying to downplay what are very serious and very real issues. But if I can help my kids feel safe in a world that is anything but, then I will try my best to do so.
There are no rules, no formula and I mean, what do I really know – my kids are still so young. I have yet to face the difficulties and big problems that come with big kids. But it’s hard to find an argument against kindness, against compassion.
These are just my thoughts, my musings, my ramblings as I try to work through the deep emotions that come from such a tragedy happening so close to home. I am so deeply sorry for the pain and suffering that has affected so many. My love is being sent to all of those affected directly, and indirectly.