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Parenting in these Interesting Times is pretty awful sometimes.

It’s also incredible and brings me more hope than nearly anything else has in the last 3 years, though.

My husband and I have three kids. They’re 12, 9, and 8 years old and we’ve been open and honest with them since they were born. We’re both white, and we have worked to raise them with knowledge of their privilege as well as helping them understand anti-racism (instead of “colorblindness”), sexism, and homophobia since a very young age. White families especially need to teach our kids about these things because the wider culture isn’t going to do it for us. We’re “the norm” and it’s unacceptable for us to just let our kids grow up assuming that’s fine.

Our parenting goals have been to respect our kids as autonomous human beings while balancing that with their safety and others’ autonomy. In practice, this means that my kids don’t have to hug people they don’t want to hug, but they had to sit in carseats even if they threw a tantrum. They can choose when to use their screens or read or play outside, but they do have limits that they have to respect.

We aren’t perfect parents by any means. I struggled with undiagnosed, unmedicated postpartum anxiety when they were young and yelled more than I should have. We get frustrated because kids are frustrated and kids are FRUSTRATING! But our parenting priority is treating all kids like the autonomous human beings with fundamental rights that they are.

Which brings me to… today. The Interesting Times I mentioned above. The creeping tide of fascism. Our subculture of xenophobia and jingoism that got put into power by a long process of undemocratic and treasonous gerrymandering and the subjugation of democratic rights.

This is a toughie when you’re talking to sweet, innocent toddlers and preschoolers and idealistic elementary students and sarcastic but still idealistic middle schoolers and high schoolers who just realized their education was false and the democracy (and teachers and pastors and authority figures) they believed were wrong at best, or much worse – liars.


However, there are a few ways to make these discussions a bit more fruitful as a parent, aunt/uncle, or any other loving caregiver.

The first, and the most important for every single age group:

Welcome kids’ emotions and feelings and hold them together with the kids in a safe space. Kids who feel like strong emotions that are coded as negative are “bad” or otherwise unwelcome won’t be open with you. Tears and yelling and anger and hurt and grief are all completely normal and okay – and feeling them with you there for support will mean the kids will learn they don’t have to repress themselves.

For toddlers and preschoolers:

Use the Mr. Rogers method of looking for the helpers. Children at this age desperately need to feel safe with their caretakers. It’s incredibly easy to talk to kids this age about stuff like sex (make it simple, use the correct words for body parts, talk about consent, and discuss it pretty clinically), but discussing death and state-sanctioned kidnapping is REALLY SCARY.

A toddler or preschooler needs to know that they are safe and their parents have the power to keep them safe. Even if it’s not technically true these days (especially if you’re a person of color or an immigrant!), and even if it feels incredibly unfair to get to say “we’re citizens so we are safe” – keep kids’ hearts safe while you’re talking to them about the news. “The government is doing some things that harm these families and the kids and parents are being kept apart right now. This isn’t something that’s going to happen to you, and we and all the other adults we know are working hard to make this better for all the people in trouble. We’re giving money and we’re protesting and we’re making sure new people are put into the government. But it IS terrible, and we’re angry and sad about it. We love you, and we want these kids to have their parents back with them as soon as possible because they love their kids just as much as we love you.” 

For elementary students:

These kids can understand a lot more about the difficulty of pushing back against the government than younger kids can. My kids started learning about the Civil Rights Era in school, and by 2nd grade they were learning about Ruby Bridges being screamed at by white adults and MLK getting assassinated. This varies based on school system. My kids are in Chicago Public Schools where they don’t whitewash it as much as many places do, but I still had to do some “homework” with them about the way people teach this history and how it whitewashes MLK and erases the contributions of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

Speaking to kids about how we are working hard to improve the people in charge of our country by protesting, voting, donating, etc. is crucial, as is bringing kids to protests and letting them see you living out your ideals. Stand up to family members who are saying hurtful things, “Uncle John, I don’t feel comfortable with you saying that, especially in front of kids. Please be respectful of us.”

Make yourself available to questions the kids have even if they’re scary or upsetting to you. If you can’t answer questions because of your own anxiety or similar mental health struggles, find a trusted adult who can help them. (In my family, my anxiety acts up severely about school shootings, so I refer the kids to my husband when they want to have those discussions.)  Ensure the kids feel like their concerns are important.

