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Thoughts on gun control, protecting our children

Sandyhook Elementary mom Nicole Hockley said this after today’s shooting in Nevada: “It’s moments like this that demand that we unite as parents to find common sense solutions that keep our children — all children — safe, and prevent these tragedies from happening again and again.”

She is right. And while I am in favor of gun control laws, I don’t think this is the only answer. I believe parental control,  parental presence and parental access to mental health care are crucial components as well.

I grew up with guns. I believe in the right to bear arms. I believe in the right to hunt for food. But I also believe in gun control. I believe in gun safety and gun safes and locked gun cabinets and gun training. I believe I have the right to know if there are guns in the homes of my children’s friends. I have the right to know where you keep them and what your children know about them and who has access to them.

I also believe in parental control. Call me old-fashioned or religious or conservative or whatever you want to call me, but I honestly believe my most important job in the whole world is paying attention to my children, keeping them safe, and teaching them the difference between right and wrong.  A parent’s job is to do his or her absolute best to raise children who are good human beings.

And it is not easy. I know the world is smaller for me and my kids because they are young. But we are already having conversations with my 5-year-old after another child threatened to “shoot him” and other children if they didn’t slide faster. We talk about what to do if we see guns at school or in someone’s home or car. It is hard to prepare a child and not terrify him at the same time.

Parental control also extends to what we allow our children to be exposed to. I admit I have probably been a little lax in the media monitoring department. He has seen a Transformers movie and he watches superhero cartoons and a lot of Scooby Doo. He plays Lego Batman and Starwars on the Xbox. He is not allowed to watch anything that I consider violent, suggestive, realistic or scary.  He goes to church, and he loves God. He is developing a sense of empathy and sympathy, and though I fear he will be tender-hearted, I am nurturing that. It is important to me that he is grounded in faith and love, in right and wrong. I volunteer at their school, I meet friends and parents. I talk to teachers. I am trying to do all the “right” things, all the things that I read about staying connected and involved. But I also know my life is different than that of lots of other parents in this country. My children have two parents, I have the ability to work part-time. My husband’s medical and mental health background allows him a more in-depth perspective about what is “normal” behavior and what is appropriate. And again, my kids are young. How hard will it be to monitor them when they play sports, start driving, surf the net?

After the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I read a chilling blog from a mother with a mentally ill son. The premise of her article — she feared he could easily swing out of control and hurt others. She gave up her full-time freelance writing career and took a job that had mental healthcare benefits so her son could get the treatment he needs. Guess what? Not every parent can do that.

Do you know how many children do not have access to medical and mental health care? Affordable medication and counseling? According to the Children’s Defense Fund, 7.2 MILLION children go without care in this country. I don’t know if Obamacare is the answer, but I know having children who are in crisis but cannot get help is fundamentally wrong and irresponsible. We have to find ways to help parents get the help their children need.

And parents, we have to be available to our kids. We work too much. Americans work longer work weeks than any other developed country in the world. In 1960, only about 20 percent of women had to work. They were home with their children. Now, more like 70 percent of all kids are raised in homes where all adults work full time. Hear me sisters — I’m not saying women should exit the workplace. I chose to stop working full-time because I could make that choice.  It was important to me and to my husband that one of us was with our children and we were able to make sacrifices to do that.

I don’t care who stays home, do whatever works for your family. But parents, we have to be home more. Period. Lawmaker and employers, you have to get on board. Our children are paying the ultimate price. And we are too. If you can’t stop working, set boundaries with your time. Wednesdays are church nights for us. Period. Our Sundays are family days. Period. Church in the morning. Lunch with the extended family when possible. After lunch, no housework, no  computer work. Family time. If we need to run an errand, we all go. We have one-on-one dates with the kids, too. Doesn’t have to be expensive, could be a trip to the library or a walk or playtime at the park. But it is focused, present time. I’m not saying it’s easy to put your children first most of the time, either. But here is the honest truth: children who know they are your priority are more secure, happier and resilient. I am not being preachy. I know not everyone believes in God or organized religion. But I urge you to find something you can believe in together, something that will instill virtue and provide mentor opportunities.

I know that all the planning and preparation may not prevent terrible things from happening. But if just one child could be saved, could grow up to lead a happy and fulfilling life, wouldn’t it be worth the effort?

It is time parents. It is time to say our children are our priority and it is time to prove it.

What are your thoughts? How are you talking to your children about guns and gun violence? What are you doing to make a difference? Please join the conversation!


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