Sunday, January 4, 2009

Parenting During a War: Challenging Choices

Raising children during a war presents unique challenges. Thankfully, we live far enough away from Gaza that I find it difficult to imagine rockets landing here. Unfortunately, Yad Binyamin sits close enough to Gaza that the army (or the Defense Minister) insists that we should the schools closed. (A lot of discussion here revolves around the question of how much politics play a role in this situation. Would Ehud Barak have closed all the schools if he wasn't up for reelection in a month? Sure, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, but other facts do come into play.) This has created the unusual situation that looking around everything seems quiet and normal, but because they’re stuck at home on a bright sunny day, children intuitively know that something is wrong.
Personally, I don't feel that much more tense than normal. I studied in Israel during the first Gulf War in 1991 when Saddam Hussein lobbed Scud missiles at us (and no one knew whether he was kind enough to arm them with chemical or biological warheads). Sitting in a hermetically sealed room with a gas mask and an atropine pen at the ready - that was scary.
But my children do not enjoy the “benefit” of my past experience. They just know that there's a war, and that the "bad guys" are shooting rockets at Israel. So they're very much on edge. For example:
• Last night before havdalah, for some reason my alarm clock in my bedroom went off - a regular "alarm-clock" beep. Several of our children began to cry, wondering if that was the sound of the siren, and whether they should run upstairs to the mamad (sealed room). It was quite eye-opening.
• When we learned that there wouldn't be any school today, we decided to go as a family on a small trip - probably to a park somewhere. My son asked that wherever we go, could it please be "out of range?" Sure.
• This morning listening to the radio, the news played some of the sounds from Gaza. Hearing the radio from upstairs, two kids came down with worried looks on their faces, wondering if the noise was "close." I explained that the sounds weren't here - but "there." But I turned the radio off quickly.
Last night we received a nice letter from the school's psychologist about how to deal with our children during the war. I found the letter somewhat confusing. On one hand, we're supposed to be honest and forthright because kids know that something's up. On the other hand, the letter suggests that we shield them as much as possible from images or media that might overly frighten them.
All good advice. But where's the line between not enough information and too much? How much do I tell, and how much do I hide?
I guess that's the perennial parental struggle. Only in war, the issues become that much more pressing.