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Parents Must Think Not Just of Ukraine During This Crisis But of OURkraine

By Allan Shedlin

Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group

Ukrainian father with his son on shoulders holding flag and flowers
PHOTO credit: Getty Images

Getting into bed, and as “I lay me down to sleep” – the beginning words from a prayer I used to say nightly as a child at bedtime – other dim reminders of a long-ago childhood enveloped me as the heroism and horrors unfolded in Ukraine.


As images of bombed-out buildings, street fighting, and everyday citizens taking up arms flashed before me, the words of Spanish philosopher, George Santayana came to mind, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Other images and words flooded in – an almost overwhelming disturbance, sadness, and determination to do something, anything. But what could I do? What could any of us do directly from thousands of miles away?


Maia Mikhaluk photographed children playing in the "surreal" bomb sites in Kyiv, Ukraine. (PHOTO: PA)

The vast international mobilization of outrage is of comfort, as is the gathering of various resources which may or may not actually be able to get directly to those most in need when it is most needed.


So what can I do? What can you do?


I have begun thinking of Ukraine as OURkraine – a spontaneous coalition of the just. What’s happening in OURkraine might be considered “local” during a time when the plethora of photos of our planet from outer space reminds us that we are one. A global pandemic and our economic interconnectedness highlight how interdependent and intertwined our fortunes and misfortunes are.


This is a “teachable moment” if ever there was one, and we must seize it as such!


Please close your eyes and listen – really listen – to this before you read on. Now, open your eyes and note who is singing and imagine your child – or one you know – being in that chorus of hope and prayer. Imagine Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's children, Oleksandra and Kyryl, in that chorus and listen again.


Listen as many times as you need and want to.


I am haunted by the images that play across the screens of our lives. And I am haunted by phrases like “World War III,” and “mounting casualties.” Given my lifelong work and dedication to children, dads, and families, I’m especially haunted by the phrase the fathers left behind. And photos like these:


A woman with two children walk towards the border with Slovakia near the Ukrainian city of Welykyj Beresnyj following the Russian invasion. (PHOTO: Peter Lazar/AFP via Getty Images)

Paramedics perform CPR on a girl injured during shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine. The girl did not survive. (PHOTO: Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

A father hugs his daughter as the family reunite after fleeing conflict in Ukraine, at the Medyka border crossing, in Poland, Feb. 27, 2022. (PHOTO: AP/Visar Kryeziu)

Refugees from many countries, including from Africa, Middle East, and India, most students of Ukrainian universities are seen at the Medyka pedestrian border crossing fleeing the conflict in Ukraine, in eastern Poland, February 27, 2022. (PHOTO: Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)

Here’s something we all can do: we can engage our children in discussions about what is going on so our collective awareness might contribute to a collective response geared to preventing the catastrophic continuance of the siege of OURkraine – indeed, it is imperative that we engage with our kids. And we can assure them that we will always do everything in our power to keep them safe.


Of course, whatever we decide to discuss must be informed by our children’s developmental level and capacities, their sensibilities, as well as our own comfort level. After gaining a sense of what they already know, and a readiness to correct any misconceptions, here are some suggestions for parents, teachers, and others on the frontlines with children to calm worries that may hamper/interfere with healthy functioning:

  1. Acknowledge that we all have feelings about what is going on and remind them (and ourselves) that all feelings are okay, no feelings are right or wrong.

  2. Acknowledge that these are scary times that provoke a range of worries and scary thoughts. Encourage, but do not force kids, to share these thoughts with you.

  3. Ask “Who is Volodymyr Zelensky? How do you think he feels as a daddy? And who is Olena Volodymyrivna Zelenska? How do you think she feels as a mommy? Who are Oleksandra and Kyryl Zelensky? How do you think they are feeling?”

  4. Use this time as an opportunity to consider what is truly important; what merits fighting for, getting upset about, and what does not.

  5. What would you stand up for; be willing to “fight” for?

  6. What examples have you seen, or know about, that are positive, courageous?

  7. Are there any values to being vulnerable?

  8. Discuss the responsibilities and obligations of power.

  9. Point out that although there are some very frustrated, angry, and disturbed people in the world, most people behave reasonably most of the time. Talk about what makes people angry and discuss various ways in which one can show anger and deal with frustrations.

  10. What can you do, we do, that might be helpful to those currently engaged in this awful situation? Here is an excellent list compiled by The Washington Post.

  11. Will this have an impact on our lives? In what possible ways?

Now repeat: "We will always do everything in our power to keep you safe." And now let’s listen together:



After giving our children extra hugs as they deal with the emotional shrapnel of more than two years of covidious disruption and this most recent addition to the world's insanity, as we lay ourselves down to sleep tonight, let us pray for the alleged “Number One target” and “Number Two target" and their children. They are, after all, our children too because they are living in OURkraine.



 

Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.