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Raising Children in the Age of Trump Without Losing Your Mind

Photo Credit: NORML

As a mom and an activist, here’s what I’ve resolved as 2018 begins: it’s getting harder and harder to consider about the future — at slightest in that soaring Whitney Houston fashion. You know the song: “I trust the children are the future, learn them good and let them lead the way…” These days, doesn’t it sound old-fashioned and of another age?

The law is we get breathless and sweaty meditative about what life will be like for my kids — three-year-old Madeline, five-year-old Seamus, and 11-year-old Rosena.  we can’t stop meditative about it either.  I can’t stop thinking that they won’t be guaranteed clean air or clean water, that they won’t have a real healthcare system to support them in bad times, even if they compensate by the nose in super high taxes. They may not have functional infrastructure, even if President Trump succeeds in building a yuge gilded wall on the southern limit (and who knows where else). The social reserve net – Medicare, Medicaid, and state assistance of several sorts — could be prolonged left and the sorts of nonprofit groups that try to fill all breaches a thing of the past. If they remove their jobs or get sick or are injured, what in the universe will they have to tumble back on, or will they even have jobs to start with. 

The country — if it even exists as the United States of America decades from now when they’re adults — will positively still be waging war across the planet. Our Connecticut town, on a peninsula between Long Island Sound and the Thames River, will be flooding more frequently as sea levels rise. And who knows if polite sermon or affordable colleges will still be partial of American life? 


What, we consternation all too often, will be left after Donald Trump’s America (and the probable versions of it that competence follow him)?  Will there, by then, be an mutinous transformation of some arrange in this country?  Could Indivisible go brute (please)?  Maybe they’d have a pacifist domestic wing the way the Sandinistas did in Nicaragua in the 1980s? With the help of volunteers from all over the hemisphere, they eradicated illiteracy, brought in the coffee harvest, and vaccinated against diseases (while their armed wing fought against the U.S.-backed Contras). Maybe in the city, my grown-up kids can collect potatoes — no coffee grows here, not yet, anyway — learn reading, and write insubordinate propaganda.

And when it comes to dystopian futures, I’ve got copiousness some-more where that came from, all personification in a loop on the big screen in the multiplex of my mind as we try to suppose my kids as adults, parents, grandparents. Please tell me I’m not the only one in America right now tormented in this fashion.  I’m not fixated on flitting the medium family residence down to my 3 kids or making certain that the ragtag “heirlooms” tarry their childhood.  What preoccupies me is the bleak, violent, inconstant future we fear as their only inheritance.

It’s adequate to send me fumbling for a parental “take back” symbol that doesn’t exist. we just don’t know how to strengthen them from the future we frequently see in my private chronicle of the movies. And honestly, brief of apropos one of those paranoid, well-resourced doomsday preppers, we have no suspicion how to ready them.

Recently, we had a possibility to school them in the rudeness of life and death — and we choked. we just couldn’t do it.

Death and Breakfast

“When will we die, mama?” Madeline asked at breakfast one day recently.  She’ll be 4 next month. Her tinge is curious, as if she were asking when it will be Saturday or her birthday.

“Not for a prolonged time, we hope,” we responded, trying to stay calm. “I wish you’ll die old and still like dear Uncle Dan.”

“I wish to die LOUD, mama!”

I’m not certain what she means, but already we don’t like it.

“I wish to die like a stone star!” her hermit Seamus interjects. He is in kindergarten and thinks he’s both correct and worldly.

Great, we think, just great. What does that mean? “Yes,” we say, my voice — we wish — neutral, “rock stars do tend to die, buddy.”

“Do kids die, mom?” he asks suddenly.

“Yes,” we reply, “kids die sometimes.”

My head, of course, is unexpected filled with images of passed kids, little Syrian bodies washing up on Turkish beaches, little Afghan bodies blown to bits, little Yemeni bodies brittle with starvation or cholera. There’s no necessity of images of passed children in my conduct as we speak with a kind of unpleasant patience to my two tiny ones on a school-day morning in southeastern Connecticut.

“Do teenagers die?” Seamus asks. They adore teenagers.

