The most important thing we can do for our children is help them build a strong foundation of beliefs about the world and how it works and where their place is in it so that when the hard times come they won't get knocked down and when they do get knocked down, they'll be able to get back up. Because they will get knocked down. It's not our job to protect them from the world forever, because that will not make them strong people when we are no longer there to intercede.
If we force a foundation on them, and it isn't one they have built, they will be ill-equipped.
So we have to offer them the net beneath their own foundation building, and that net is critical thinking and reasoning skills, which will help them build their own self-efficacy skills. I don't want my kids to feel good about themselves because I sing them praises. I want them to feel good about themselves because they know they can handle themselves.
While we have an obligation to protect our children from harm--we must stand between them and those who would harm them, we still have to teach them that there are people who would harm them and how to deal with it when we aren't there.
And, perhaps, existentially most important of all, we need to equip them with the tools to process loss. This is an ongoing process, and one that is just plain hard.
The kids have experienced the loss of several pets, they've all read novels where characters are lost, watched the Disney movies where character's parents are killed off, seen Star Trek Wrath of Khan, watched the ninth Doctor undergo regeneration...
We've talked through all of these experiences, used novels, movies, tv shows to discuss the death of people...it still doesn't make it easier.
We're watching MASH with them, and Rick and I initially discussed skipping the episode where Henry Blake is killed in a plane crash. The girls love MASH, and it provides tremendous teaching opportunities about people and flaws, about redemption, forgiveness, and the unspeakable horrors of what man can inflict on man, while still providing a sanitized experience. In tandem, we are watching documentaries about the Korean War, watching survivors tell their stories, seeing old men still tear up when discussing the loss of a buddy. And we're talking throughout that, too.
Last night was finally the night we reached that episode--one I only saw once--and one that has stood out in my mind for decades. We didn't warn them that Henry would die. We let it unfold because sometimes surprise and the experience itself needs to happen organically.
And they cried, bless their hearts. And we held them as they cried, and we talked about it, about why the writers chose to have Blake be killed, why a little bit of realism, that 1 in 9 soldiers were wounded or killed there, that 5 MILLION people were killed in the Korean conflict, and that in order to even begin to comprehend that, writers had to make us hurt, had to make it personal. Blake's death does that.
And then the girls and I did some foundation building, or at least shifted from doing the foundation building to talking about how we were doing that and why. Lily wanted to know why it hurt when fictional characters died in stories, and that was an interesting, important conversation. We talked about how it allowed for a safe rehearsal of sadness and loss, how it was a preparation for real loss, but that it didn't even come close to the experience of real loss.
Lily and I talked much longer last night, long past what Rosie wanted--Rosie took her answers and went to bed to process it. Lily wanted to explore and make sense of it all.
Make sense of it all. We never make sense of it. And that's a truth I shared, that the loss will never make sense, will always feel a little unreal, but that there are ways to feel close to the one we've lost. Dreams. Photos. Stories. Perfumes, trinkets, favorite meals...so many way to stay connected to those we've lost.
And because I'm me, when it came to a discussion of heaven and afterlifes, I shared Pascal's Wager in an extremely simplified form and the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the end, all I can do is educate and inform my children--give them the building blocks. They will have to build their own foundations, and those foundations may look very different than my own. That's okay. It's their foundation. Their rock. It's what will allow them to keep taking one step forward. I will also keep teaching them that this foundation building is never done, never complete, that we keep building our foundations throughout our lives.
I owe them this: the tools, the tricks, the tips so that they are on solid ground of their own making and choosing.