The morning of May 22, I did what I do every morning. Upon peeling my eyes open, I reached for my phone. I checked my email first and then my Facebook feed. That’s when a headline caught my attention and shocked me out of my morning fog.
It read, “Deadly explosion at Ariana Grande concert.”
This year’s news has been full of tragedies. Hardly a day goes by without reading about bombings, shootings, and other acts of violence occurring all over the world. But for the first time, the news felt terrifyingly personal.
Approximately a year before the Manchester suicide bombing occurred, I surprised my two daughters with tickets to an Ariana Grande concert. My oldest, 14 at the time, had already attended a couple of small shows headlining singers who spent the majority of their act screaming inaudibly into the microphone. Her 11-year-old younger sister had begun to ask when she, too, could go to a concert – a first I was beginning to dread.
When I heard that Ms. Grande was coming to a stadium close to us, I jumped on the opportunity. Both of my girls loved her. She was one of the few artists who offered a performance geared toward tweens and teens that promised to keep it clean and empowering, while delivering killer theatrics. The show did not disappoint.
To date, that evening is one of my favorite parenting experiences. There was a sweetness to making my way through the concert hall with the swarms of excited, young girls all decked out in cat ears and glittery whiskers they had painted across their still round cheeks.
The show was the stuff young dreams are made of. Highlights included Ariana floating above the crowd on a fluffy white cloud and singing her most popular songs as her fans swayed and cheered from below. At one point, she played a touching audio clip of her grandfather giving her advice about life. It was a performance that my girls and I both relished, for very different reasons.
On that morning in May as I stared down at my phone, my stomach swam and sank. I felt sick knowing that if I were to see a photo of the victims, their faces would resemble my own daughters’ faces. “This could have happened to my children,” I thought.
I have two adolescent girls. I worry about a lot. Every day, I have to make fast, smart decisions as the requests roll in for outings with friends and parties that don’t include mom tagging along. I call parents. I research venues and movies and music artists. The Ariana Grande concert seemed like a slam-dunk for some good, safe fun. If asked, there was a good chance I would have let my girls go without me.
In the days following the bombing, I avoided the news. I couldn’t bear to think of the victims. When I gently brought it up to my girls, it was clear they couldn’t either. They quickly brushed my comments and questions off and brought the discussion to a close.
After a couple weeks, the news coverage slowed to an eventual stop with the number of victims finally totaled. My kids never brought the topic up, but small changes in their behavior revealed the toll the event had taken. My oldest, who usually enjoyed the freedom of using public transit, began to call for rides, and her sister stopped asking about attending large events.
Close to two months have passed since the Manchester bombing. As it fades into the past, I can feel the coveted comfort of that false sense of safety returning. I know it won’t be long before the requests start rolling in again. Parties and concerts cannot be put off forever. It’s only a matter of time before I have to start making those lightning-quick decisions.
The question is how do families move forward with confidence after events like this one take place?
Elizabeth Perkins is a marriage and family therapist and psychotherapist based in San Diego, California. She suggests that parents should try to look at the world as a canvas on which many different things are painted. She explains, “Like looking at a painting, what you focus on is what begins to pop off the canvas and come to life.”
She says that young people model their coping mechanisms on their caregivers and their social environment: “To be a parent who acknowledges the scary stuff of life but chooses, rather, to really bring into focus all of the healing and help still left in the world creates that same lens for children.”
Perkins shared the following tips for parenting after a traumatic event:
Accept and focus on the best
School shootings exist, but our children still have to learn. Car crashes happen, and yet we need to get from point A to point B. We accept the dangers of life through minor practices of acceptance on a daily basis.
You literally say to yourself, hundreds of times a day, “Hi, fear. I see you and respect your right to be here, but instead of focusing on the car crash I saw on the news yesterday, I am focusing on the countless safe trips I’ve been blessed with and am doing what I can to protect my family and keep us safe.”
Acknowledge your children’s fear
If your children express fear about what they see in the world around them, don’t deny the magnitude of the tragedy or belittle the fear. It’s natural and healthy to bring a certain amount of caution into our real life experiences.
Instead say, “Yes, that was really tragic, and unfortunately, people do really bad things that hurt others, but there are many concerts that happen where no one gets hurt. Let’s try to make those positive thoughts what we focus on.”
Make a plan
There is so much we can’t control, but make a practice of putting minor safety exercises into action for your own peace of mind. Do the small practical things that help you stay safe. For example, make a practice of knowing where emergency exits are in crowded buildings, and pick a place to meet up if you are separated.
Help the healing
Creating a healing action for those who have been hurt can help bring peace to you and your children. Explain to them, “Yes, lots of people were hurt, and it caused a great deal of sadness for many. Let’s take a few minutes and pray for, meditate about, or send healing thoughts and vibes to those people who are affected before we head out to our event.”
We cannot undo the violence and tragedy around us. But we can improve our own place in the world by moving into our daily activities with a sense of love, compassion, and empathy. In some ways, this may take the feeling of powerlessness down a notch.
As a mother of girls on the brink of becoming young women, it’s easy to see danger lurking behind every corner in the world that’s waiting for them beyond my reach. But I know there is no stopping them from entering it, and it is my hope that they will find happiness when they do.
The best I can do is teach them to be smart and safe and to never let acts of hate deter them from seeking joy.