Three Tips for Parenting During Wartime

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Wartime Parenting

The concept of Wartime Parenting is not something I thought about in June 2001. Coming off the highs of the 1990s and surviving the Y2K new year’s hysteria, things felt blissful. That summer, my then husband and I decided to start a family. I began to dream about getting pregnant and bringing my first child into our wonderful world.

Songs like Limp Bizkit’s 2000 release “Take a Look Around” didn’t hit home beyond being a good running tune. Yet, their lyric “I know why you wanna hate me – ‘Cause hate is all the world has even seen lately,” speaks of not only the present then, but of our collective past and life since. When one lives a life of privilege (by skin color, economic security and/or geographic location), it’s easy to forget the reality of most of the global society. I was guilty of that ignorance as I dreamed of new motherhood.

The Refusal of Wartime Parenting

On September 12, 2001, I called my mom to hysterically announce that in no way would I bring a life into our violence filled world. I adamantly stated that I would not be responsible for subjecting a soul to this horror show. How could I choose to begin a life, when there was now such a strong possibility they would have a future of hate and war?

My mom, in her pacifist, serene manner, simply listened. When I finished pontificating and feeling sorry for the world, she calmly and supportively told me a statement that echoed in my heavy heart for weeks:

“Sweetheart, this is nothing new. We are always at war.”

The Reality of Times

I am 51 years old, making me a 1971 GenX baby. In my lifetime, the United States has been directly involved in fighting the following wars – or “periods of conflict” – listed in chronologic order: Vietnam, Tonkin Gulf, Lebanon, Granada, Panama, Persian Gulf, and 20 years of Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S.’s other ongoing military presence in other countries or conflicts of which we are unaware are not listed, nor are wars that do not involve the U.S. – all of which would increase this list.

During these 51 years, we’ve had a few breather years. But,

For almost my entire lifetime, our country. has been fighting in some sort of war almost consistently.

Take a moment to re-read that, especially if you are a lot younger than I. In my lifetime of over a half a century , we have almost always been involved in war.

My mom has always had to do wartime parenting.

I am not blind to that, as I’ve always been fascinated by history and majored in Political Science in college. Yet, war has never touched my daily life, so the meaning of it is truthfully vague. It’s not in my streets, doesn’t directly impact my family, and it wasn’t in my face 24/7 until essentially 2007 with the advent of social media. It was there in the background, but always so distant that I could ignorantly forget.

This distance, and more discussion with my mom, clearly, eased my hysteria around not having children back in 2001. As a result, my oldest son will turn 20 this summer.  Wars involving the U.S. have existed the entire time he has been alive as well as my younger son.

Three Tips for Parenting during Wartime

Even stating that I – or you – are have been or are managing wartime parenting is a privileged statement. Unless you are a military family, very few of us have any idea what it’s like to navigate a family during war. Our stresses are nothing compared to those families. None of us are hiding our kids in bunkers or using playtime to make Molotov cocktails.

For us, it becomes more of an exercise in teaching: teaching resilience in the face of stress, looking at history honestly, and finding goodness in the presence of violence. Over the 20 wartime years as a parent myself, I have found three things which have supported my kids when any type of national or global conflict arose:

Talk with your Kid(s) Honestly

Talk with your child(ren). How you do so and what you share will vary by age, maturity level and their personality. When your kids have questions, answer them honestly and with reassurance. Don’t pretend it’s not happening. Ask them what they think is happening and listen to their answers. Most importantly, don’t discount their feelings—they may say they’re afraid, and you should be ready to tell them that fear is all right but moving forward during fear is important.  

Be Aware of Graphic Exposure and Messages

Your awareness is key. If your kids are on social media, they may be watching live war. Tik Tok is actually a useful place to watch real-time footage and hear the words of the people actually facing war. Right now, Ukraine kids and Russian kids are arguing on that platform about what is fake news or not. Depending on your child’s age, it may be highly educational or it may be too much. You don’t need to hide what’s happening in the world across media, but you also don’t have to expose them to it constantly or without parameters. Ultimately, you know your child best and it is up to your discretion how much awareness about media is in their sights.

Focus on Action

Use chaotic, challenging times to teach your kids that they can always do something. Taking even a small action step provides structure, sense of control and the mental health benefits of feeling compassion. As a family or, for older kids individually, you can research groups to donate to. Write letters to their government officials. Raise money for causes they care about. Learn about others. Action in times of fear is a very tangible tool to teach your kids.

Always at war

What is happening in the Ukraine is horrific and should not be understated. I echo my mom’s sentiments, again, this time to provide some ironic hope.

While it sounds negative, her statement provides a baseline that we can all always just parent, even if it is labeled wartime parenting. We can and must parent with calm resilience and teach such. Her statement also level-sets. We are not the families really in the battle. We may be sad or scared, but we need to keep perspective for our kids and teach history. We have the privilege to use this period to grow and help others. We have the privilege to breathe.

Use your privilege. I challenge you to turn your wartime parenting into a lesson of calmness, love, kindness and resilience – for you and your kids.

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Hi All, I’m Rebecca! I’ve worked in marketing strategy in the healthcare and wellness industry since college and my MBA for 20+ years (yikes!!). I’m blessed to have combined my geeky professional self with my passions: awareness of and mental health supports for disenfranchised populations and communities. I volunteer in educating the greater community about the real experiences of those in (and out of) recovery from the disease of addiction. I was so honored to give a TED talk in 2019 about removing stigma and shame by simply shifting the language we use, as this is near and dear me. Yet, at the end of the day, my family is everything in my world. I live with my husband Mike and two teenage sons in Lee, along with a crazy cattle dog (Maggie), cat (Leia), fish, 100 snails and soon to be chickens. While a Jersey shore girl at heart, living in MA and NH since the late 90s has fully converted me to a New England sports fan and avid skier, hiker and kayaker. I guess I’m a perfectly imperfect, harmonious, and happy runner, who cares deeply for humans, and Mother Nature. Follow me on Instagram @mommabear5786 to see what life in a house of boys, recovery, loud music, a bit of attitude, and nature looks like!

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