These days, sirens are wailing in neighborhoods across Israel, and not only in the war-ravaged south. We witness the flash of rockets as they streak through the sky, and follow the trail of smoke with our eyes. We are all vulnerable and within the range of fire; we all risk rockets landing in our own backyards. We hear the boom, and whisper prayers for friends and strangers alike.
In our small country, parenting in Israel presents many challenges beyond the range of those predicted by normal psycho-social development. On the one hand we must deal with our children’s anxieties as well as our own. We must help them feel safe even when we feel unsafe. We want our children to sleep at night even when we lie awake poised for the next siren.
On the other hand, equally frustrating to parents, may be the typical narcissism of childhood and adolescence expressed in such complaints as “This is such a pain. Because of all these rockets, my end of the year trip got cancelled.” Or “How long is this going to go on for? I don’t want it to ruin my whole summer vacation!”
While children may feel especially vulnerable and threatened, or may be excused for feeling indifferent to the conflict and the pain of others, teenagers by nature are prone to feelings of invincibility, narcissism, and recklessness. They may be unwilling to seek shelter, or admit their fears, especially in the presence of friends. They may mask their vulnerabilities within a mask or cool, or they may be narcissistically unconcerned and feel genuinely removed from the conflict. It is important for parents to be able to make this distinction, because the aloofness of adolescence can easily transfer into an uncaring adulthood.
By acknowledging the ways we ourselves have been impacted, and our sense of security has been affected, we create an opening for discussion and awareness. We can use this opportunity to teach empathy and shift the focus from the ways we have been personally inconvenienced to the ways others are truly suffering. If we are fortunate enough to have a bomb shelter in our own home, we can think about those who must leave their homes to seek shelter. If we have a full minute to respond to a siren, we can focus on others who have mere seconds to respond. If we are together in a shelter, we can focus on those who have become separated in the panic to find appropriate shelter. If we have seen a rocket flash, we can focus on those who have seen it land, and must be treated for shock or injury.
These days the power of prayer is essential. Yet prayer alone is not enough. We must be genuinely moved to a greater awareness of the suffering we have become desensitized to, and the security we take for granted. We must care, and we must use our caring as a vehicle to teach the message of empathy to our children.
Tzippora Price, M.Sc. is a marital and family therapist working in private practice in Ramat Beit Shemesh. She is also an acclaimed mental health journalist, and has been publishing articles to advise and promote awareness of mental health issues for the past 14 years. She is the author of two parenting books, “Mother in Progress” (Targum), & “Mother In Action” (Menucha Press), and a psycho-educational novel “Into the Whirlwind”, about the challenges of making Aliyah with teenager’s (Lions’ Gate Press). She can be contacted at 053-521-2668 or firstname.lastname@example.org