Helping kids have something to do to help will help them feel secure AND help them learn activism. Kids can:

  • Make protest signs
  • Help look up charities for your donations
  • Write letters to elected officials
  • Help you call elected officials (call your favorite “family values” politician and tell them your 5th grader has something to say and enjoy the guilt trip!)
  • Look up youtube videos about stepping in when people are being bullied. Non-violent conflict resolution is a great keyword here.

For middle and high school students:

These kids are learning sarcasm and humor and often need reminding that empathy and love and friendship is not uncool. They can do everything the elementary kids can, and they need the same reassurance that little kids need, but they can also start to make their own choices about when to step in. They need to practice how to stand up for people with marginalized identities, how and when to go to an authority figure, and how to stand up to their friends.

You’re not going to be able to teach all of these things but you’re going to be their soft place to land while they practice living out their values. You’ll give them ideas, support them, sometimes maybe march angrily into the principal’s office if they’re treated poorly by authority figures – and you’ll answer their tough questions. Practicing telling the truth when they’re little is so crucial because 1) you’ll have more practice and will feel less awkward and 2) they’ll trust you to tell them the truth and they’ll know you won’t laugh at them for whatever they ask.


The big takeaway to all of this? Teaching kids about difficult topics doesn’t have to be a miserable slog. Kids are smart, interesting, invested human beings who want to make their world a better place. Help them figure out how to do it by giving them ways to take ownership of the world they live in, and help them understand that parents all over the world want nothing more than to protect their babies and children. We can all help, but pretending nothing is going on is going to do kids a major disservice in the long run.

 

Leah Chibe is originally from northern Michigan but has been living on the south side of Chicago for 15 years with her husband and, eventually, kids/dogs/a biergarten in the backyard. She is currently in seminary working to become a Lutheran chaplain. She can be reached at @LeahChibe on Twitter.

Moderator Note from Captain Awkward: 

Could we keep the discussion on this thread for parents of kids under 18, by parents of kids under 18 today? If you don’t have the problem of trying to explain world events to kids right now, cool! This is not your catch-all drive-by politics-feelings-thread. Thank you.

[Hello everyone, Captain Awkward here. I saw the list of resources for people that can’t access therapy right now that Tiffany compiled on Twitter and hired her to write it up for us as a companion to the post on how to access low-cost counseling in the US and Canada.  If you have additional resources that have helped you please feel free to share them in comments. -CA]

2017 has been quite a year to say the least. But in the midst of all the global upheaval, I’ve also noticed a trend of more people willing to talk about mental illness, and also seek out solutions for mental health care. I’ve seen a lot of conversations surrounding this topic on social media. As someone who has dealt with clinical depression for most of her life, it makes me glad to see the stigma of mental illness falling away as more people open up about their struggles and needs. However, it seems the supply for low-cost, accessible mental health services is yet to catch up with the demand, particularly in the United States. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of resources (mostly available online) for those who have trouble accessing therapy at the moment. While there’s no substitute for actually talking one-on-one with a professional about your problems, hopefully these resources will get you on the right track to mental health.

1. Recovery International: This organization was founded in the 1930s by a psychiatrist who was ahead of his time, Dr. Abraham Low. Recovery International is a program based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that teaches participants a way of overcoming limits imposed by depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. The result is the ability to lead a more functional, peaceful life. Recovery International holds in-person meetings all over the United States (and some in Europe). They also hold online chat and video meetings. Each meeting is lead by a volunteer well versed in the Recovery International method.

Cost: Each meeting is donation based, so you can give what you can. You also might want to purchase one of Dr. Low’s books at some point, which are reasonably priced.

2. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Also known as ACT, this psychotherapy technique focuses on accepting and re-framing the things in your life that cause you suffering instead of trying to avoid them. ACT teaches you to embrace pain as a normal part of the human condition, therefore freeing yourself from the trap of always trying to avoid it. A great book to pick up on ACT is “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life: The New Acceptance and Commitment Therapy” by Steven Hayes and Spencer Xavier Smith. It’s an award-winning book that comes very highly recommended.

Cost: See current price on Amazon.

3. Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance: The DBS Alliance was founded as a safe place for those with depression and bipolar disorders to share their experiences and receive support. DBSA offers online support group meetings where you’ll find peers that “assist, encourage, and enable each other in helping themselves.” There are also support meetings for friends and family of people with mood disorders, and one specifically for young adults.

Cost: Donation based, so give what you can if you find the meetings helpful.

