I don’t know about you, but I have found the last few weeks to be a little…stressful.
I’m obviously underplaying it for effect. There is no point at the moment in rehashing the presidential election. Our country feels painfully divided, with bitter words of hate exchanged daily. There is an extra layer of worry that comes from being parents at this time—and, in a time with hate crimes proliferating across the country—an extra extra layer for those of us who are Jews or other religious, sexual, and ethnic minorities.
We cannot protect our children from whatever is in store. But there are things we can do, regardless of our political affiliation, that might ease the tightness in our chests.
1. Count our blessings.
Personally, I find there are never too many dull moments in a house with six children. And with my oldest son becoming a bar mitzvah imminently, I have lately found myself even busier than the norm. With busy-ness comes tension and stress, and with tension and stress comes arguments. I have found myself exchanging random unpleasantries with my husband and my children over minor things. I am not proud of this.
But unexpectedly, with the election over, my fears of what will become of America have somehow made me appreciate and love my family even deeper than I did before. My husband and I are suddenly more patient with each other. Perhaps it’s because we are more understanding of the various things that have us on edge these days. We hold each other at night and whisper our thoughts, sharing more than we had just weeks ago. I find, despite my sleepless nights, I am less quick to anger with my children—after all, the world that concerns me so much is the world we will all give to them, the people I love most.
Everything has suddenly, jarringly been put into perspective—both the terrifying shadow of fear and the bright light of love.
2. Make our blessings larger and louder.
We are fortunate. If you are reading this, it means you have a mind that is agile enough to process words and ideas—that makes you fortunate. If you are reading this, it means you are in a community where you have access to technology—that makes you fortunate. So at the bare minimum, regardless of your emotional, economic, or election-related state, you are fortunate enough to have the two minutes to engage in intellectual discourse and the capacity to do so.
There are many, many people less fortunate than we are, in whatever respect. When I say “make our blessings larger and louder,” I mean find ways to share them with others. Hate only spreads fear. Love, on the other hand, is contagious.
Tell people how much you appreciate them. Don’t wait to write a eulogy about how amazing they are – tell them. Write someone a quick note, privately, when you appreciate their post on Facebook. Write someone a longer note when you know they are going through a difficult time. Drop off a book at the home of someone who is sick or recovering from an injury. Invite extra people to sit at your table, literally and metaphorically. You will never regret sharing the better parts of yourself with others.
3. Create a legacy.
Our children are our greatest legacy: You can bend the arc of their lives toward justice and kindness with that unique power of being an engaged parent.
Read to your children. Discuss books with them. Studies have shown that the more we read, the more empathetic we become. Empathy is not a weakness—it is the greatest strength one can have. We need to teach our children not only how to express themselves, but how to listen to others, even if they disagree.
Practice patience. Try not flame-throwing on social media, even at those with whom you disagree. It is hard, but try listening to others the way you want them to listen to you: earnestly and with an open mind. Try hard to model active listening—listening to not only what is said, but also what roils under the surface, unspoken.
Suddenly, we live in a world in which the proverb seems so true: All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is not to be afraid. It sways in the tempestuous winds of hate and public opinion; it quakes when the very ground of commonality behind it experiences tremors.
But the important thing is, and remains, to not be afraid.