Anyone who has raised children will tell you that it isn’t easy.
And, while my experience raising children is limited to one child and only over a 10 year period, I freely admit that my experience is still very limited.
In my brief tenure in the land of parenthood, I can say that the innocence of childhood has been a gift to witness.
As a parent you want to shelter and protect that innocence for as long as possible. With the world we live in, I knew that sheltering our son from the big bad world wasn’t going to be easy nor would it last long. We live in a society where our children are bombarded daily by content that is not at all age appropriate whether its on the radio, prime time TV, a commercial that airs during prime time TV, or even through the exposure to society in general via their day to day existence in school.
We cannot control the experiences of all of the children who will come into contact with our own child. Those classmates and friends that surround them every day will always bring an element of unknown into our children’s realms of existence. Whether language, movies, songs, etc., that’s not something parents have ever been able to control, nor should we.
I had however hoped my son’s innocence would last a little longer than it has.
It’s probably very naive of me to think of my child as wholly innocent, with little knowledge about the outside world, and that at 10 years old, this child who still believes in Santa Claus, still lives completely inside the protective bubble in which I’ve tried to encase him. After all, I’ve sent him out into the big bad world for school going on 5 years now.
So, yes, our son watches gamers on YouTube and plays Fortnight. Yes, he comes home with some of that little boy humor that he hears at school. Yes, he occasionally wields a big blossoming tween attitude. Yet, recent events have been a stark awakening, and as a result, his father and I had to intentionally strip away some of his childish innocence and explain things about the world to him, and it broke my heart.
Without going into too much detail, an older boy asked my son to write down some music lyrics. Why this boy asked my son to do this or what purpose this was meant to serve is completely beyond me. While this may seem like an innocent ask, the lyrics themselves were pretty bad. Several of the words my son had never heard before and had no idea what they meant. Some he knew and said he didn’t write them (those words are in a different handwriting) and he knew that once the words that he didn’t write (that he did recognize) were filled in, he knew the language was bad and he was ashamed.
I choose to believe my son. I choose to believe that he was lured into writing down song lyrics that used words that we as a family in no way agree with and don’t condone in our home.
Then we had a chat about all of the words he didn’t know, and that’s where the really hard conversation began.
To take a child who just wants to make everyone around him happy, and explain things like derogatory slurs meant to insult people, explain drugs and alcohol to an extent that we’ve never had to before, that was hard. A few times I teared up, a few times my husband teared up, several times our son did too.
Once everything was explained he was ashamed that he had written those words down, so we, once again, spoke about not using words that you don’t know the meaning of, and especially once you know the meaning, especially if they’re derogatory, to definitely never think, say or write those words down.
We talked about standing up for yourself, and also listening to that bad feeling in your stomach, and walking away.
He was sad the rest of the night, was exhausted when he went to bed, and was sick the next day. He had a hard time letting go of what had happened; so that took another chat.
As for us, we both went to bed that night without saying much to each other. You could tell that we were both sad, that we were mourning something intangible. When my husband finally said good night, I asked him, “Is it just me or does it feel like we stripped away some of his innocence today?” He quickly said that yes, it did.
We lost something that night that can’t be found, not in our son, not again, but that’s the journey of life.
We all lose our innocence. The lesson is in what we do with the knowledge once gained.
Innocence is brief, far shorter than any parent would wish it to be. The world in which we live encroaches more and more on childhood, demanding they grow up too fast, stripping away the protective layers of innocence at far too young an age.
I’ve fought to protect him for 10 years.
What I learned, once I was able to understand my grief, is that now my parenting has to move onto the next stage. Now I must give language to the slings and arrows of the human world and continue to engender in him faith in God, kindness to all people, understanding of others, to not judge anyone for their choices, and a defense of self in soul, body and mind at all times.
But at the moment I’m sad. I need to finish mourning this paradigm shift, and remember my son’s resilience and good nature. He’s so much smarter and stronger than I ever give him credit for, and I give him a lot of credit.