I CHOOSE NOT TO SHIELD MY SON FROM THE HORRIBLE THINGS, BECAUSE THE HORRIBLE THINGS NEED PEOPLE LIKE HIM TO HELP FIX THEM.
There are a lot of moments in a child’s life that make their parents stop and think. I had one of these the other day.
Recently I began to volunteering for Free The Girls. One of the things I have had the pleasure of doing is spreading awareness at local events. Volunteers set up a tent, hang bras from the sides, sell tshirts, hand out fliers and talk to the public about what we do. I have really enjoyed this. I love to see the way our cheeky name and colorful bras attract people’s attention. The reward is the look on their faces when I explain what we do and how they can help.
Last week I got an email asking for volunteers at an event not far from my home. I said that I could come, but I would have to bring my 7-year-old son. He had an extracurricular class not far from the event and I wouldn’t have time to take him to a sitter or a friend’s house in between. The volunteer coordinator said that, of course, I could bring him and she would welcome my help at the event.
The morning of the event, I took my son to class and we were the first people there. As my son was getting out his mat, he proudly told the instructor that he was going to volunteer after class. She praised him and asked what we would be volunteering for. His response was, “You know the people who are kidnapped or sold? And bad people make them do things they don’t want to like work for them? It’s not nice. My mom helps those people and I am going to help, too.”
I was proud of him. He understood what we had discussed and wanted to help. The teacher’s response, however, was a little less positive. She stumbled over her words, saying, “Oh dear! Stay close to your mom!”
I thought maybe she misunderstood, so I explained that we were going to an event that was focused on raising awareness for human trafficking. Her eyebrows knitted together as she looked from my son to me and, with a deep sigh, she said, “He’s so young.”
At this point, some moms might have stopped and questioned their decision. When an older, possibly wiser, woman suggests that maybe my child is too young for a particular subject, I don’t usually dismiss her outright. I usually take her thoughts into consideration. But this time, I did not. I had already thought through the possible scenarios and prepared my son for what we would be doing that day.
I had no concrete idea what the day would be like because, it was the first year Free The Girls had participated in the event. I knew there might be more than one organization raising awareness about human trafficking. I thought about what he might see or hear that could affect him. I thought about if it could harm him. I didn’t feel it would. Even if he did hear or see something that would upset him, we need to talk about the realities of our world and I would rather him talk to me about it than someone else. He is a very empathetic boy and I don’t mind him learning to use that empathy for good.
After thinking through the options, I decided to take him for several reasons. There are scary horrible things in this world, and there are beautiful joyous things. Just because I don’t see the horrible things every day doesn’t mean they don’t exist. If I shield my son from the bad, how does that benefit anyone? It doesn’t. If we are to fight against injustice and pain, then we need to know what we are fighting for. If we can’t name our enemy, how do we know who that enemy is?
If I let him think that our little corner of the universe is what the whole thing looks like, I’m doing him, and society, a great disservice. It’s okay with me if he knows that there are children in the world who don’t have what they need (including safety), that there are mean people in the world who hurt others, that some children or their parents could have something as horrible as human trafficking happen to them. In fact, I want him to know those things. Maybe one day he will be moved to make a difference in the lives of other people. That won’t happen if he has no idea who needs help or why.
We talked the night before about what Free The Girls does. I told him simply that there are people in the world who are kidnapped or sold by people they trust. That the people who take them do not treat them well. The kidnappers make them work doing jobs that are really hard or really hurtful to them. Sometimes they have to work all day and night, and sometimes the work is in places that aren’t clean or safe. They aren’t fed well or taken to the doctor. They aren’t kept warm or cool. They never see their families again and, if they have children, their children are also sold and not treated nicely. Their lives are very hard and they can’t escape very often.
But, then, I told him the good part. The part where organizations like Free The Girls are helping these people. That even if we help just one person we have made a difference. I told him a little about Free The Girls’ program and how it helps the women start up businesses so they can work for themselves and provide for their families.
The event went just fine. There wasn’t a lot of people stopping by our tent during my shift, so my son mostly sat and played games on the iPad after his long first week at school. There wasn’t anything scary to see or hear. He didn’t even really pay attention to my conversations with the public. That was fine with me, too. He is very talkative and I had discussed with him about how mom and the other volunteers needed to do the talking–we had to make sure we told people about what we do truthfully–and about how his part in the volunteering would be to be good so mom could be there.
He didn’t have to learn anything about sexual slavery to understand that human trafficking is a horrible thing and something worth committing our Saturday morning to help stop. One day, when he is old enough, he will learn the rest of the story, too. For now, he knows enough to care.
In the end, my son learned a little about human trafficking, volunteering, and how we can help others even if they are on the other side of the world. I choose not to shield my son from the horrible things, because the horrible things need people like him to help fix them. I want him to learn that one person at a time, we can make a difference. And, because he helped me make the time to volunteer, perhaps one person I talked to that morning was inspired to help.
Blog and photo courtesy of Ashley Kochkanyan. Ashley is full-time mom who volunteers a few hours a week for Free The Girls. To learn more about volunteering, email our volunteer manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.