“Yes,” we say, my voice complicated and unhappy by now, “teenagers die sometimes, too.” New images swirl by my head of teenagers drunk, in cars, on drugs, in stages of undress, in mental anguish, failing since they don’t trust they can. we keep all of this to myself.

“People die,” we say, trying to recover control of the conversation. “We all die eventually. But you don’t have to worry. You have a lot of people operative tough to make certain you have what you need to live long, happy lives.”

Long, Happy Lives and Other Lies

And that was the finish of that. Their existential, dark oddity confident for the moment, they changed on to an evidence about the anticipation impression on the back of their cereal box.

I, on the other hand, haven’t changed on.  I’m still right there, sitting at that breakfast list deliberating life and death — the when, the where, and the grave how of it all — with my three-year-old and five-year-old.  And wondering if I’ve already unsuccessful them.

When we was a kid, my own parents, Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister, Catholic assent activists who spent prolonged stretches of time in jail as nuclear weapons disarmament activists, never missed a possibility like this to hit some tough lessons about the energy structure’s corner on assault into my head. Innocent queries about life and death were frequently met with prolonged discourses on nuclear weapons and how such Armageddon weaponry threatened to eventually taint all life, including cave and those of my hermit and sister.

To this day, we can still replay those homemade story lessons that frequently began with tales of covetous white colonizers alighting on these shores, wiping out Native Americans from sea to resplendent sea, and rising the duration of seizures, invasions, and wars that built the United States into an majestic energy and guaranteed its future global dominance. (At a certain age, we could even follow along in the own copies of A People’s History of the United States by their friend Howard Zinn.) Those lessons were an preparation in assault and its bloody, brutal efficacy, at slightest in the brief term.  They were also an introduction to its elemental failures, to the way such violence, deeply embedded in a society, requires an concomitant enlightenment of pathological distraction, fearfulness, and low insecurity.

That was my childhood. Some chronicle of that once-upon-a-time-in-America, no-sleep-for-you nuclear calamity of a bedtime story was always personification in my house. And interjection to their clear-eyed, full-disclosure proceed to parenting, we grew up feeling prepared for a brutal, unequal, astray world, but in no way stable from it.  At slightest as we now remember it, we felt exposed, terrified, and heart-broken too much of the time.

If Madeline and Seamus were 10 years older and asking such questions, what would we have told them? If their big sister and my step-daughter Rosena (who lives with us half the time) were there, would we have been reduction circumspect? Could we have shared my fears of the future and the innumerable ways we dismay the flitting of any year? Like my parents, would we have held onward on the long-term consequences of the settler-colonial origins, the ways the use of force and assault at the top levels have come to interfuse society, corroding every communication and melancholy us all? Could we have lectured them on guns, drugs, and sex — on the cheapening of life in the epoch of the decrease of this country’s global chronicle of a Pax Americana? Would we have pulled back the screen to show them that everybody is not operative tough to make certain that they — or any other kids — have what they need to lead long, happy lives? we don’t consider so.

All these years later, I’m not assured of what such rants — however good reasoned and good footnoted — truly accomplish. I’m not assured of what such demoralizing written versions of a Facebook corkscrew of bad news and pomposity do for any of us, which is, of course, since I’m provident my kids, but transfer all my fears on you.

A World on Fire and on the Move

As for my kids, we tried my best to keep that breakfast of ours in the upbeat area of death-is-part-of-life. That’s where we wish to live with them. That’s how my father died — as he lived, surrounded by the people who desired him. His two closest brothers died that way, too. When we suppose the deaths of those we love, we hear a last pant of breath, feel a last hold of fingers, declare a pacific doze that doesn’t end.

