Ambi-Parenting: Keeping Kids Safe
Goddamit. It is really hard to be a parent these days, and I am not sure I can keep my kids safe — physically or psychologically — in this world. I recently picked up my 9 year-old son from a playdate and got that “We had a problem” look from the friend’s mom that you never want to see. I gleaned from her that my son brought up a word in conversation that had caused an issue, but she wouldn’t tell me what.
My son looked horrified when I asked as we drove home, not knowing what he had done wrong. This reaction threw me, as I feared he may now be lying, but after asking a bit more, we realized what the word was.
Yes, the opening speech of one of the two presidential candidates causes problems for my kids at playdates.
No doubt every generation of parents says the same thing. But I would put a world of Orlando, Trump rallies and vitriol, Brexit, immigration/refugee crises across the globe, climate change etc etc etc against any other era. Especially because those are topics from just the last month.
I have spent a lot of time on this blog writing about the struggle with parenting our two boys on Israel-Palestine issues while maintaining a life in, or at least near, the mainstream. Last September, I wrote that I felt as if I was failing to deliver on my commitment to make my boys feel secure, which is at the core of parental responsibility.
The bottom line is, after the last few months, I am even more doubtful that I can keep my kids safe from harm in this world. And there is nothing more devastating than that as a parent. But I realize that my first response to this, as with most parts of parenting, is that I need to make it less about me, and more about them.
So if I need to make this more about them and less about me, how do I start that? How do I make that transition? I often struggle between focusing on information or emotion. That is, will they fare better in the world if they know more, or feel more?
In the course of an effort related to Israel education at our kids’ school, I recently read through a study about the state of “Israel literacy.” The basic idea of the study is to test how much American Jewish college students actually know about Israel, so as to be able to understand what information they need in order to navigate more effectively through the ideological arguments and battles they are likely to face on campus.
The key takeaway of the study is the more students think they know about Israel, the more likely they are to speak up during debates about BDS or the Occupation. Few of the questions that are asked in the study itself have anything to do with what underlies BDS or the Occupation, of course, but more general subjects about Israel.
And often, this is how I act as a parent – make sure my boys know enough about a subject, check if they have the facts I think are important, so that they know what the issues are and can ultimately make up their own minds. Much of our trip to Israel in December was spent that way – being sure that the boys had learned all they could.
But in the last few months, I have come to think that approach is senseless. Or maybe not senseless, but not what they need most. This study reaffirmed for me that I am less and less interested in what they know, and more and more in what they feel. [pullquote align=left] This study reaffirmed for me that I am less and less interested in what they know, and more and more in what they feel.
[/pullquote] This is of course a false dichotomy, and not a new one for parents, but it has come to me with unexpected force. If I cannot keep my kids safe, then what will? How will they “make up their own minds,” which is what I always say I want them to do, on hard issues and navigate through the world?
It will not be with facts, sadly. At least not in our current moment in history. I navigated a different era by learning; my boys will navigate this one by feeling. Obviously the two go hand in hand, but like never before, they need to know how to feel for themselves, and for others. It seems to me to matter less today whether you know the facts of our community’s, or another community’s existence, and more whether you connect to that existence and experience in a meaningful way.
Recently Etgar Keret wrote a well-publicized and brilliant piece about being “Ambi-Israel,” putting aside the idea of being “anti” or “pro” Israel, or Palestine, and simply recognizing the value and challenges in both. Not needing to come down on any side, other than one of valuing people.
I am now adopting “Ambi-Parenting” as a style. On everything, including Israel and Palestine. And so I will not judge their literacy by what facts they know or how many arguments they “win” but what questions they ask and how many tears they cry. [pullquote] And so I will not judge their literacy by what facts they know or how many arguments they “win” but what questions they ask and how many tears they cry.
[/pullquote] Then I will feel a bit better about being out of the way and yet still keeping them safe.