The right words haven’t come together for me yet to be able to explain to my children why certain people are just mean, or that not every system is set up carefully, or that not everything is fair. I have been faced with the challenge of providing this explanation quite a few times now as a parent and I have not successfully come up with an authentic, honest answer that could provide them any insight. The closest answer I can come with is that people do strange things sometimes, it’s part of life, and we have to learn to deal with it.
That response doesn’t make hurt feel any less painful, or injustice seem any more fair. It’s hard to fathom learning for the first time how corrupt history was and how so many people were treated cruelly for so long. It is even harder to watch through your child’s eyes that hate still exists in today’s world. Time has healed a lot of wounds but there are so many deep cuts that continue to bleed. Our children try to absorb everything we teach them, and I try to lead by example, but it is impossible for them to not see on their own the flaws in what is supposed to be equality.
Globally you can’t shield them from the fact that war exists. You teach children about hunger and poverty. We teach about how wrong it is for people to be mistreated for being different but then have to point out often how that still happens. I spent my late teens and my twenties in a group whose mission was to expose racism and antisemitism to other kids around New York City. I recently saw parts of what I did all those years ago and was sad to see how much of the material is still so important to keep teaching today.
I know I am not alone in wanting to teach our children to have an innate sense of gratitude for what we do have, and we have a lot. We are not hungry or poor, we are healthy, and that is not only enough, but also a lot. There is a question looming for me though about how as people we are evolving going forward. With technology drastically changing the way we interact with each other, I can see it daily when most of my children’s friends have trouble making eye contact. When my friend told me that my daughter was the only child at her son’s birthday party who said “thank you” for having her, I didn’t think to myself that I did a good job parenting her. I thought instead, what is happening to people that manners are so rarely taught the same anymore. We all had to live through the pandemic, but our children in important developmental years of their lives were isolated from peers. That has its ramifications and it is hard to ignore how apparent they are now.
This week my tolerance for adult behavior towards children wore thin. A teacher was condescending to my daughter in a way that only a power-hungry adult can be. It was over something small and what could have been a teachable moment if done respectfully, but instead it was patronizing. The only lesson my daughter learned from it was how to steer clear of the way this teacher overreacts. She learned from classmates that this is not an uncommon behavior for this woman, and to nod and agree when she goes off on you. I was upset to see something blown out of proportion and taken out on my daughter, but it made me realize how many horrible teachers I had and survived as a kid. I’ve been reading “Lessons In Chemistry” lately, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it, but I almost couldn’t get past the first few chapters because it takes place in the fifties and women were so mistreated that it was hard to read. I do appreciate where we have made progress.
My friend also was tested this week by immature adult behavior when her son was left out of a group not because he had any conflict with any of the other kids, but because one of the kid’s fathers held a grudge about his own son’s bad luck. The dad took his misplaced anger out on a different kid. If this makes no sense to you, trust me when I say it is because it makes no sense. People do strange things when they are hurting, and sometimes the easiest thing for them to do is hurt back. It is proven time and time again that this method does not work, but yet it doesn’t cease to occur. It reminds me to remind my children, and myself that we can’t explain everyone else's behavior. All we can do is try to be kind to one another, and show as much grace as we can when things go awry, because they will. We have come so far, but we still have a long way to go, and a lot we can learn.