It’s been a while since I wrote my last Father of AHHS (or at least one that I shared). The reason being, that I have been personally struggling with how to raise my son joyfully within the complexities and tragedies of the world around us. I know this is nothing new, and for generations parents have been facing these same struggles raising children during times of war, natural disasters and other tragedies. Throughout history we can count the tails of devastation to humanity, both self-inflicted and of natural causes.
After this week’s latest shootings at yet another place of worship, a synagogue in Pittsburgh, I really found myself struggling to find my inner sanctuary; this is the place where I go to find healing and the determination to keep living with purpose. I was very focused on the future and many “what if” scenarios; what if the world continues on this track of darkness and hatred? What will the future be like for my son? Will he be safe going to school or even in a place of worship? What about all of our children? My son is 7 years old and we have been a constant filter to the world around him, letting in only what we think is absolutely necessary. Life for children at seven years of age should be a time of innocence, learning and playful joy. Yet I know so many children, who have already had to endure so much loss, grief, trauma and abuse. It forces me to think about the resilience of the human spirit. The tendency is for me to keep my son more isolated and safe within the walls of our house. But is that the answer?
My son is incredibly focused on Harry Potter at the moment. We have been reading the books each night, and he has watched all the movies on repeat. In fact, for Halloween, he will be dressed as none other than Harry Potter himself. Unfortunately it’s looking like I will be Professor Snape. The other day Tino told me that he liked Harry Potter, because no matter what he has to face, he continues to fight for truth. I thought that was a pretty keen observation for a 7 year old. Harry Potter is a boy who lost his parents as an infant. As a young boy he learned he was different from other children. He lived in a foster home situation where he was treated badly and abused. From the time he began middle school, he learned that an evil force that was determined to kill him. When you get to the end of Harry’s story, what you realize is it is the friendships and relationships that he made along the way that keeps him going. It is those connections with others that help him to overcome his weaknesses and help him grow strong.
As is true for all of us, connections to other people, family, community, teachers, aunties, uncles, tutus and neighbors is what keeps us moving forward. Connection does not just happen, it has to be cultivated and nurtured, it takes time, work and commitment to stay and be connected with each other.
At Imua Family Services, we have two support groups that are designed to do just that. One is called Keiki Connect and the second one is called Parent Connect. They were formed because we have realized that on their own, not all children are learning or have the opportunities to connect. Likewise, some parents are not connecting with their children, and some parents are not connecting with other parents. All three are very important for positive development.
In the not so distant past, children were raised in village communities where people took care of each other. In fact for thousands of years, people lived in this type of community where taking care of each other’s needs was common. Today the norm is a more isolated nuclear family model. We greet our neighbors when we see them, but barely know them. We are expected to live a self-sufficient life where our needs are not known to the outside world.
Just yesterday I was making dinner and realized I did not have any cornstarch. For a brief moment, the thought crossed my mind to walk across the street to our neighbor’s house and ask to borrow some, but I quickly talked myself out of it and changed my recipe instead. In another time, if someone prepared a large meal they would invite the neighbors to join them. I am amazed by the hours of texting that goes into making a play date with our kids today; organizing schedules, pick up and drop off times and activities. No so long ago, kids just went outside and played with whoever lived in the neighborhood. How will our children develop their “best friends” if they can only do so during highly orchestrated time periods of one or two hours at the most?
What has been troubling me the most with all the recent violence in the news is our loss of community. The current trend is separatism and violence towards certain groups of people. What we need is inclusion and a unified community. I want my son to grow up with real friends and relationships that will help him grow and mature and share the responsibility to make a better community and a better future. Being a parent is hard. Not all the time, of course. There are many joy-filled moments — times when we look at our children and our hearts nearly burst. But parenting is also an exhausting responsibility these days partly I think, because we have separated ourselves so much and are trying to cope too much on our own without all the support we need. Much of that strain is self-inflicted.
For hundreds of thousands of years, children were raised within multi-generational family structures. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and other members of the tribe or community watched over the children and interacted with them. There is a new sitcom called Single Parents, which I have not seen yet, but in the promo video, one of the parents tries repeatedly to say “it takes a village,” but the other parents won’t let him. It’s supposed to be funny, but the reality is both parents and children pay the price for modern isolation. I wonder how much of stress, depression and anxieties increasingly diagnosed in both adults and children might be related to a lack of connection.
In the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, following Voldemort’s return and Cedric Diggory’s death during the Triwizard Tournament, Dumbledore gathers the students of all three schools that participated in tournament in the Great Hall. He implores the students to come together to face the trouble that lies ahead. “In the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldmort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great,” he says. “We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.” Dumbledore was right, we can face anything if we are united in our resolve to support what is good and just and keep the magic of our connections with one another strong.