The world’s not what it used to be. This is the recurrent idiom of every generation since the beginning. However, this time it seems particularly apt. From terrorist attacks in London, Paris, and Brussels to the most recent bombing in Manchester, it’s hard to know how to function as a parent bringing up children in this current roiling political sea, which is why there are articles aplenty on how to talk to your kids about fear, terrorism, and violence. We all want to know how to address the unjustness of it all, yet before we talk to the kids, we must begin with each other. We must figure out how to discuss these hard things with one another first.
When my husband and I had our first child at thirty weeks, we began a life in the intensive care unit. Three months later we were still there, the intensity of intensive life had not let up. We clocked our days by nursing rotations and doctor’s rounds. When we finally left, we carried a medically fragile child into a world that felt anything but safe. We functioned, but we did not thrive. We lived in the shadow of possible fears. We forgot how to talk beyond logistics or tears. Despite our best intentions, we were living under duress.
The present world affairs can make a person forget how to cope in marriage and in life, but we must if we hope to effectively parent the ones we brought into this world. Here are six ways you can frame your conversations with your spouse as you talk through the hard stuff.
Don’t avoid the issue
Naturally, in order to deal with the fears and diffuse the tension, you have to face the problem. Now is not the time for a standard, “I’m fine.” Nor is it the time to keep the conversation only about the kids and your worries for them. If the world is in turmoil, chances are you’re feeling it too. The more quickly your needs get met, the easier it is to meet those of your child.
Watch your tone
People react differently to crisis. Some get nonchalant. If we act like it’s not a big deal, then it can’t be, right? Yet the act can bury the lead, leaving you to support yourself and everyone around you without adequate ventilation for your own worries. That’s too much to carry.
Getting panicky doesn’t work well either. We urge our kids to “use their words” to tell us what’s wrong, but that won’t work if you’re hyperventilating into a paper bag. A little paper-bag breathing is fine and often necessary, as long as words follow and you can talk it out after.
My husband works in technology. Binary code is his friend. I work with words, and make him do our taxes. We approach the world through different sides of the brain. Neither view is less valid. Empathizing (or at least trying to) can shift your perspective enough to keep the conversation going. If I can’t get all the way there, I can at least sympathize.
Yes, there are crises in the world, but the danger is not around every corner. You cannot live each moment in fear of the next. Talk with your spouse about the realities of what tragedy looks like in the world today and how it has affected your family. Fear is a feeling that can sometimes be assuaged with facts. List the good stuff you’ve seen in the world as well as the bad. The pro list might be longer than the con once you really look at it.
Know your limits with social media and news
Too much news can send you spiraling. Following one link to the next is not always productive. Watching the violence and reading the rants can increase anxiety rather than alleviate it. Not every headline is worth your energy. Know your limits.
Identify your needs
In the world of psychology, there are four key constructs in the social support system.
Determine whether you are seeking 1) emotional support such as empathy, 2) instrumental support that is tangible – perhaps a hand to hold or more time to talk alone with your spouse, 3) informational support like much-needed logic that you might not be able to summon on your own, or 4) appraisal support that is designed to boost your self-esteem, like an affirmation that you are not just a bundle of nerves but in fact a capable adult and parent.
Once you can name the kind of support you need, tell your spouse. It can make the conversation a lot easier to navigate and a lot more productive.
Not everything in life will be a crisis. Not every era will feel as hard or fearful as the current one. When senseless violence occurs and the world suddenly looks darker, it is just as vital for you to be able to talk about it effectively with your spouse as with your kids.