Modern Day Parenting and Freedom

I’m mad but that’s ok. I’m also deeply grateful.

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Last night our son jammed a Q-tip deep into his sister’s ear. After we determined she was ok, I came down hard on him. There is never a time, now or ever again, when you will do something to someone’s body without their permission. You will never hurt someone, or touch someone, especially a girl, especially your sisters, without kindness, without their consent.

Then, as my husband took our son to his room to talk about it, to understand why and how and what-the-fuck, I sat with our daughters to do the same. Your bodies are your bodies. No one, not your brother, not your sister, not a trusted adult, or a stranger, no one ever gets to touch you or do something to you without your permission. Not now, not when you’re a big kid, not when you’re a teenager, not when you are a mother, or a grandmother. Never.

Ok, Mama.

Got it, Mama.

Later, when I snuggled our son and we talked about it, he was so upset and remorseful that it hurt my heart to know how tough I was on him. I explained that I too have bad ideas, all the time in fact, but that being able to pause before I act on them makes all the difference.

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On Wednesday, at swimming lessons, there was a bigger girl picking on the little kids in the pool. Every time the little ones swam by, this bigger kid acted aggressively, jumping in front of them, splashing them, teasing them, shouting at them, harassing them. I asked my kids about it, and they said she’s mean; she’s been doing it every lesson to all the little kids. I watched it unfold a few more times and when I swam by, she continued, so I confronted her. Knock it off! Stop picking on the little kids. You’re being a bully. Where’s your mother?

She seemed surprised that I addressed her directly, then gestured to the woman who was her mom. Her mother was sitting by the pool on her phone oblivious to any of it. Every little kid in the pool had been trying to avoid this bully for the fourth night in two weeks and the mom seemed not to know. I watched her on and off for the next 20–30 minutes. She didn’t look up from her phone. Not once, so imagine my surprise when I saw the bully hop out of the pool with two little sisters. The mom had three little girls in the pool and didn’t look up while they were in the water. The oldest was maybe 8 or 9. I’d guess the other two were 4 and 6. All beginner swimmers.

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A couple of weeks ago, my kids asked us if a schoolmate could join them at the aquarium. I didn’t know the family, but made the request via text. The mom, who had never met me, agreed to the play date if I picked up her son at home and dropped him off afterwards. I was flabbergasted that she let the son go in my car for a few hours without meeting me. Her son was respectful and well-behaved, but anything could have happened.

Being a parent is so hard. I tend to assume that other parents are doing the best they can and give them the benefit of the doubt because I’m not a model parent either. If you took a snapshot of me in any given moment, taken out of context, how would it look? Should I have left my kids unattended in my bathroom for a few minutes with Q-tips and other bath and beauty products on the counter? Should I have confronted the little bullying girl, her mom, or the lifeguard? Should I have picked up my children’s friend for the play date or insisted a parent join us?

Being a parent means often feeling out of your depth, dealing with so much beyond your control. No matter how prepared you are, how old you are, how smart you are, how experienced, parenting requires you to handle situations, questions, people, and life in real time, while your kids are listening and studying your actions. Whether mom and dad are aligned or at odds, exhausted or fully present, happy or hateful, children soak it all up and process it as truth in their own childlike ways.

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Herein lies the reason that we must change the gun laws in this country. Because even if you are the best parent, utterly devoted to your children, actively involved, intentional and resourceful, your child can still be gunned down.

Your child can be killed by a child whose parent never looked up, by a child whose parent let them get in a car with strangers and something awful happened, by a child who never understood how much they were wanted, who never heard their body was their own, who was never taught to respect women, who doesn’t feel valued, appreciate how amazing the world is, or know how good life can be.

Your child can be killed by a child who has no business with a gun because they don’t yet understand the magnitude of their actions or the permanency of consequences.

Add to it that we do not live in the world we used to, that whatever means there used to be of insulating children from the world doesn’t work anymore. The old rules might have worked, but our gun laws are irrelevant now. Too much has changed.

The lines between the the real world and the virtual one are increasingly blurred, especially for recent generations, and although we know screen time for developing minds is bad, we don’t yet know the extent. We don’t know why some kids can play a video game or watch a movie and understand that it’s not real, while others live in fantasylands that are also nightmares.

We know kids think about life, death, and sex differently than previous generations, but don’t know all the reasons why. We can assume whatever the reasons, it’s probably exacerbated by the fact that whatever kids are curious, scared, titalated, or disgusted by is a Google search or Facebook group away.

It used to be that “once something is seen, it can’t be unseen” was warning enough, but with the Internet, the next level of seeing is being connected to a whole community of likeminded people who will validate any choice you make, good or bad, legal or illegal. Even if you aren’t sure you’re into it, there they are leading you down a path. It’s no wonder the rules have to change.