4.  7 Cups of Tea: An on-demand emotional health and well-being service available online and via downloadable app. Their main offering is anonymously connecting people one-on-one with trained “listeners” to talk about whatever is on their mind. They also have moderated chatrooms and message boards. You can also follow a 7 Cups path, which consists of small, actionable steps you can take each day to improve your mental well-being.

Cost: Free to join, free to chat with listeners and participate in discussions. They also have paid services available, such as chatting with a licensed therapist and customizing your 7 Cups path.

5. Pacifica: This app gives users daily tools for managing stress, anxiety and depression. They offer self-help paths designed by psychologists that give you actionable steps to take each day. You can also track your mood throughout the day, track activities like sleep and exercise, set daily challenges, and use the guided relaxation techniques. Pacifica also offer a peer-to-peer support community where you can connect with like-minded users.

Cost: Free to download and use most services. Upgraded services start at $5.99 USD per month.

6. Sip and Om Podcast: Plenty has been said about the benefits of meditation for people who suffer from mental and mood disorders. It can help to tame a racing mind, lower stress levels, and help you sleep better at night, among other things. If you want to dive into meditation, the Sip and Om podcast hosted by Mary Meckley is a great introduction. Each week she has a different meditation theme, such as stress, depression, and self esteem. She also features different herbal teas that you can drink for health.

Cost: 2 week free trial, cheapest plan is $14.99/month after that. 

7. Headspace: If you prefer an app over a podcast to meditate, then Headspace is a great way to dive in. The ten-part introduction series is perfect for beginners or those returning to meditation. If you like it, they have an extensive library of guided meditations for you to subscribe to.

Cost: Free to download, free introduction series. Access to full meditation library starts at $12.99 USD per month.

8. Samaritans: A secular non-profit organization based in the United Kingdom that offers users a way to correspond with trained counselors about whatever troubles them. You can email or call Samaritans around the clock, no matter where you are in the world. They’re committed to offering a listening ear and never being pushy or judgmental. Every conversation is confidential.

Cost: Free.

9. Sleep With Me Podcast: Getting to sleep at night is a big issue when your mind is always racing. That’s why I love the Sleep With Me Podcast. Each episode features the host Scooter telling a boring bedtime story meant to take your mind off of whatever might be troubling you. The team at this podcast is really dedicated to helping listeners get a good night’s rest. If you like it, there’s an archive full of over 500 episodes to choose from.

Cost: Free

10. Therapy For Black Girls Podcast: There’s a strong stigma around mental health in the black American community, and black women and girls in particular really suffer because of it. Hosted by the very likeable Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Therapy for Black Girls is just like hanging out with a good friend and discussing mental health in a down-to-earth way. Whether dealing with mama issues or getting through a breakup, Dr. Joy’s comforting counsel is really a breath of fresh air.

Cost: Free

11. Mood Gym: This online interactive self-help program provides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) training to help its users prevent and manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have over 1 million users all over the world, and it’s completely anonymous and confidential. Each lesson is easy to digest. The exercises and quizzes give you practical ways to be more aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can improve on your mental health day by day.

Cost: $39 AUD for 12 months (about $30 USD)

12. RAINN Sexual Abuse Hotline: RAINN is America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. If you’ve suffered from sexual abuse, whether recently or not, you can contact them around the clock by phone or chat. Volunteers are trained to listen in a nonjudgmental way and also to help you find more resources if needed. RAINN also leads sexual assault prevention programs and works to improve public policy on sexual violence. You can find more information on their website.

Cost: Free.

13. Scarleteen: Sex and relationships can be difficult territory for young people to navigate. That’s why Scarleteen offers online chat and SMS services for teens and young adults who need guidance on any and everything related to sex and relationships. They also have messageboards and an advice column where you can submit your questions. While they can’t help directly with issues related to anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders, they can offer guidance on this very important part of everyone’s life.

Cost: Free.

14. Kooth: This is an online service designed for UK youth under the age of 18. On Kooth you can chat with an online counselor, read articles written by young people, interact with an online community, and even keep an online journal. Kooth has been recommended by school counselors and others who work on young people’s behalf.

Cost: Free.

Remember that not all of these options may work for you, but if you find one or two that do work, then you’ll be much better off. Just check them out one at a time to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I wish you all the best in your journey towards greater mental well-being and a more fulfilling life.

Tiffany is a freelance writer and online marketing consultant from Southern California. She has a passion for using her writing to help both people and great businesses grow. If you’re in need of an experienced freelance writer, you can see her ghostblogging portfolio here.