I had a conversation with my kids last week that tore me up. Just to get away, we went to the beach for a few days. We went to one that wasn’t very busy so we could still social distance and use all the precautions that the experts are recommending. We wore masks when in public places, such as the grocery store; we ordered in if we wanted restaurant food; we stayed at least six feet away from everyone else.
Well, on the last day of our trip it was getting closer to the 4th of July weekend, and the beach was busier than we had seen it all week. We were still able to stay further than six feet from everyone else, but the area was more crowded. Something that we hadn’t experienced the other days there were families with children about our kids’ ages. And I had to have the conversation.
I told my kids that they couldn’t play with the other kids – this hurt my heart so much. I have social children who always seek out others to play with and get to know. I usually encourage it. But this time was different. This time the thought of my kids coming in contact with kids and families that I didn’t know scared me.
Even though this was a hard conversation, my kids understood where I was coming from when I told them they couldn’t play with the other kids who were building a sandcastle about 10 yards away from us. My kids listened because this wasn’t the first conversation we have had about what’s going on in the world.
But this isn’t the first or last hard conversation I’ve had with my kids in the last few weeks. And it’s not going to be the last. The school board and governor are still deciding how we are going to open up schools in the fall. That might be another hard one. So, the question is how do we talk to our children about what is happening in the world?
It feels like our world is in chaos. COVID and the surge in our community as well as all the racial tension are matters that need to be addressed. COVID has changed our life as we know it for the last few months, and we want so badly to get back to normal, but we can’t right now. Racism has become a way of life and must stop. With all change comes anxiety and tension. As a parent, my first response is to shelter my children from the stresses of this world. But that is not what we’re called to do for the benefit of our children and the world. So, I’ve been asking myself how do we talk to our children about what racism is, why people are protesting and how we can take action?
Why talk to our children?
No matter what is going on in the house, if you are stressed, if you have anxiety, if you are struggling with something, children know. Even at a young age, children notice your body language and can sense tension. Even if you don’t talk about current events or have the news on 24/7 in your house, children pick up on what is happening in the world as well. They are smart and have feelings and thoughts. If you have older children, they will be talking about what is going on. As a parent, I would like to lead that conversation with my children. I want my voice to be the strongest one they hear. Caring conversations with your children only build your relationship. Talk, talk, talk to your children about anything and everything. Finally, if we don’t educate our children, nothing will change.
How can I talk to my children about racism, the protests, COVID-19, isolation and how these are changing our lives?
I like to say I have one of each. I have a child in each age group (preschool through college) except middle school, and the middle schoolers are the ones I work with the most. But I need to approach each one of my children differently when it comes to the conversation because they also have different personalities.
If you know this is going to be a hard conversation, surround it in prayer. Pray before and after. Ask God for the words to speak that your kids may hear you and listen. And pray for open ears to hear them as well. Finally, pray for peace that this conversation will bring you together, closer to each other and God.
Younger children learn fast from their environment. I use videos and programs geared towards children to help support my conversation with my kids. After we watch it, we sit down and talk about it. I share what I believe, and they share their thoughts. I share how these things affect them in their daily lives and what they can do to make a difference.
For my teenagers: youth are seeking identity at this time in their lives. Our job as parents of teenagers is to guide them and hopefully send them in the right direction. Teenagers want to have opinions (and they do!) and they want to figure out who they are. This is something that you can help them with. I’m not saying tell them who they need to be, but walk with them as they grow.
Sit down and talk to them. I follow a lot of our youth on social media, and they are talking about everything that’s going on. They are having debates and trying to make sense of everything. Again, caring conversation can build your relationship. A caring conversation is one where each person is heard, and their thoughts are respected even if they differ with yours. Listen to what your teenager has to say. For the most part, I have found that teenagers are very insightful and have strong feelings.
What does the Gospel have to say about COVID and racism? How does being a Christian influence our lives?
A conversation with my high schooler opened my eyes a little bit more to our calling as Christians. It was just last year that he stood up in front of the congregation at his Confirmation and made promises. He promised to, “...live among God’s faithful people; hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s Supper; proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed; serve all people following the example of Jesus; and strive for justice and peace in all the earth” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, page 236). He promised to strive for justice and peace. That’s what he reminded me. He made a promise, and this is how he could fulfill it.
When dealing with both COVID and racism, we as a community can come together and make a huge difference. Jesus and the Bible didn’t speak specifically about COVID, but he did speak about what it means to live in community. Being in community means thinking more of others than yourself. I know this has become a political thing, but it’s more about how we care for our neighbor. I talk to my children about the restrictions that we and the government have placed on them and that we wear masks and stay apart from people not to protect us from the virus but to protect our loved ones and those in our community that would struggle if they got COVID.
We as a community also need to come together to end racism. Jesus came to this world and ate and socialized with those who society considered sinners. These were people that were marginalized; they were people that the world saw as inferior. Yet, Jesus walked with them, ate with them and called them to ministry. Jesus saw that God loves all people, not just people that the world said were worthy but ALL people. Yet, Jesus made an effort to seek out those that were hurting and marginalized. He saw that the people that the world said were second or even third class were seen as unworthy, unwanted. Jesus befriended them and gave this group of people the responsibility of the Gospel. Jesus’ Gospel message said all are welcome, all are loved and all are worthy of grace, and when the world leaves out a group because of race, gender or other factors, we are called as a community to reach out to them and realize that they have always been a full part within the community.
I want to leave you with two things; first you are not alone. I’m here for you. No matter what you think your conversation with your kids will be like, I want to be there to support you as a parent. Let me know about your conversations. If it’s going to be a difficult conversation, I can pray for you and with you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Second, I want to leave you with the words of Paul from Romans 15:14 (NIV), “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.”