The Jewish tradition teaches that while weeping may abide in the night, joy will come in the morning. Yet for three consecutive mornings, our country has awakened to sorrow. And anger. And fear.
Fatal shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas have brought racial tensions back into the news cycle in an all-consuming way.
My own emotions threaten to overwhelm me. Their normal bickering grates on my frayed nerves. “There’s so much hatred and violence in our broken world right now that you can’t get along with your sibling,” I scream, silently.
I struggle as one who is fiercely devoted to social justice while being the mother of young kids. I don’t want to frighten them. I don’t want them to think that the world is an unsafe, uncaring place.
But I also want them to know that the reason I believe the world is safe is because of our skin color. We aren’t African-American. I don’t have to worry that my son will be regarded as suspicious simply because of racial prejudices. If my kids get pulled over by a police officer, I don’t have to worry that reaching for a wallet might get them killed.
So I have conversations with them. Individually. Because my three kids are at different ages and developmental levels. I always begin these conversations with questions. Letting them share what they know, what they’ve heard, what they believe. I need to know where to start the dialogue.
For example, I asked Lilly, my 13-year-old, if she thinks that the following statement is true: Whites and Blacks are the same. Her response gave me tremendous insight into how one young white woman is experiencing the world. She said, “Our skin colors are different and our stories are different. Society doesn’t treat us the same. So while we are really the same and equally valid, it’s not right to ignore what has made us different because that’s like saying it doesn’t exist and that it doesn’t matter.”
We teach kids the value of regarding everyone as being created in the Divine Image—b’tzelem Elohim. It doesn’t mean that we are exactly the same. It means that we are all deserving of the same rights and the same respect because we were ALL created in God’s image. Acknowledging and celebrating our differences gives validation to all of God’s children.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or unsure of how to talk about these recent events with your kids, here are some suggestions:
1. Take a time-out. When my own emotions are getting to me, I step away and take a few minutes to myself. Off of the smart phone. Without the television. Just to breathe. I let the anger and sorrow and fear wash over me, and then I can leave it there in the other room. (Repeat as many times as necessary.)
2. Ask your kids what they already know and share with them as much information with which you are comfortable. As I have discovered over and over again, my kids often know about current events even if they haven’t heard about them from us.
3. Get involved. Playing into our fear is the sense of being powerless. Seek out ways to bring about change. Concerned about police brutality? There are resources that can help you see if your local police department has policies in place to avoid it. Worried about race relations in your town? See what your place of worship or other community organizations are doing to bring people closer together.
In the end, while despair hovers too close, we must believe that there will be a time when we no longer wake to reports of continued violence. For our children’s sake. And for our own.