“But why would someone want to hurt our friends?”
The question hung in the air that afternoon in my daughter’s room as we sat on her bed together. I’m learning to embrace the long pauses that naturally come after such a loaded question (and they do come often these days with a four-year-old). It’s a process. I don’t want to throw out some trite, flimsy answer any more than I want to hurl a blunt truth at my daughter that would fly over her head and crush her soul.
But I do want to invite her into the unanswerable. The gray.
I’ve written before on how strange it is when we encounter the heaviness of the world and our kids aren’t aware of it yet. I feel the tension, still, of wanting to both preserve my daughter’s innocence and hold her hand as we dip our toes into the experience of real, acute human suffering. Because it’s everywhere, it’s unavoidable, and it’s happening. Now. Not just across oceans, but in front of us.
10 minutes down the street from us.
She asked this question in reference to some new friends of ours. We were introduced to the family through an acquaintance who works with immigrants and refugees who have been relocated to our area. A few hours before we were due to go visit them in their home for the first time, I came into my daughter’s room to have a pointed conversation on how we were about to spend our evening.
I explained to her that we were going to make some new friends, two little boys and a girl, but that they speak a different language than she does, so they won’t understand her words and she won’t understand theirs. After talking through the different ways we can befriend someone other than by using words, I hesitated for just a second.
“You know how Daddy prays with you for Syria at night?”
“Well, our new friends are from Syria. They came here because, in their country, bad people wanted to hurt them and they weren’t safe. But they’re safe now.”
With that truth-telling, I invited her into the gray. The place where there are no easy blanket statements or answers that tie questions up in a satisfying way.
I didn’t tell her that they experienced their hometown being reduced to rubble, and that they became used to the sound of gunfire and bombs and anguished screams. I didn’t tell her about the tears our friend, and father to three children, cried when talking about the multiple surgeries his eldest son desperately needed and couldn’t get, until now.
We talked for a bit longer. I watched her face as she asked hard questions that I didn’t have answers for. I saw her resolve as she was moved to action and, ultimately picked a number of her own toys to bring to her new friends who didn’t have any. She was excited to meet new people, and wasn’t the least bit daunted by the language barrier or what we had just discussed.
Sometimes I think we live our lives as though we believe that this is a world just for adults. I’m coming to hold that, hand in hand with observant and intentional parents, children are capable of being ushered lovingly, and carefully, into the world and walking some of these tough roads with us, even at such a young age.
Because ultimately, when my daughter walks into her Kindergarten class next year, or her middle and high school in the future, I want her to be able to recognize need and react appropriately to it. Our desire for her is that, when she’s older, she will be able to recall a lifetime walking into relationships with hurting people, side by side with us. We never want for there to be a question in her mind whether or not she should act when she sees a need.
As I write this, I am struck by our own blessing and fortune that we have the luxury of introducing our children to painful topics in metered ways that we, more or less, choose. Our new friends weren’t able to filter what their children’s eyes have seen, what their ears have heard. As trite as it may sound, we are raising the next generation, and we have a say in what is instilled deep into its foundation. It is our responsibility to teach our little ones to be people whose arms reach out of their comfort zones and into the lives of others. In that gray space of suffering and questioning, little children are raised into compassionate, world-changing adults.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.