parent opinion

'The 6 things I'm teaching my children after the deaths of six women in the past week.'

Six women killed in 5 days? It used to be one a week, now we’ve hit 52 for the year and it’s not even the end of October. Jesus Christ people. What the hell is going on? How are we producing people so broken that murder is achingly common? And what can we do about it?

Jacqueline Francis, Nicole Cartwright, Kristie Powell, Gayle Potter, Julie Cooper, Beverley Quinn, Mara Harvey and her three young daughters. These are just the latest in a long line of women whose lives were taken. This is painful enough to write. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live this experience.

As humans we have a social contract to look after each other, to protect each other, and that contract was broken. That’s on all of us. The one thing that all the men who did this have in common is that they came up in this world of ours. There were older people in their lives who they learned from, and this is where it led them.

There are multiple ways we can and should respond to this crisis. We need to fund frontline (police and ambulance) and backline (support groups) services to stop it. But I’m not a legislator. And besides, a lot of the people committing these crimes are in breach of Domestic Violence Orders. The courts had (arguably) done their job. This is down to individuals and how they relate to our society.

And so we inevitably come back to the fact that these men used to be kids. Precious, impressionable, innocent, kids. Kids born in to a world with a violent history. Kids born of a long line of generations that fought hard enough to survive, but into a world where survival instinct is mostly redundant. Where we don’t need to hunt for our food or fight the next village to assert our supremacy. That latent aggression, and the frustration of its suppression, are very real things. Now I am not an evolutionary biologist, but nor am I a genetic determinist. I believe in agency, responsibility, and the adaptability of the human spirit. I believe that with the right modelling we can set our kids on the right path, so they don’t become violent, dangerous individuals.

That’s our jobs as parents. To give our kids the skills to cope with life and all that it entails. And dealing with rage and frustration is one of the most important skills there is. Breaking the cycle of intergenerational violence is hard bloody work. But we’ve got to give it our best.

So, here’s a start:

Model Gentleness

Kids live what they see. They’re sponges. They soak it all in, and when they’re squeezed, what we put in there comes gushing out. The way we behave in front of them is how they behave in turn. So be aware of it. Take extra care to be kind and gentle, especially to those smaller than you, and that’s what they will do too.

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Acknowledge their frustration

A lot of the time, kids just want to be heard. That’s all any of us want really. Feeling validated gives them the strength they need to process their emotions and experiences. Don’t say “stop crying”, say “I can see you’re frustrated. I know you how you feel, it sucks and I’m sorry.” It’ll go a long way. Janet Lansbury has written loads about this and it’s great stuff.

Speak positively

When we say “don’t hit”, they hear the word “hit”. We’re bringing that language back into the mix. Instead, try to use positive language. Use words you want in their heads. “Be nice, let’s share”. Ask Orwell about the importance of vocabulary.

Be firm and respectful

When you do say ‘no’ though, stick to it. Kids need boundaries. They’re constantly looking for limits, and take comfort when they find them. It gives them a sense of security. If they know they can get away with anything, it’s chaos, and the human mind doesn’t cope well with chaos. Follow through on your commitments. Let them make their choices, respect those decisions.

Be Honest

In all likelihood, you’ll get mad yourself. Kids can be obstinate, irrational actors who haven’t learned the socialisation skills that make adults partly bearable. Sometimes you will yell at them. It’s going to happen. Anger happens. That’s why we’re talking about this in the first place, so there’s no point pretending otherwise. Use it as a learning experience. You’re human. You make mistakes. Tell them that. Show them what to do in that situation. “Gosh, I yelled at you there, didn’t I? I was frustrated and I got upset. But we should speak nicely shouldn’t we, I’m sorry. I love you.”

Get help

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop. Take some deep breaths. Then get help. Don’t bottle it up, and don’t shy away from it. Admit it. We do no one any favours by sweeping it under the rug. The feelings of isolation and denial are a recipe for exactly the kind of explosion we’re trying to avoid. Seek support. There are the staples like Beyond Blue and Lifeline, and in the age of social media there are plenty of groups and pages out there, for parents, men, and fathers. Life of Dad, Direct Advice 4 Dads, Hills District Dads, The Dad, etc. Reach out and ask for support or advice and you’ll be amazed at what comes flooding back, I promise you.

So there we go. Every experience is different of course and I hope you find what works for you. It takes a village guys. Reach out, and make sure everyone’s ok. Talk to someone at the playground. Have a laugh. Be excellent to each other. Good luck.

Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue at 1300 22 4636.

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