Heather Ijames

Friday, Apr 26 2013 08:00 PM

HEATHER IJAMES: This is what I meant to say about strengthening our kids

By Heather Ijames

I believe I've made a mistake. At least, a partial one. Not too long ago, I wrote about keeping kids in the bubble and while I still wholeheartedly agree that it is our job as parents to limit what things our kids are exposed to -- especially when they're young -- I'm realizing that's not the whole shebang, so to speak. I started thinking about this after reading the story of a 15-year-old girl near San Jose who killed herself after classmates reportedly publicly shared a photo of her being sexually assaulted.

My first impression was that the events were horribly tragic and sobering. My second thought, as is par for the course for my worrywart mind in raising my own children, was how could I prevent this from happening to my own kid? How could I prevent the assault and even more pressing to me, how could I prevent the reaction, the suicide?

On the first part, I realize how powerless I am. Maybe that's why I try to control the one thing I think I have, the bubble business. I could prohibit my kids from going to parties, but I fear that's not too realistic. I could also educate them that bad situations have a higher frequency of occurrence where/when alcohol is consumed, but again, such things may fall by the wayside.

Thus, if it stands to reason that I can't control the actions of others, including those of my own children, then perhaps the bubble preventative measure is really the smaller portion of the equation.

I can tell them to stay away from things or people who will hurt them, and I can continue to cheer the efforts of schools and media with bullying awareness, but what happens when -- despite all the best efforts -- something slips through the cracks?

What if hurt and shame come knocking on our child's door when we're stuck in the shower? Worse yet, what if that door gets kicked in on their faces when they're standing there, trying to remember your words of, "Don't, just don't."

In other words, what if the worst happens anyway? Even to good kids.

This is where I realized I was wrong: I've been thinking it was my duty to strengthen the walls I put around their lives, keeping the world out. Yet, my efforts should've focused on strengthening the walls within themselves. Not to keep the world out, but so that they learn to stand strong within it, come what may, that they stand amid the storm, even a fire and brimstone one that may suggest suicide as a way out, as it apparently did for that young girl.

So, rather than telling my sons, "No! Don't leave the bubble," this is what I meant to say, what I want to say now, to strengthen them from the inside out:

"I need you to know that your life is more than those days that seem dark and hopeless, even if those times are filled with shame and regret.

I need you to know that the world doesn't define you, but that you define yourself.

I need you to know that everything I do on your behalf, during this short time you are under my wings, is to give you the right definition.

I need you to know that when I discipline you, force you to yield, or even, on occasion, ask you to bite down on that trembling lip of yours, I don't do such things to make my life easier, but so that it's easier for you to find your ground.

I need you to know that you are stronger than the unkindness of others, stronger than ridicule, and infinitely stronger than circumstance, even the painful bits.

I need you to know that you shouldn't fear tomorrow because if God created the world in a week, He can change yours in less.

And, I need you to know that my hope for you is stronger than your problems, even though I'm quite certain you won't wholly understand that until you have children of your own."

Of course, the fact remains that we need the reminders to be kind and gracious to one another, as well as the reminders that one of a parent's primary functions is to be a filter for their kids. But now, I realize I have another function. I have to build a backup net within my children's character, something they can take with them when I'm not around. That way, if something slips through the cracks, they don't hit bottom. I hope.

-- Heather Ijames is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Ijames, not necessarily The Californian. Send email to her at heatherijames@hotmail.com.

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