Terror Fatigue: How Do You Keep From Teaching Your Kids to Hate?

BlogHer Original Post

I was at my parents' house basking in love and sugar-soaked holiday goodness when my husband told me about the man who literally lit his pants on fire while trying to blow up an international flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. I remember wondering how much of the conversation my five-year-old was taking in, then realizing I had absolutely no energy for terror of any sort.

We were in the middle of a blizzard. And it was the end of a long year filled with H1N1, a bad economy and iceberg-falling-off anxiety. I just ... couldn't. I raised my parent-worry's figurative hand and watched it flop lifelessly back to the ground. No pulse.

I can't figure out how to talk to her properly about terrorism. And if I can't talk properly, I'd rather talk not at all. Some haven't had my luxury. BlogHer's Erin Kotecki Vest wrote at Queen of Spain about her kids catching the news, how she found herself forced to produce an on-the-spot-and-age-appropriate explanation for the unexplainable:

Instead I sat there dumbfounded, and worried and unsure how to explain to him culture clashes and wars that were as old as time. And hoping I didn’t say anything to ingrain in him the idea that Americans were entitled to everything and always right, and that he was superior to anyone- but also making sure he understood killing innocent people was never acceptable. And that we will always defend ourselves against attacks.

All I saw was him punching and kicking the dinosaur. And I wanted to cry.

I can understand Erin's concern. After almost a decade of fear and a post-terrorist America into which my daughter was born, many hearts have hardened toward anyone who is not American. Every time someone new lights his pants on fire, the vitriol spews from more blogs and more mouths. How do I explain to my daughter that I am both killing mad at these people who tried to hurt others and also furious with Americans or citizens of any country who are teaching their children to hate people based on their nationality or skin color or religion.

We are only able to kill each other when we don't see each other as human.

But yet, we have to respond. Kristen Chase, whose husband is a military pilot, wrote about explaining her husband's deployment to her daughter:

"So are the men who flew the planes being punished?" she wanted to know.

"Well, they're dead" I replied.

My husband glared. He'd just as soon gloss over all those parts.

"Did children die on the planes, Daddy?"

"NO!" "YES!" - we answered at the same time.

It's hard to know what is too much to say.

How do I explain there are bad people without her five-year-old mind shutting down against more than just the terrorists themselves? How do I explain terrorism without planting fear and mistrust in entire countries of humans? Without her thinking Americans are always the good guys, when we most certainly haven't always been? How we are all human, all of us, and we've all done good things and bad things and we have to try to learn how to live together better with every attempt to drown us in our own fear?

How do I get her to understand the difference between Saddam Hussein and The Last Iraqi, a dentist born, raised and living in Iraq who wrote about a bombing last month near his home:

Just as I opened the door I saw my wife and daughter sitting on the couch and holding each other…I ran to them and hugged them both and I was checking them and crying, they were unharmed, thank god, the living room was filled with shattered glass but both of them were unharmed, what a miracle, thank you God. Usually in the mornings my daughter stands by the window and watches the street but at that day few minutes before the explosion my wife took her and sat with her on the chair near the heater not like any other day when they sit beside the window, it’s a real miracle….

I turned on Christmas day back to my daughter and pulled out a storybook instead of facing the news about the Detroit flight. I didn't want to have the conversation, didn't want to think about the pain and anguish and hate that boils all around us as we try to raise our children to be better people than we are.

Even Umar Abdulmutallab had parents, who apparently tried to turn him in. Fran Johns writes at True/Slant about her questions for the Mutallabs:

Every parent has a collection of those stories. Most of us, though, are looking at things like potential pre-teen shoplifting; the Mutallabs were looking at potential jihad. Did their son never have doubts? Were the people who persuaded him to try blowing himself and a plane load of others to smithereens so convincing he never looked back? When did he turn from being his parent’s son to a jihadist tool? What amount of wrenching debate preceded his father’s call to American security people?

Someone asked me recently why more bloggers -- particularly women -- aren't writing about the Christmas day near-miss. I can only speak for myself when I say ... I'm so tired. I'm so tired of the hate.

I'm so tired of trying to walk that line Erin writes about between reassuring a child he's safe and making that child view other people as less than human. But I know I have to, because it is my job as her parent to teach my daughter right from wrong. It is an exhausting job.

I am furious with Umar Abdulmutallab. I am beyond furious with Al-Qaeda. I am tempted -- I admit it! -- I am so tempted to hate vast groups of people for being related to or otherwise associated with this man, this group. I want to wash my hands of terror -- of all of it -- sweep it under the rug and gather my wagons in a circle.

But I can't and won't teach that reaction to my daughter. I want her to be better than I am. I don't want her to have to unlearn any moral lesson I have taught her.

There are many things in this world that I don't know how to explain to my girl, but I'm going to do my best to keep her from taking out her anger on innocent people. There is so much to lose if I don't.

Rita Arens writes at Surrender Dorothy and BlogHer and is the editor of Sleep is for the Weak. She is BlogHer's assignment and syndication editor.


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