Bubble Wrapped

My kids shouldn’t grow up in a bubble – but I don’t want to burst theirs just yet, either

Emirates Palace tricolor
Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace lit up in solidarity with Paris this week

As a European now living in the Middle East, I think I can see why the attacks in Paris this week resonated more across the globe than those committed elsewhere  – whether at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haram or Al Shabaab.

It’s the shock of such a brutal attack on not just a nation or a religion, but on an entire way of life.

On liberté, égalité, fraternité.

A question many parents have been grappling with this week is how to explain recent events to inquiring young minds? Because as a parent, your primary instinct is to protect your children – whether that’s from monsters under the bed, physical harm, or the more insidious mental horror of discovering humanity’s endless capacity for violence.

It’s an eternal conundrum: I don’t want my kids to grow up in a bubble, but I’d like them to have as long a childhood as possible. It can be as simple as switching off the news or the Anaconda video when the kids are in the room, or as hilariously pointless as shouting ‘ship’, ‘baskets’ or ‘Melon Farmer’ at strategic points in certain songs.

Quick, quick, slow

On reflection, an unforeseen benefit of our time in Qatar was that it slowed slightly the terrifying speed at which our children are growing up.

1D no more
No more Directions

We found ourselves living in a country where billboards, movies, magazine covers and TV shows were edited or simply not on display at all.

In an ideal world, Kid A, still only 11, shouldn’t have any worries bigger than whether or not 1D’s break is a permanent one (spoiler alert: Duh.)

But it’s becoming increasingly harder to insulate them from the harsh realities of life.

Our very first week in Abu Dhabi was marked by three days of national mourning for 45 UAE servicemen killed in Yemen.

Losing that many soldiers in one incident would be devastating enough for any country, let alone one with a population of under 10 million. Can you imagine the public reaction to a similar massive loss in the UK? Announced before this incident, and therefore all the more poignant in its timing, a new annual public holiday – Martyr’s Day – will be inaugurated at the end of the month.

The UAE has indeed been United – in its grief, and its ongoing resolve; but as a result, conversations about battles near and far have been impossible to avoid.

Primary instinct

As with any horrific news, human instinct is to cut to the personal first, and so it was with last week’s attacks in Beirut and Paris.

When I heard about the attack in Beirut I was immediately concerned for my dad, who will be visiting the Lebanese capital, on his way to coming to stay with us, in a few weeks’ time.

Candlelit vigil
People light candles during a vigil for Paris in Kathmandu (c) Reuters

I asked a Lebanese colleague about the implications of the attack and its precedents. He then described growing up in a war zone in the same matter of fact way that I talk about my own bucolic childhood in the English countryside.

Now sitting a few desks apart, just two dads working to provide for our families, it’s hard to believe we grew up on the same planet.

(If you’re looking for a glimmer of hope that humanity isn’t completely up ‘ship’ creek, read the story of Adel Termos from last week: a father who prevented a second suicide bombing in Beirut, at the cost of his own life.)

Aux armes, citoyens

And then there was last weekend’s carnage in Paris.

Wembley welcomes France
Click to watch England fans sing La Marseillaise at Wembley this week

Alongside a solidarity for the citizens of a country I love, and one that my in-laws call home, my thoughts leapt immediately to a friend who recently became a fully-fledged expat herself, relocating her young family from the US to the French capital just a few weeks ago. (All safe, thankfully.)

And then I thought of our new neighbours, a French family who moved in next door the same weekend we did. A week later, they were celebrating the arrival of their second child.

Now, with their Tricolor flying proudly outside their house, they are sending a symbol of togetherness from afar, even if they could be forgiven for wondering just what kind of world their child will grow up in.

How do you explain to kids with no experience of such savagery that evil like this exists in the world? Actually the best advice appears to be: don’t, unless they ask. (Here’s a couple of suggestions about what to say about Paris in particular, like this one in French, and terrorism in general.)

Kid A overheard Mrs LC calling her mum to talk about the attacks and wanted to know what was happening. Terrorists attacked Paris, we replied. Afterwards, she asked: did they blow up the Eiffel Tower?

