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