Connecting in the Chaos: Safe and Sound
As a mother of five children I get the pleasure of parenting multiple stages at once. Our children span a 10 and half year age gap so at this point in our lives the different needs and maturity levels seem vast. Yet, while their age differences only span a decade, I feel like I must be a million years older than them. That is in large part due to our generational culture differences. I am a Gen-Xer. They are all not. This is revealed through many differences of opinion and ways of looking at the world, however, the one I often find myself struggling with the most these days is the idea of the “safe space.”
I tell my children not to say they hate things. Rather, I encourage them to say they strongly dislike something. So, in the spirit of continuity I will say I have come to strongly dislike the term “safe space.” It is not because I do not value safety. My husband would make the case that I value that too much. I LOVE safety and go to extremes to ensure it in my children’s lives. Emotional, physical, and mental safety and wellbeing for my little ones makes up the majority of my daily prayer list. The reason I dislike the term is because it is often used by people when what they are actually feeling is strong discomfort, rather than a real sense of danger.
I want my children to understand that not enjoying the situation they are in, the person they are with, or the demands they may face is very different from being in danger or harm’s way. Otherwise, they grow up thinking they need to constantly flee unpleasant or difficult moments rather than learn to persevere through them. This leads to real difficulties in navigating life’s continual hills and valleys.
As much as I want my children to be (and feel) safe, I also want them to realize that they are strong… strong enough to handle uncomfortable conflict, difficult work environments, and frustrating people. I don’t want them to think that when faced with uncomfortable interactions their only option is to shut down internally and flee. To help them with this, we have come up with two main approaches of conflict resolution.
The first deals with in-house conflict. As a family there is an intimacy and a commitment to one another that requires more from its members than our dealings with the general public. (This would also apply to close friends.) Here we have rules for the tone of voice used, the expectation that each value the other, and the expectation that we will be honest and open with each other. This is for situations in which you want connection going forward.
The second is for short-term interactions that are more about just getting through it rather than building relationships. This focuses on navigating those everyday surface relationships. Our faith plays a big role in this because it is less about revealing what is going on with you internally and more about looking for ways to bring peace and unity to a situation. It usually relies on showing grace to others and approaching the situation with selflessness.
I want my children to grow up feeling safe. I also want them to grow up confident that they can be uncomfortable and still be ok. We should absolutely teach our children to discern dangerous people and dangerous situations. I do not mean to infer otherwise. But, in our deep desire for our children to feel safe and sound we need to be careful that we are not crippling them by denying them the opportunity to work through discomfort and experience the empowering feeling that comes from seeing how capable they can be.