Oh, and the weapons we are talking about aren’t self-protection tools or hunting supplies, they’re easily accessible, no-training-necessary, killing machines, easy enough for a child to use.

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And we may not yet have studies and stats to support it, but we also intuitively know that an entire childhood spent in lock downs, scouting exit paths and hiding spots, practicing active shooter drills, watching callous, sensationalized media coverage, and contemplating whether or not they would be the one who jumps in front of others to save them, is fucking kids up. It’s fucking parents up too.

Those of you, back in the day, who had to hide under your desks for nuclear bomb drills or tornado alarms that still vaguely remember the trauma? You have no fucking idea what today’s kids deal with.

Those of you who say we need more mental health resources, more hugs, more community, more guns, aren’t paying attention. It’s not enough. Kids are dying. DYING. Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Beautiful, bright, funny, silly, sweet, cuddly, curious, big-hearted, trusting, loving, full-of-potential children, that parents prayed for, that parents swore to nurture and protect, that parents opened college funds for because they believe in their futures. DYING.

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And you want to authorize more mental health funding, install metal detectors, and pray? So do that, but also please elect smart gun sense representatives to office too. Boycott candidates funded by the NRA. Time’s up. We needed change 20 years ago. We need action now.

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When your toddler is running towards oncoming traffic, you don’t appeal to the city for a crosswalk. You don’t sue the car manufacturer for better braking technology. You don’t shout for the kid to practice good judgement and remember the lesson in whatever happens.

You act. You neutralize the threat. You get your child out of harms way by eliminating the immediate danger. Guns are the immediate danger. Making it harder to get guns, making some guns impossible to get, and making the consequences of being involved in gun violence irrevocable is neutralizing the threat. It’s getting people out of danger immediately. It’s saving kids lives now.

Don’t talk to me about odds or relative stats. Yes, gun violence is not a pandemic. Yes, kids die for other reasons. But gun violence is preventable. Think back over history, to all the reasons that parents lost their children, and imagine sitting down with parents of any other generation, and first explaining all of the advancements we’ve made, then explaining to them how kids die today in this country. Not war, not disease, guns. Random acts of violence because we can’t compromise. How could they possibly understand?

And know, if your guns are used to kill someone, you will be held accountable. If you are the one who sold it, kept it unsecured, or did something regrettable in a moment of rage, that’s it. Game over. No do overs. No protection for your bad judgement. For your carelessness. For prioritizing your fear over the sanctity of life.

This isn’t about your rights. This isn’t about a tyrannical government. This isn’t about a master plan, conspiracy, or plot. This is about common sense. Keep your guns if you have them. Shoot it out when they come for you. Just know that the officials elected from here on out are going to be elected because they are going to create change, because they won’t be bought by lobbyists, because they believe one more child lost is too fucking many. And they don’t want to ask forgiveness. Do you?

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In theory, in this country, we all have the right to live freely. It’s one of the great triumphs of America. No one person’s rights can take precedent over any other’s. But that only works if everyone’s rights are equal. If your rights infringe on someone else’s, it’s no longer a right, it’s a privilege. And privileges must be earned. Right now, collectively, we aren’t earning shit. We are failing. At every opportunity to do better, to do the right thing, to evolve, we fail our children, our future, and our freedom.

Look in the mirror. Ask yourself if you want walls, metal detectors, armed security at every corner? Does that feel free? In a crowd, at a concert, or at a stadium, do you note escape routes? Does that feel free?

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One thing I love about flying is that once you’re airborne, you have to surrender the illusion of control. What happens at 30,000 feet is up the captain, his/her crew, and your fellow passengers. We’re all in it together and everyone on board has to behave reasonably well for the comfort and safety of everyone else. That’s all we need, reasonably good behavior when it comes to guns.

Yet the minute we’re back on the ground, we’re all assholes again, instantly divided. Democrat or Republican, Christian or not, Patriots or Steelers fans, man or woman, gay or straight, citizen or alien. We have no tolerance for others and are only in it together insofar as it doesn’t inconvenience us or challenge our lifestyle. Does that feel free?

Here’s my litmus: If we can’t go to the movies, the shopping mall, or drop our children off at school without the threat of someone getting shot, what’s the fucking point?

By the way, please adhere to the same rules we tell our kids. If you don’t like this, that’s fine. We are different people and we don’t have to agree on everything, but don’t be mean. Be kind.

Finally, if I seem angry; I am. This post has a decidedly different tone than my 2018 Mother’s Day post. That’s because there have been 428 mass shootings in the US since I wrote that one. I am mad.

I’m also deeply grateful to be a mom. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Happy Mother’s Day.

Kristi Andrus, Coach, Writer, Mom x 3 Plan your corporate exit strategy in a week.