I’ve bore witness to the horrific shooting in Connecticut for the past several days. There came a point when it was too unspeakable to endure, so I stopped watching, listening and reading about it. It seems that everything that could be said, has been said. The argument concerning gun control, the argument concerning mental illness, the argument concerning the infamy of the shooter, even the argument of how the media covers the story has been argued. There has been discussion about and with the victims, while portraits of heroism come forward to quell our anger, confusion and grief. Everyone’s thoughts, prayers and sympathies have been expressed to the families of those who’ve lost, and to the families of those who’ve survived. What more can I do? I find myself asking this question and believing that we all may be asking the same question.
This becomes a very difficult question to answer when we consider our ‘way of life’. As military families how do we answer this question of gun violence, especially when it effects our children? Do we tell our children guns are bad, when they know that using a weapon is a basic part of their military parent’s job? Do we tell our children that some adults are bad people who are sick in the head and want to harm us, when many of our own are fighting the stigma of mental illness because they suffer with PTSD? Do we tell our children that violence is not the answer, when we’ve been at war for longer than many of them have been alive? How do we raise children to know the difference between what happened in Connecticut and what Mommy or Daddy do when they go to war? How do we face those outside of our community who believe we are a part of the problem, because the military and violence are synonymous?
We have all the answers, they’re really simple. The answer is to know first and foremost where you stand on these issues. Are you pro-gun control or not, are you educated about mental illness or ignorant of it’s symptoms, do you believe that violence is necessary in some circumstances or should only be used as a last resort if ever? Above all are you able to communicate with your children these values in word and deed? Children learn from what we do more often than what we say. If we set an example of good citizenship, being a helper vs. a hurter, being compassionate vs. prejudice, being safe vs. fearful- they’ll learn to do the same.
This means we have to be aware of what they watch, learn and who their friends are in life. Be willing to explain that life is difficult and painful, but it can also be beautiful and comforting. Don’t hide the painful realities from them, but instead help them face those realities with truth. Teach our children that life is what we make it, a constantly changing reality. Teach them that even the painful moments don’t last forever, that we can make a difference. I remember learning about the presidential elections in school as a child and being very upset that I was too young to vote- because that was how you made a difference or so I had been taught. My mother comforted me with the greatest lesson I’ve ever learned- “We can’t change the whole world, we can only change ours.”
We can’t ignore that we live in a violent society, or that our spouse’s job is associated with violence, but we can avoid glorifying violence to our children. If you own weapons, teach your children how to use them safely, and more importantly teach them respect for all living things. Weapons should be treated as a tool, not a toy. We can teach our children there is no difference between a gun and a hammer, both are capable of committing violence if that is what is in our heart. Our children should be taught to have loving hearts. Teach our children that Mommy or Daddy carry a weapon, but there is far more to their job than shooting people, that service is our priority. We can teach our children the values of the military- service, honor and respect. Teach our children that like their military parent service to others is rewarding and gratifying. Show them how to be active in changing their world through service.
A newscaster recently observed that public displays of grief, that hugs would not solve the problem. I disagree. Sometimes a hug is the only solution, children understand that more than any of us. I can’t offer any easy solution to the larger problem. But I can suggest that teaching one child to love can change the world, because a hug is powerful.