I was sitting in the dark on the floor next to the door to my son’s room, ready to make my escape as soon as he fell asleep. The light from my phone was the only illumination in the room, and as I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook I noticed that some people were posting about Paris. What had happened? I quickly switched to a news site and was shocked to see that the city had been attacked in several different incidents. My gasp was audible, and I worried LM would wake up.
“What kind of a world is this?” one friend posted. That simple sentence summed up my initial response. Even after witnessing with my own eyes the horror of 9/11, I was still surprised that such evil could happen in the world. I looked over at my sleeping, innocent child. What kind of world would he grow up in?
As my shock subsided, I realized that the world he would grow up in is the same as it’s always been — filled as much with bad things as with good.
It’s tempting to let our emotional response to the horror of that night in Paris take over. I’m a super worrier, so you’d think I’d be the first one to let my fear run my life, and my son’s. But let’s look at the bigger picture.
Statistically, the world is much safer now than in years past. Whenever I see moms worried about predators ready to snatch their kids up, saying things like, “Such a sad world we live in,” I remember that child abduction is actually very rare. And, despite our nostalgia for the seemingly innocent world of our own childhood, there were more kidnappings a generation ago than there are now.
Let’s expand that line of thinking. Our own parents had to deal with the threat of nuclear war, as well as the war in Vietnam. Our grandparents had to deal with the threat of Nazi Germany and the holocaust. War, terrorism, fighting over land and religion — these are nothing new. As a history major, I remember the atrocities that were committed hundreds of years ago. Would I have wanted to live in the Middle Ages? Um, no.
Putting things in that perspective, we can realize what a comparatively safe, privileged world we live in. Our daily life is generally worry-free, and the biggest complaints we have are about coffee cups and how to appropriately celebrate Christmas.
Even the Christmas debacle, though, is evidence of an underlying fear that everything we hold dear as Americans is under attack by foreigners and immigrants. But again, this is an emotional response. We are looking for scapegoats for the growing sense of uncertainty in our world. We are letting our fear take over.
Isn’t that what the terrorists want? Isn’t this the most they can accomplish?
I am not immune to the fear. I am worried about going into Manhattan this weekend to celebrate my birthday. What if the restaurant I’m going to is the target of a terrorist attack? And should I cross Paris off the list of places to travel to next year for my tenth anniversary? It’s enough to make me want to hole up in my house and never leave.
But as I pull back again from that sense of insecurity, I know I shouldn’t change my plans out of fear. As one of my favorite travel experts, Rick Steves, points out, “There’s a difference between fear and risk.” (He responds further in this followup post.)
Worrying about travel plans, though, is also evidence of my first-world privilege. While we are shocked by an event that rocked our western world, people in other parts of the globe deal with such terror on a daily basis. We don’t think about them, maybe because of our feeling that that’s just what happens there. An attack on a city that we identify with, one we would normally consider safe, is a different story.
So what does any of this have to do with parenting? Nothing directly, if you have a toddler. Fortunately my two-year-old doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, and I don’t have to figure out how to appropriately discuss it with him. But indirectly, my attitudes about the world will rub off on his. My beliefs about foreign people, war, fear and guns will all affect my son’s as he grows up. My worldview will become his.
It’s another reason to try to rise above, to try and think intelligently and not be ruled by fear or complacency. Who I am will affect who he is. And that might be the scariest thing of all.
How will your response to the Paris attacks affect your parenting?