But the assent that we appreciated in my father’s death, the joyous fortitude we wish for my children, these things that we can tell myself are the bedrock of a suggestive life, are already denied to so many people on this planet. In fact, in a world engulfed in flames (both the verbatim and incongruous fires of war), augmenting numbers of them are using as quick as they can in hopes of somehow getting away.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, 1.7 million people are reportedly displaced, mostly journey from one partial of that immeasurable African republic to other regions to shun swelling violence. In total, 4 million people are replaced within that fractured land alone. Similarly, in Myanmar, the Rohingya, a Muslim minority organisation subjected to terrible violence, have been on the pierce in towering numbers. In the arise of a lethal crackdown by that country’s security forces, 647,000 Rohingya fled into adjacent Bangladesh where many are now vital in fetid, desperately overcrowded refugee camps. And that’s just to discuss two countries on an increasingly unfortunate planet.

Last year, an estimated 65.6 million people were displaced, a record for the post-World War II period, and tens of millions of them crossed a border, apropos refugees as they fled war, poverty, persecution, and the destruction of civic areas (from major cities to tiny towns). They frequently left their homes with what they could carry, kids on their hips, in hunt of illusory reserve somewhere over the horizon, just as people have finished for millennia, but increasingly — with a twenty-first-century twist – consulting Google maps and WhatsApp, while constantly sharing intel on social media.

And scientists are presaging that this universe in motion, this universe already aflame, is just the prologue. As the effects of global meridian change become some-more pronounced, the series of replaced people will double, then triple, and presumably only continue to grow.

Charles Geisler, an emeritus growth sociologist at Cornell University, predicts that two billion people may be replaced by rising sea levels by the spin of the next century. Coastal peoples will press inland, while farmland off the coasts is likely to be increasingly compromised by drought and desertification. He concludes: “Bottom line: Far some-more people are going to be vital on distant reduction land, and land that is not as fruitful and habitable and tolerable as the low-elevation coastal zone… And it’s coming at us faster than we thought.”

Madeline and Seamus will be in their eighties (god willing) when Geisler’s predictions come to pass. They can’t, of course, know about any of these probable catastrophes, but we already clarity that they’re picking up on something subtly frail and exposed about the comparatively staid lives together. How do we respond to them? What do we as a primogenitor do in the face of such a potentially dour future?  How and when do we mangle news like that? Am we ostensible to help my children favour a ambience for crickets instead of hamburger or start building a solar-powered hydroponic farm in the basement? Worse yet, whatever we could suppose suggesting wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t strengthen them. It wouldn’t even ready them for such a future.

I’m No Fireman

In 1968, my uncle, Dan Berrigan, called Vietnam the “land of blazing children” in a beautiful polemic he wrote to accompany a criticism by a organisation that came to be famous as the Catonsville Nine. He and eight other Catholics — including my father (long before he was a parent) — publicly burned hundreds of breeze files at a resourceful service bureau in Catonsville, Maryland, a mystic try to hinder the promulgation of nonetheless some-more immature men to the killing fields of Vietnam. My father served years in jail due to actions like that one. Throughout my life, my family drew wish from such artistic acts of resistance, elaborate and effective performances of street museum that extended right into the courtroom and infrequently the jailhouse. My uncle, a producer and Jesuit priest, incited that Catonsville trial into an award-winning play that’s still performed.

And yet, despite their sacrifices, almost half a century later, children are still on fire and I’m no fireman. I’m not breaking into whatever the homogeneous of breeze play competence be in the epoch of the all-volunteer/all-drone military. I’m not sitting in at my congressman’s bureau either. I’m nowhere nearby a “movement heavy” (a Sixties-era term we mostly listened practical to my dad). I’m just a gardener who tries to be a good neighbor, a mom who tries to demeanour after a whole village of kids. I’m just one some-more set of hands. And even yet these hands of cave are operative hard, my efforts feel ever some-more paltry, inadequate, token.

Still, I’ll get up tomorrow morning and do it again, since if my efforts don’t matter, what does?  I’ll cuddle my kids tight, answer their unconstrained questions, and try to supply them for a future that scares the ruin out of me. Even if we can’t see that future clearly, we do know one thing: it will be unfortunate for love, humor, some kind of balance, and the consistent if dreaming probing of scientific children.


Frida Berrigan is a columnist for Waging Nonviolence and serves on the National Committee of the War Resisters League. She lives in New London, Conn., with her husband Patrick and their 3 children.


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