I married a gentle, quiet man, who grew up hunting and fishing. We have five sons. At eight-years-old, our boys get to go hunting with him. They learn how to prepare for hunting by studying deer behavior and patterns in the woods and they get to watch gun preparation and care. They also get to shoot at a local gun range. When the time comes they sit with my husband while he hunts.
By age nine, if they have earned the privilege through trust and developed skill, they get to hunt with my husband. Last fall our third born got his first deer. Between my husband and oldest three sons, we have six deer to eat for the year and were able to give one away. As a family, we own nine hunting guns. They are kept in a gun safe under lock when not used.
With four hunters in our family, we have talked about guns in our home for years. Due to national news reports and curious children, we have talked about shootings in our home for at least two years. The increased news regarding police-officers and deaths began the conversation. School shootings have continued the conversation. It is a conversation no one wants to have.
I remember where I was when the Paducah, KY school shooting was on the news December 1, 1997. It seemed unreal.
I remember where I was when the Columbine school shooting was announced April 20, 1999. It was horrifying.
Last week, I was home with two sick kids when the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida was announced. It was no longer unreal or horrifying. It was too normal for me and my kids.
People said nothing would change. If nothing changed after Sandy Hook, then we were doomed to simply be a nation riddled with school shootings. But something has changed.
This most recent school shooting followed by countless copy-cat threats, one in my own county, has awoken us to the reality that this is not a problem for some, but a problem for me, for all of us.
20 years of increased school shootings and threats of shootings have pushed us to action. We are no longer reeling from the shock, we are moving into action.
For some that will mean speaking out and marching like kids in Florida.
For most of us, that will mean we choose to engage this hard conversation with our kids because we must.
How do we have this hard conversation with our kids?
Five practices from A Life Shared: Meaningful Conversations with Our Kids can guide you through this hard conversation.
Embrace the awkward. Kids are dying in schools. My school district handled a threat last weekend. No one wants to talk about this, but we really don’t have that luxury anymore. Talk about it as adults. There is a huge role in this conversation for Adult Conversation Only (ACO). Talk about it as a family, family conversation only (FCO). Talk about it more pointedly with your older kids, one-on-one conversation.
Be honest. Yes, our kids could live through a school shooting. They know that. It’s time for us to empower innocence in our kids without being naïve as parents. Share your feelings with one another as adults. Let your kids share their feelings with you.
Keep it simple. Only answer the questions your kids ask or address one point if you began the conversation. Do not turn the conversation into a monologue where you sound like Charlie Brown’s school teacher “waa waa waaa” because your kids will check-out. Sometimes naming something and letting your kids know you are there for them is enough to begin the conversation. This is not a one-and-done kind of conversation.
Use terms that make sense to them. This will vary for different age kids. Just make sure you talk at their level with vocabulary they understand. If you need to introduce a new word, define it in simple terms.
Present the facts, just the facts. This is the hardest part of this conversation. This conversation has so many feelings in and around it. But there are facts. What are the facts? What news sources are reliable? How do you define the terms being used in the conversation? Do you know what an assault rifle is? This conversation requires education. Because my oldest sons know more about guns than I do, I ask them a lot of questions and learn a lot from them. We are doing research and creating reasons for our actions and concerns. Our children will soon be adults. This hard conversation can be a true empowerment for who they choose to be and the way they shape their community.
This conversation has been sustained for us as a family with each new shooting and sincere questions our children have asked. With two middle schoolers, we choose to inform them of shootings instead of them hearing about them from other kids at school.
We want to be there for them with any questions or concerns they have. We do not have all the answers, but we can make space for them to ask questions and share their hearts. We can share this part of life with our kids.
“Ultimately, this hard conversation invites us to live by faith. Life is full of unknowns, loss of control, circumstances no one wanted. When we name those things, when we admit our lack of knowing, when the answer is one thing, but we wish it was another, we can reach out in faith as a family to the One who sees, hears, and knows. We can talk with Him and walk by faith with our kids.
I would rather walk by sight, but for now I must walk by faith through this hard conversation. If we walk together with our faith in the One who is faithful, the hard conversations can only enrich us because we are facing them together.”
Guns and school shootings are a hard conversation. There are no easy answers and so many questions. Be safe space for your kids to wonder out loud.
Sometimes safe space is all they need. Sometimes talking through hard things leads to action that brings safety so many desperately long for.
Be encouraged. You are not alone. Other families are having this hard conversation too.