Violent world demands gentler parents

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Ferguson

Demonstrators protest the shooting death of Michael Brown August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. (JOSHUA LOTT / AFP/Getty Images)

Gentler.

That's what I'm vowing to be in the wake of so much tragedy.

I feel — like many of you, I'm sure — wrung out by the bloodshed in the Middle East and the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., and the shootings in Chicago and the way-too-early death of Robin Williams, a genius who made us laugh and ponder like few others.

I find myself thinking about souls. I don't know where souls go when we die. I don't know what causes a soul to turn dark and broken. I don't know really know what a soul is, to be honest.

But my kids make me believe I have one, because something sprung to life when those babies were born. And something keeps me loving and caring for them, even when I'm angry and tired and entertaining fantasies of being trapped in an elevator where no one can ask me for a snack.

I believe my kids have souls too. Something existed in them before I held them, before I and their friends and baby sitters and coaches and grandparents and classmates started shaping them. Something that makes them so singular and perfect and vulnerable.

But I forget to be careful sometimes. I get overwhelmed by my work deadlines and their birthday party invites and baseball registration and the mortgage payment and the dwindling groceries, and I start to feel a little put upon.

I start to seek out those voices. You know the ones. They tell my generation we parent too intensely. We worry too much. If we'd just relax and stop insisting on helmets and organic and participation trophies, our kids would turn out just fine. Like they did, and we did — just fine.

The New York Times' Frank Bruni once quoted a fed-up observer of middle school politics: "Perhaps they should dress the children in Bubble Wrap and tie mattresses to their backs so they don't get hurt."

Come on, the voices say, they're kids, not Faberge eggs.

I find those voices and I start to feel a little entitled — to the rest I'm not getting and the friends I'm not seeing and the on-time arrivals I'm never quite achieving. I start to wonder if I am coddling my kids, if I'm raising a houseful of royalty whose participation trophies and organic yogurt lead them to believe they don't have to clear their own dishes.

I start to let an edge creep into my voice. I roll my eyes. I took a day off recently with nothing on the agenda but a playground, a pool and gelato. No laundry, no errands. They fought and complained the whole time. I turned to them at one point and said, "Remind me how miserable you guys are to be around next time I plan to take a day off."

What is that? It's entitlement. It's expecting my sheer presence to inspire conformity and undying gratitude. It's unconscionable.

It's also ineffective. They stopped fighting, but they looked defeated. And because I felt like a jerk, I bought them SpongeBob Popsicles at the pool, even though we were getting gelato later. Then I felt defeated.

So when I'm lying in bed, wondering about souls and where they go and what darkens some and brightens others, I picture the souls of my kids and I think: They are fragile. Maybe they aren't so different from Faberge eggs. Maybe one human can break another human's soul, and maybe none of us knows how or when it happens.

And I think about all the broken souls in Ferguson and the Middle East and Chicago and Hollywood, and I think, let me be gentler. Let me remember how precious and perilous this life is and let me tune out, rather than seek out, the voices that tell me I'm overthinking it.

"Perhaps they should dress the children in Bubble Wrap. …"

As if that could even begin to insulate them from crashing around in a world gone so completely mad. I don't know if anything could.

But I feel compelled to make their home a softer place to land.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

Be a part of our 'Balancing Act' salon

Join "Balancing Act" columnist Heidi Stevens, along with Tribune reporter Jenniffer Weigel and special guests, to discuss "Parenting After Divorce," focusing on co-parenting and blended families. 7 p.m. Sept. 11 at Madame ZuZu's tea shop in Highland Park. Attendees are encouraged to contribute to the discussion while they enjoy tea and desserts. Go to heidistevens.eventbrite.com.

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