This I believe: Children are precious and fragile; adults are resilient. I find this axiom to be obvious, intuitive and almost organic. Often times, however, we hear the opposite axiom spoken: “Don’t worry about them, kids are resilient!” This happens when adults choose, or are forced, to do things that are not necessarily in the best interest of children: excessive drinking, drug abuse, over-working, divorce, and in the most extreme cases, physical, mental, or sexual abuse.
I have personal experience in this area. I am the divorced mother of a young son. His father and I separated when he was only 8 months old and have shared custody ever since. I am sure my son will be affected by my decision not to keep his family of origin intact. His father and I cannot hide behind the saying “Kids are resilient!” when it comes to our divorce. It is our responsibility to make our son’s life as safe, nuturing, positive, and loving as we can, despite the differences we may have.
As a first grade teacher for nine years, and a mental health professional for the past ten, I have seen up close and personal the effects of children not being cherished. Sometimes they become overly clingy and needy; sometimes they simply withdraw into their own world to minimize the potential for hurt and disappointment. As adolescents, they may turn to drugs or casual sexual encounters to numb or draw attention from themselves. The mentally ill adults I serve often were not treated appropriately or respectfully as children. As a consequence, their disease progressed, they lost access to opportunities for success, and they live on the fringes of society. By the time the reach me they have almost nothing, and more tragically, they expect nothing.
I also have the privilege to work with many refugees from the Bosnian War. All of them I see have survived: they have housing, they care for their families, they made it out of a horrific situation. Have they really thrived, though? Most suffer from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Their lives were ripped from them, and no matter how well they seem to adjust to this new land, they can never recapture the sense of home and safety that was taken from them. They are the supreme example of resiliency. Most, however, would have given anything not to have so finely honed that skill.
I am aware that there are many circumstances in the lives of children that we cannot control. Wars happen, people get sick, parents have irrevocable difference and must separate. We must not use this as an excuse, however, to overlook the fact that children are still fragile. Everything we do and say to them will be taken in and used as the raw material which shapes their spirits. I believe that instead of saying “Don’t worry, kids are resilient!”, we should say, “We must worry, we must be thoughtful, we must be careful and intentional. Kids are fragile and precious!”
This I believe.
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