I want to raise good citizens.
I want to raise moral, generous people who will fight injustice wherever they see it happening.
I want to see honorable, compassionate, empathetic adults emerge from the children in my care. But too often I forget this one detail: They are still children.
This past week has uncovered a selfishness I never knew existed in myself and other adults around me. We want to rage and express our fury and take sides and make statements and fight for peace. Because peace is so very often a fight. But in the exercising of our rights to speak up and speak out, we are forgetting that along with those rights comes, as always is the case, responsibility.
We are forgetting that there are little ears and eyes everywhere. We are forgetting that, as any person who's been a parent for more than 5 minutes can tell you: Children are incredibly perceptive. They may not hear us ask them to TAKE OUT THE TRASH until the 66th billionth time we say it, but they hear the whispered worries, the muttered curses, the dining-room discussions. And more than that, they hear the unspoken things: The tones, the stress-filled sighs, the clenched jaws, the slamming and the stomping.
This week, children under my care have asked questions no child should ask. Children under my care have dreamed nightmares no child should dream and have spent truly sleepless nights with the lights on, lights intended to chase monsters away. The problem is, those monsters are not my child's monsters to fight.
This week, I've experienced my own Parent Guilt over my inability to protect my child from the fears all around. Yes, those fears are often legitimate. Yes, those fears are worth weighing and working through. But as we weigh them for ourselves, let us remember to weigh them on a vastly different scale for our children. If we as adults are aghast and appalled and we actually HAVE the tools and resources to do something about what we see happening, how much more anxiety and fear are we placing on the small shoulders of our youngest citizens?
Shoulders which cannot and should not be asked to carry these things.
Shoulders which will crack under the unjust load.
Shoulders and hands which, in most cases, have no power to effect change on the issues and will stand helplessly bowed beneath the burden.
The truth is, all of the children are under our care. We are the ones with the power and the money and the tools and the wherewithal. We can and must protect the voiceless. But in our rush and rage to do so, let us not forget the voiceless and powerless right in front of us. Let us stop and breathe and wait before we speak. Let us remember that innocence, once it is lost, is truly lost. There are years enough ahead for the little ones to lift their share of the load. Don't ask them to do it too soon.
Maybe set aside the politics for a moment. Take the tiny ones on a walk. Read them a sweet story. Snuggle under the covers. It will be healing for them and maybe, within its quietness, we will find healing for ourselves as well.
"Careful the things you say/Children will listen/Careful the things you do/Children will see/And learn." (Stephen Sondheim, "Into the Woods")