I’ve written about how to have a variety of “big talks” with our kids as they grow up—enough of them that we’ve grouped them into their own section so you can peruse them easily. Right now we, as parents, can’t afford to avoid talking with them about any number of challenging topics—the global health crisis, systemic racism, LGBTQ rights, hate speech, white supremacy, consent. At least not if we want their generation to do better than ours has managed so far.
As a side note to a lot of these conversations, we often point out that the silent example we set for them as parents is just as vital and powerful a component to raising our kids to be better. We can talk to kids about empathy and kindness and fairness (and we should), but it’s the way we operate in the world that really sends a message. That’s often what they’re really absorbing.
If we let the door slam behind us instead of holding it open, we’re sending a message. If we’re rude to the server in the restaurant, we’re sending a message. Hell, even if we don’t put the shopping cart back up at the front of the store when we’re done with it, we’re sending a message. And that message is: “My time matters, my experience matters, my convenience matters more than anyone else’s.”
A friend of a friend recently posted on social media about an experience she had waiting in line for ice cream. For the most part, customers were standing the recommended six feet apart and wearing masks—except for the two young women standing directly behind her. The wait became longer than she expected and the proximity and lack of masks on these young people began to make her nervous; finally, one of the young women called out to someone else who wasn’t standing in line: “Mom, do you have masks?”
The mother came over and said, “I have them, but you don’t have to wear them. The people in front of us weren’t wearing them.”
Our kids—our little kids, our big kids, our teenagers and our grown kids—are watching us right now. They are looking to us to teach them how to manage the anxiety that comes from navigating life in a pandemic. They are looking to us to understand how to make sense of living in such a divided country. They need us to talk to them about these things, but they also need to see us doing the right things—regardless of whether everyone else in line is setting the same example.
I’m not here to explain to anyone why we should be taking precautions right now. It’s been explained. If you believe COVID-19 is a liberal hoax, I can’t help you or your kids. If you think Costco requiring a mask infringes on your rights, you are blatantly ignoring the rights of everyone else, and I can’t help you.
But most of us recognize that living in a society means we don’t get to do whatever the hell we want, whenever or wherever the hell we want to do it. In the United States, we have to drive on the right side of the road—even if we really prefer the left side—so we don’t crash into oncoming traffic. If we all follow that rule, we all stay a little safer on the road.
Our kids have a front row seat to how we’re dealing with everything that is happening right now. Now is our chance to model for them what it means to have empathy, to care for others, to protect everyone in our community. It means speaking up when we hear someone say something racist or anti-LGBTQ. It means wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, no matter how fed up we may be with it.
Everything feels hard right now. Everything is hard. But now more than ever, we have an opportunity to practice what we’ve been preaching all these years. Our kids are watching us very closely. What are they seeing?