Like many of us, I stood speechless yesterday when I saw rioters storm the nation’s Capitol. My daughters, ages 10 and 17, watched beside me and were also shocked. I felt rattling and helpless and wanted someone to look after me much more than I wanted to be a parent myself.
As a psychologist, I am used to staying calm in chaotic situations. The last night was different; I was pretty much useless. Leaving my girls in the care of my calm and capable spouse, I spent the evening on the phone and then on Twitter, reassuring that order would be restored. I wanted to feel like an adult was in the room, or soon to be.
Today I remembered: I am an adult in the room, at least here. And if I concentrate on this sphere, I and my husband can be the parents my daughters need and deserve.
I don’t have to be responsible for fixing everything. It’s enough to help my girls process their feeling that everything seems to be broken. During breakfast, I asked my 10 year old what she thought of yesterday’s events and assured her that although things got out of hand, calmer minds prevailed and I now hope that things could be moving in the right direction .
Being in the room as an adult means making room for my girls’ confusion and questions. Tonight I’m going to ask both of you what they’ve heard from their teachers and classmates at school, what they’re wondering, what they’re thinking. I know I won’t have all of the answers to their questions, so I am honest with what I do that I don’t know and anything that I still find difficult to understand.
It means I apologized for checking out last night. If I had alerted them by reacting strongly or loudly to yesterday’s chaos, I would have apologized for that too.
As an adult, I have to give up my misguided belief that forcibly checking social media or posting news reports can make me feel better. I remembered that this only worries me and pulls me away from what I want to be there for: my children, my spouse, my own work, myself.
That means I need to be aware of what media my daughters are picking up as events move on. My younger daughter gets most of the news from us or with us. We can and will limit their exposure to graphic images and terrifying information. If there’s anything disturbing she needs to know, we should tell her so that we pick the right moment, share the news in age-appropriate language, and be ready to respond to her reaction.
My older daughter receives her messages from us, from us and also from a huge, complex and largely opaque youth discourse that unfolds through social media. With her we will listen more than talk to ensure that she is a critical consumer of what she ingests, that she works with facts, and that she thinks for herself.
Yesterday as a family we watched TV news together and stopped at one point to ask my younger daughter if the reports felt too much. She insisted that it wasn’t and that she wanted to see what happened. We pushed back on what she knows about herself and what we know about her, and continued to watch together until we turned off the TV to have dinner.
Trying to be a workable parent over the course of historical events can leave us feeling doubly overwhelmed. Our own feeling: “Oh my god, what happens?” Quickly gives way to other worrying questions: “How can I possibly explain all this and fix it for my children?”
Well, we can’t – at least not today. But we don’t have to be good parents. We just have to remember the area that we are in control and the adults be there.