Flowers and candles
Flowers and candles

I was touched by her naiveté, even though I know it can’t, and won’t, last for much longer.

It’s hard to explain to a child who is just starting to learn about wars over territories, that they can be fought over ideologies as well.

Maybe the best explanation is like the one that’s gone viral this week, in which a dad in Paris explains to his son that he is not in danger, despite his fears.

Flowers and candles probably aren’t the answer, but I can’t think of anything better right now.


How have you responded to difficult questions? Let me know in the comments below


11 thoughts on “Bubble Wrapped

  1. Dina Honour November 20, 2015 / 10:32 am

    The bubble you mention is an interesting conundrum–for one the one hand we all as parents want to protect our kids, like you say. On the other hand, sometimes I think about how ‘spoiled’ they are in comparison to most of the world’s children and I want them to know how lucky they are too–and so those times I put little pin holes in the bubble to let a little bit of air out. Like your Lebanese colleague, there are children who are growing up right now not needing protection from horrific things happening on the news, but horrific things happening on their doorstep. It’s a difficult balance for sure.

  2. Audra Kostic November 20, 2015 / 7:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Passionate About Music and commented:
    Thank you for sharing your insights & experiences in this way, it really is a small world but such vast differences in cultures!

  3. dreamdaysblog November 20, 2015 / 9:21 pm

    I well up just thinking about that video of the father talking to his son. It’s such a gentle way of explaining something that I wish no child had to understand in any way.

    • littlecity November 22, 2015 / 5:45 pm

      Yes, sad it was necessary but for the kid’s age and understanding I thought the dad did an amazing job.

  4. Roy B November 21, 2015 / 12:58 am

    My 8 year old daughter came home from school and wanted to show me a new dance and song she learnt – it’s a response to a would be abuser about “her” safe zone and for him/her to stay away – what a world we’ve created .

    I was still worrying about my 12 year old daughter’s transition to high school in January and should I gently break the news that Santa isn’t real before or after Christmas .
    I came home from work and they asked if I would be blown up by terrorists on the train .
    Children also have the simplest answers to complex problems – during homework I was asked ” why are their children with not enough to eat” I rambled on for a minute about the economy and trade but was interrupted ” why can’t we all just share ” – a question that I struggled to adequately answer.
    I know I will fair no better when the question is asked ‘ why are they killing/ bombing’

    • littlecity November 22, 2015 / 5:57 pm

      Spoiler alert, Roy! Santa is hard at work even as I type, prepping for his big night. (To answer your q: tell your 12-year-old after, in case she spoils it for her little sister)
      But your point about simple answers is telling. If you’re looking for glimmers of hope, you could do worse than point your daughters in the direction of Martha Payne’s story. She took what we adults would consider a complex problem, and simplified it to amazing success >> http://neverseconds.blogspot.ae/

      Good luck, and happy Christmas!

  5. vinneve November 22, 2015 / 5:54 am

    I think the longer you put a child in a bubble the harder it is to explain the reality of life and longer for them to accept it. My son is aware of what’s happening, but he still play and be a child in his age of 7. He knows he is lucky compared to Syrian children and already feel sorry for them.

    • littlecity November 22, 2015 / 5:59 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Vinneve. Building empathy in the young is difficult but crucial; best of luck.

  6. jamesatticuslevin November 24, 2015 / 1:57 pm

    Hi! You don’t know me but I think your blog is awesome and this post in particular was really thought-provoking. Anyway I wanted to nominate you for the Liebster Award which recognizes new bloggers. You can read more about it here (http://jamesatticus.com/2015/11/liebster-award/) if you’re interested. Keep it up!

  7. Lynda January 5, 2016 / 3:34 am

    I struggle with this so much. I think witnessing your children’s innocence is one of the most beautiful part of parenting. On one hand, I agree with some of the other comments that it’s important to clue them in to reality, but I generally find myself using lots of bubble wrap. Not sure what the right answer is though. Great post.

    • littlecity January 6, 2016 / 2:29 am

      Thanks for your comment, Lynda.

      It’s hard not knowing where the right balance lies – and also knowing that you’ll only really find out if you got it right years later…

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