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  • Lauren Bishop

Getting our Heads out of the Sand: Navigating Difficult Conversations with our Kids

As a parent, I struggle with raising kids that are fully aware of what is happening in the world and sheltering them from the harsh realities of our present and our past. I don’t want them to grow up thinking it’s okay to put their heads in the sand and ignore issues that are impacting specific groups within our communities. Even if an issue doesn’t impact them directly, I don’t want them to pretend everything is okay and stand by and say nothing. So how do we raise kids to ask questions, especially when the answers are difficult?

For me, it means being honest and empathetic – giving our kids facts that their growing minds can safely absorb and comprehend. It means giving them the support and creating the safe space to ask ANY question. When the news broke about the unmarked burial sites at residential schools, I knew I had to have a talk with my girls (aged 9 and 11):

I have recently been called out for talking to my daughters about the “discovery” of the unmarked grave-sites at residential schools after the post above went “viral” after it was re-posted on Instagram by one of the co-hosts of the Canadian talk show The Social. Comments like “as if a nine-year-old said this”, “I have read this exact post before – stop making stuff up to get attention”, and “children are not mentally capable of processing this type of information and you are a horrible mother for talking about it with them”. I did not go into the heartbreaking and horrific details of sexual, mental, physical and emotional abuse I have been told by survivors. I did not go into the details about inter-generational trauma these “schools” have caused for Indigenous communities for decades.

I wept openly in front of my children as I tried to tell them about the unmarked grave-sites. I have shared my anger about not learning about this dark history of Canada’s until I was 37 years old, when it had taken place in my own backyard in Southern Alberta. I have told them that young children were taken from their homes and asked them to imagine how scary that would have been.

And then … we talked about it. They were given a safe space to ask anything their young minds could think of: “Why were they taken?”; “When did they get to see their parents?”; “Did they get to do fun stuff at the school?”; “Why didn’t they hide?”; “Why didn’t they leave once they realized they didn’t like it?”. I answered their questions honestly and told them it was ok to be sad, mad, confused, as long as they didn’t become numb to what happened in the past, and what is happening now as communities continue efforts to bring these children home to their families.

It is my responsibility to continue this conversation about residential schools and to bring awareness to other issues including missing and murdered Indigenous women and lack of safe water. It is their responsibility to keep asking me questions and become a voice, no matter how soft and timid, for healing and reconciliation.

I am not a parenting guru. I do not have all the answers when it comes to what is best for kids and current events.

I am a mother that wants to ensure my children do not turn their backs to difficult situations and have the confidence to use their voice. I don’t want them to be naïve to social issues, past and present. I want them to ask a million questions in order to make informed decisions. And most of all, I want my daughters to be safe and come home every day after school.

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