Families belong together

I used to consume news all day long. I would listen to NPR on the way to work, on the way home, and any time I was in the car. I would follow all the major news publications and read the latest articles. I’m an activist by nature so it’s in my personality to want to know what’s going on. I’m also Type A and like to be in control–somehow, even though I feel completely helpless when it comes to the injustices of the world, being able to learn and hear about what’s going on made it a little better.
Until I realized that consuming all that news, all that bad news, was making me angry. Not outwardly, necessarily. I still went about my day and functioned normally. But I was churning with exasperation and frustration on the inside. And it was starting to come out in little ways. Like snapping at my kids or my husband. Or having a more negative outlook at work. I didn’t want to be as affected by things that I had no control over, I wanted to be a good steward of all the blessings in front of me.
So, I took a little break. I started listening to podcasts in the car–uplifting podcasts. With speakers who made me feel awesome and inspired. I stopped clicking through to all the articles on Facebook. I cleaned up my newsfeeds so what I saw more often were posts about all the good going on in the world. And it worked, it really did. I didn’t feel so angry any more. I didn’t feel surrounded by so much negativity.
Until recently when news broke about children being separated from their parents at border crossings. Suddenly, it was all over every one of my apps, from almost everyone that I follow. Friends were speaking out about it. Favorite writers and creatives too. I couldn’t escape it. The same thing happened when children were drowning at sea trying to escape the Syrian war. For a long time I tried to shield myself from the news until one day the picture of a toddler washed up on a Greek shore pierced its way through my feed and demanded that I take notice. My heart broke in that instant. And I stopped being silent.
My heart broke again this morning when I woke to the news of an audio recording of children wailing for their parents in a detention center. I didn’t listen to it. I didn’t have to. I know what a wailing child sounds like. I can imagine what my own children would sound like if they were alone and terrified in a foreign country.
I don’t want to speak out about this. I don’t want to acknowledge this kind of horror exists in the world, let alone my own country. I’d rather go back to bed and pretend I live in a world of pump-you-up podcasts. But it’s my Hippocratic Oath as a therapist to demand this inhumane policy end. It doesn’t really matter how you feel about immigration. It really doesn’t. There is no justification for separating children from their families. NONE. The severity of trauma this is causing will affect these babies for the rest of their lives. And I’m not being hyperbolic about it.
If you haven’t heard about the ACEs study, I encourage you to look it up (click on the link for more information). It was a study undertaken by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention in the 90s but followed for long-term effects for many years. ACEs stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences–trauma occurring in childhood. Across the board, the study revealed that childhood trauma was related to health, social, and behavioral problems in adulthood. Problems including smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, and obesity along with depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and a shortened life span. The more ACEs you have, the higher your risk. That shortened life span? That also includes suicide.
You really cannot underestimate the effect of trauma, especially for children. Nor can you underestimate their vulnerability and innocence. To rip them from their caregivers is cruel and heartless and there is no earthly, spiritual, or legal argument to defend it.
In times like these, I always ask what I can do to make a difference. I can speak out about it and spread the word. I can financially support organizations who are enacting and supporting real change (Together Rising is a great place to start). But I can also hold our government accountable and make my voice heard in that way too. A bill was recently introduced in Congress to stop the policy of separating children from their parents and keep families together (The Keep Families Together Act). Please read about it and insist your representatives vote in its favor. It’s a Democratic-introduced bill but was developed in consultation with child welfare experts such as the American Academy of Pediatrics. This is NOT a political issue, friends. Both sides can argue about immigration all day long. I get that it’s complicated and laden. This isn’t about that. This is about the well-being and welfare of children–the future of our world.
The bill is also supported by UNICEF, a nonpartisan humanitarian organization working hard to care for children around the world. They published a letter in support which you can read here. President & CEO, Caryl Stern, wrote the following, which is all we need to know on the matter:

“Children need to be defined by their age, not their borders. Regardless of immigration status, children are children first and need to be treated as such… Children bear no responsibility for the political differences in our world. Every child I’ve met, on both sides of our border, and around the globe, only wants to be safe and protected with hopes for a bright future.”

If you’d like more information on reaching out to your Senators and representatives, there is helpful information on the NAACP site including a number of scripts you can use: Keep Families Together Act.
In my gratitude practice this morning, I wrote about living in security and comfort and not having to worry about my children being exposed to poverty, war, or violence. Ava came downstairs as I was writing and I stared at her sweet little morning face full of life and joy and hopeful expectation for the day ahead. My children belong to me. They belong with me. No matter the circumstances. I’m speaking out against this because it’s my duty as a mental health professional, as a parent, as an American, and as a human being.
If you have children of your own, hug them a little tighter today. Be mindful of all you have to be grateful for, not the least your own security and comfort. And go listen to one of those encouraging podcasts. You deserve a little positivity and self-care. Especially in times like these.
***I’m editing this to clarify that I limited my information intake not because I wanted to be ignorant of what’s happening in the world but because I realized it was affecting me too much. I entered the mental health field because of my ability to connect with people in their suffering and be a caring, calming presence. But I also learned how to compartmentalize all the hard, dark stuff I witness so I can go home to my family at the end of the day and give them my whole, present self. When I’m not able to do that–when what I hear or witness starts crossing that line–I know that something needs to change. I need to take a break, recharge, and practice self-care. That’s what I have been doing these past couple of months. Until today when I couldn’t turn away any longer. When all that I hold dear and sacred in this life is at stake, I have no choice but to speak out.

2 thoughts on “Families belong together

  1. This is a perfectly articulated truth. Exactly how I feel about the issue and wish more people could see past the immigration issue to the humanity issue. I don’t care when it started, longer than five minutes ago is too long. No one can unsee these images… imagine being one of those children.. All of us were kids once as well, even if we aren’t parents now. The monster under the bed or in the closet? Imagine how much scarier those normal childhood fears would be in a strange place, surrounded by strangers. Can we all please just put politics aside and do the right thing??


    1. That’s exactly what I keep thinking about too, Alicia. How utterly terrified those children must be—in a new place, surrounded by strangers, without any of their comforts or caregivers. It tears me up inside. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and speaking out.


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