I live in a community of mothers who double joy and divide grief as naturally as tending to a skinned knee. We look out for one another’s children because we are self-professed mothers at large. We join hands and apron strings to form safety nets around those who are most hurting. We try not to impose our once, twice or thrice removed loss on those who have really lost… their husband, wife, mother or child. We privately put the pieces of our hearts together because we are only the neighbors, teachers or friends. We come together for the sake of others as though we are their ever-extending family because in many ways we are.
We take this business of nurturing and protecting very seriously not just for our biological children but for all children. This image reminds me of a scene I refer to in my counseling work with parents: When the character, Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver takes on the mother monster in the movie, Alien. While we can’t go around town flexing our muscles and showing our teeth, our willingness to do what it takes to protect our children is something I promote and celebrate.
So how do we handle a situation in which some children in our community have been hurt by others? Do we keep the monster in us at bay or do we let her loose? The answer is complicated and personal when it isn’t a movie with aliens and instead real life with our neighbors. When it comes to straightforward losses, our love tends to flow without conditions. But with crises connected to bad behavior and poor choices, our minds and hearts can close. Our perspectives can narrow and our mother instincts can work for one child at the expense of another.
In my attempt to gain perspective on a recent hazing incident, I zoomed from community to household and considered how parents typically handle the inevitable scenarios in which siblings hurt one another. When intervening we naturally keep the best interest of both our children in mind. We rack our brains and do our best to comfort the offended while age-appropriately dealing with the offender. We work tirelessly to seize the teachable and reachable moments. We look for ways to help both children avoid harmful interactions in the future. We want all involved to emerge as better people and we stop at nothing to make that happen. I know this because as a family therapist I receive countless inquiries from parents committed to the highest healing good of all their children – not just one or two of them.
When it comes to our immediate families we do what we can to ensure that all members thrive: We listen, identify, validate, appreciate and empathize. We offer each child a voice if not a vote about what they’ve experienced and how they see it being resolved. We stress the importance of boundaries, accountability and forgiveness. We seek advice from experienced professionals and trusted friends. We keep in mind what Maya Angelou said, “When we know better, we do better.” We hope and pray that next time around our kids will know better and do better.
This win-win approach, so difficult to accomplish in our own little households, might seem impossible to extend to our community. But it’s important to remember that in this loving community we kneel down and stand up for all children not just our friends’ children. When asked by any child on either side of an issue, “Are you my mother?” we want open hearts to overrule closed minds so we can answer without hesitation, “Yes.”
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