This is one of the hardest blogs I have ever written, harder even than the one about failure. You see, I have been asked my thoughts about the latest school shooting. Like many people, my thoughts and emotions are scattered, and being the parent of a child with early trauma has changed how I see things even more.
When the Columbine shooting happened, I had three children, all emotionally healthy. One was in preschool, one in kindergarten, and one a senior in high school. I remember hugging all three and realizing that everything I’d known had changed. I was now afraid. My teen attended a high school with an open campus – this meant the kids could leave for lunch. No doors were locked in any of my kids’ schools. The younger two were in a private school where the classroom doors opened to an outside walkway. When I volunteered in the classroom, I just walked right in. Nobody thought anything of it. A few schools had begun to implement security because of issues with non-custodial parents, but still, most parents felt their kids were safe at school. Our biggest worry was bullies, not shooters.
I hated that awful feeling that my children could potentially be victims. Then I learned a worse feeling, the unspeakable, secret worry that your child, the one you loved and raised, could be so broken he might one day become a shooter. This fear drives us to fight daily for the child’s healing, to take precautions to prevent the unthinkable. It also means getting punched in the gut every time we hear about a shooting and read how it must be the parents’ fault.
I personally do not believe there is any single thing we can point to as the cause. It would be so much easier if we could, but I’ve read and read and even the experts can’t agree. At best, they acknowledge that it’s a combination of things, a perfect storm if you will. In no particular order, suggested culprits include early trauma, mental illness, loss, lack of religion or a moral code, lack of discipline, bullying, loneliness, exposure to hate groups, violent media (video games, music, TV, films), abuse, anger, access to guns and gun culture, social media, lack of mentors, a culture that takes life too lightly, the list goes on and on. It’s probably a different combination in every attack.
Now suppose your child already has an ingredient or two on that list. How do we help these kids? My child’s ingredients included early childhood trauma, mental illness, and difficulty making friends. To cope, I have let go of what I cannot control in order to focus on what I can. I do not allow violent video games. I have no guns in my home (we moved our hunting rifles to a relative’s home). We take our son to church. We spend time as a family. He has strong male role models in his life. We limit screen time greatly. He has no cell phone, even if claims he is the only child on the planet who does not [manager’s aside: my son can assure him that he’s not!] He has done counseling. We monitor what he listens to and what he reads. We work hard to be sure no more ingredients get sucked into his inner storm.
Let me say that it is hard. Others don’t understand and feel free to criticize. The child might be sweet in front of teachers and other parents who cannot see the storm. Sometimes other kids see, but they feel helpless, afraid the teachers won’t believe them, so instead they just avoid him. It’s too bad the other kids don’t know to tell his parents, who would also love to be believed. Parents like us wake up in a cold sweat fearing for our children’s future. We read and research, learn to be therapeutic parents. We search our children’s rooms, wishing we didn’t have to, feeling guilty all the while. We take our kids to counseling, attend meetings, try medications, lock up dangerous items, anything to stop them from acting too impulsively. We do all this yet sometimes get little in return: our children rage and cuss us out, while other parents talk, behind our backs and to our fronts.
If you’re reading this and it reminds you even little bit of you, you might want to do what I did and join support groups for parents whose children are brewing storms inside. These groups fight both to protect their children and to protect others from their children. Also, know that if this is a battle you’re fighting, you’re my unsung heroes, even if you don’t feel like it, even if you are barely hanging on. No one may ever know how hard you worked for every inch of healing in your child. I do, though. I see it and I salute you. Thank you.