Parenting with Heartbreak
Parenting with Heartbreak
three houses in silhouette on a hill at night, windows lit and stars above

In a pandemic, amid outcry over police murders of black people, how can a mother address the gravity of these traumas without sending children into despair?

I often go to bed during this pandemic wondering if my heart can hurt anymore. Then I wake up and see the news and my heartache continues. I wonder what to say to my children.

What do I say to my little one, versus what I say to my teens about the state of our country? How can I keep some sense of normalcy in their everyday lives when I just want to scream and shout and cry in pain, sadness, and anger? And how can I explain to them the gravity of our current state without also sending them into despair and hopelessness?

My five-year old is autistic and has more love and life and laughter than anyone else I know. How do I share things with her without snuffing out her light? I’ve chosen to call this time of COVID-19 as “the sickness” with her. We also refer to it as “the time of sickness.” When she asks about going to the beach or wonders why she can’t go inside grandma’s house, I remind her that it’s “the time of the sickness” and we will go when it is safe to go. We talk about keeping our loved ones safe and healthy and how we all make sacrifices so that everyone can be safe. We honor her frustration and we do fun activities and that is as much as I chose to share with her at this point because I feel that is enough.

The other two in my house are thirteen and sixteen. I want them to understand the full gravity of the pandemic and the race tensions. I want them to understand the police violence and the injustices. I want them to know how the pandemic affects communities in different ways. I share with them my hurt and my pain and my anger. I let them see my tears. I ask them to think and reflect and share their own feelings. We talk about what they might share with their grandchildren when they reflect back on 2020 years and years from now. We talk about where they see us going as a country, as a family and as part of the Unitarian Universalist faith.

Some nights I sit in my yard at my fire pit and stare at them through the window. Not in a creepy way but in admiration. We can have these difficult conversations and, moments later, they’re engrossed in a video game or laughing on the phone with friends. We also sit around the dining room table playing games and laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. And yet, inevitably, one or the other will crawl in my bed late at night, the tears streaming down their face. Sometimes words come with the tears and other times we sit in silence with the weight of it all pinning us to the bed.

These times are tough. I want to live fully and presently in the moment. I want to understand and embrace. I want to challenge and love. I want to be present for the full complexities we are facing right now and I want to press on. I want to have hope. I so desperately want to have hope. And I feel spending all day, every day in the house with my three kids, allows me to go to bed each night with a glimmer of hope as I kiss them all goodnight. With all that is pressing down on us, they have hope. They share their dreams for our country and our world. They believe in humanity and in our ability to come together and I hold on to their hopes and dreams in my own desire to one day have hope again myself. But for now, I kiss them, I hold them tight and I am grateful for the gifts they give me.

Find more UU wisdom for parents and caregivers in this time of pandemic and racial trauma, in the UUA's LeaderLab Library.

About the Author

  • Rayla D. Mattson serves as the Director of Religious Education for the Unitarian Society of Hartford (Connecticut). Outside of congregational life, she is raising her three beautiful children as a single mom.

For more information contact callandresponse@uua.org.

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