Things are feeling a little out of control, aren't they?
We're raising our kids in a terrifying world. We believe it's worse than ever. We say the world these days ... it's no place to raise a child -- and while that seems true to us, I think every parent in the history of parents has raised her children in a terrifying world. I'm fairly certain that if the world is going to hell in a hand basket, we can take solace in the fact that it always has been. Based on the history books, I think the world is pretty much the same as it ever was -- several beautiful steps forward and a couple brutal steps back each and every day. The world is just like people. Brutiful.
And so it follows that every mother in the history of mothers has asked herself the same paralyzing questions we ask ourselves today, in the wake of Newtown, Boston, Texas...
How can I promise to keep my babies safe in this unpredictable and violent world?
I think that in order to parent effectively, we are going to have to admit two things:
We can't keep our children safe.
We can't accept the fact that we can't keep our children safe. Can't won't NO.
So, here we are. We find ourselves in an impossible place. We can't keep our babies safe and we won't release our God-given right to KEEP THEM SAFE. It's not a wish of ours, it's a NEED -- an animal instinct. It is our right and responsibility to tell our children, "It is my job to keep you safe. I will do my job. You are safe, honey."
And so our only choice is to redefine the word SAFE.
What is safe? What does it mean to dedicate our parental lives to keeping our children safe? Does it mean promising that come hell or high water, we will keep them from the world? That we will protect their little hearts and bodies and minds from all harm?
Okay, fair enough. Understandable, completely. I decide that for a little while almost every day. Every time I watch the news, every time their hearts are hurt on the playground, every time I hear about a friend's sick child....
But here is the thing about that. If we make that promise, we must also warn our children that the collateral damage is that we will also keep them from beauty, love, and wisdom. Because each of these experiences -- beauty, love, wisdom -- is a direct result of RISK.
We take chances on things, we go out into the world -- we put ourselves at RISK -- and sometimes we end up empty-handed and wrecked. We end up divorced, left behind, hurt -- our bodies and hearts are destroyed at a beautiful marathon, we get shot at school, we lose people. We lose people. The risks of engaging an unpredictable world are great.
But sometimes risk doesn't leave us empty-handed. Sometimes as a result of setting out into the brutiful world we find great love, beauty, friendship, and wisdom. Sometimes the rewards of risk don't leave us wrecked. Sometimes we find our passion, our purpose, courage, connection, and comfort. Every good thing in our lives is a direct result of risk.
The rewards of engaging an unpredictable world are also great.
If no pain, then no love. If no darkness, no light. If no risk -- then no reward. It's all or nothing. In this damn world, it's all or nothing.
Much of my philosophy about life comes from "Finding Nemo." Nemo's dad, Marlin suffered great loss when he risked loving Coral. She died. Marlin was wrecked. So he decided that the risk of engaging an unpredictable world was too great. When Nemo got lost, he cried to Dory, "I promised I'd never let anything happen to him!" And Dory's genius self said -- "Well that's silly. You can't let nothing happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."
As badly as we want to, we can't let nothing ever happen to our babies. Because then nothing will ever happen to our babies.
And still, as parents, we must be able to tell them -- I WILL KEEP YOU SAFE.
Maybe we can.
Because maybe safe does not mean that no harm comes to you.
If that is the definition, then none of us should want safe lives for our children. Because if no harm ever comes to them, then there is no opportunity in their life for growth. No chance to rise. No dark = no light. That kind of safe is dead already.
Last night I told my kids that I would keep them safe, because keeping them safe is my job. And then I told them this:
Safe means that you are being your best self and living the life you've imagined even in the face of uncertainty. It means that you are being kind and brave -- to yourself and to others -- even if you are afraid. Even when you don't know what's going to happen next.
A safe life includes following your dreams with the full knowledge that doing so is NOT, in any way, shape or form, safe in the traditional meaning of the word. Because living safely means dying without too many regrets. That is safe.
After my little ones went to sleep on the night of the Boston bombing, I printed three of these out and pinned them to the walls above each of my babies' beds. I think this sums it all up.
Just Keep Swimming.
Stay Safe -
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