“Russia has invaded Ukraine,” my husband had an unusually serious expression as he relayed this news to me yesterday morning and I could tell it was hitting him heavily. We spent a lot of the day in the car, so I spent much of that time digging into what all this means for those suffering in Ukraine, for those protesting the war in Russia, and for us. My heart has felt heavy as I’ve seen commentary about the suffering of children and parents, photos of Ukrainians praying together, Russians speaking out and gathering to protest, and countless social media calls to prayer interspersed with the breaking news. My stomach knotted when I saw a clip on Instagram of babies from a hospital NICU in a makeshift bomb shelter in Dnipro, one of the targets of missile strikes. I absolutely cannot imagine waking up in the morning to the sounds of bombing and seeing destruction and injury all around me. As the U.S. and others around the world condemn the actions of Russia, we hold our breaths to see what will happen in the days to come.
As we take in the news of what’s happening in Ukraine, it can feel overwhelming to know what to do with this information. I tend to swing between wanting to bury my head in the sand and taking in every last piece of news so I can be fully up to date and informed. I’m learning the balance: not to guzzle social media but also learning that as a compassionate and intentional member of humanity, I can’t scroll past the news. Yesterday I listened to this episode of The Daily so that I could connect my heart to what’s happening so far away in this Texas sized country. As a mom, things get extra complicated when we are trying to explain the complexities of the world to our children, and, Lord help us, we’ve had to do a lot of that in the past few years.
Last year, a social worker gave my husband and me some really helpful advice that guided us in communicating heavy news with our children. She reminded us that children are often more perceptive than we realize and at the same time, the unknown is scarier to them than simple, straightforward facts. So while we don’t need to burden them with every detail, giving some palatable insight into what is happening is more helpful than trying to keep things secretive. This is especially true if we are watching the news when they’re in and out of the room or talking to another adult about what’s going on. I think it varies greatly between families on what is appropriate and what kids need to know. If kids are in school and will be surrounded by others who might bring things up, it’s probably best for them to hear a little more from mom and dad first. With world events, I tend to err on the side of less information because my children are aged seven and under and are mostly at home with me. At the same time, I want them to care about more than just their own little worlds, so engaging in simple ways is good for them.
With my 7 and 4.5 year old daughters, I will probably stick to a very simple explanation when I feel it becomes necessary: “Two countries are at war with each other, and the people in Ukraine need our prayers for protection, guidance, and rescue.” I will assure them we are safe, carrying in my heart the reality that Ukrainian parents can’t tell their kids the same thing. We will follow it up with praying together as a family. I really liked a resource from the website Baby Devotions that gives a lot of context for the country of Ukraine including some beautiful picture book recommendations and ways to specifically pray. I feel like learning about the country with my kids is a way to honor the people who are suffering.
For older kids, a fellow Red Stick Mom recommended the YouTube channel CNN-10, and the episode from yesterday: A Game of Chess, was really helpful. It explains the news in a “non-panicky,” straightforward, and engaging way. I appreciated the advice from the Pantsuit Politics podcast (Russia Invades Ukraine, minute 42:45 of the episode) that we can answer our kids’ questions and not feel the pressure to explain every bit of everything right now because ultimately this will be a long game of conversation. I’ve also learned that just because a kid doesn’t bring something up, it doesn’t mean they’re not thinking about it. So making sure to return to the topic for follow up can be really beneficial.
In addition to praying and learning, there are reputable organizations to donate to for hands-on-the-ground help. A non-profit that I’ve seen trusted resources recommend is The Ukraine-based Voices of Children which is an organization that provides psychological and psychosocial support to children who have been traumatically affected by war.
As I rocked my baby to sleep last night, I held the tension of deep gratitude for our safety and a heart weighed down with grief for the mamas who are hunkered down in hiding, desperate for the same safety and praying for peace. I join them in prayer, asking God to move on their behalf.