I can remember like yesterday sitting at the dinner table as a child with my parents and siblings and feeling like the world was going to end. My parents would openly discuss current events, such as the hostage crisis in Iran, the assassination attempt on President Reagan, Black Monday in the stock market and the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie. I thought to myself what will be in this world? How will I be safe? What can the future look like when these terrible things are happening all the time? Looking back, I probably should have asked my parents these questions, but I held them in and became a worrier.
This worry and stress about “bad things happening in the future” was something I carried around for most of my life causing me anxiety and dictating many decisions in my work and personal life. But had I asked my parents how could I stay safe so many years ago, what would they have told me? How could they have made me feel hopeful and secure, and at the same time not shield me from the problems that the world was facing at the time? Thirty years later I am sitting at the dinner table with my children faced with different problems in the world but the very same question: How do I teach my children to be aware of current affairs and at the same time be strong and hopeful for the future?
I don’t want them to feel like I did as a child that the world was doomed, but I also don’t want them putting their heads in the sand and ignoring real issues that need to be addressed.
I could tell my children that most people are safe from terrorist attacks and natural disasters in the world, but what foundation does that give them other than playing the odds that they will be okay? I could tell my children to just stay positive, but how
will they do that when they see bad things happening around them? To harness the power of positive thinking, my children would need to be optimistic no matter what happens. For many children, this is too hard to sustain when they face obstacles that obscure the road ahead. They can get stuck on the idea that, “If today doesn’t work out, it will never change in the future.”
So what can we teach our children that will sustain them through the uncertainty of the future? We can teach them about the “Philosophy of Maybe.” The idea of “Maybe” is beyond statistics and positive thinking. “Maybe” is the steadying constant hope within uncertainty. I tell my children that as bad as things may look or feel, there are always the possibilities that maybe what is happening will turn out to be good, maybe it will get better or maybe we can make peace and live with what we are experiencing and still be okay.
The reason maybe is so effective for children is that it continuously offers them more than the one possibility that is causing them stress at the dinner table or keeping them up at night. Maybe is a constant reminder to our children that there is hope in the unknown even if they don’t know all the answers in the moment.
Whether they are struggling at school, with friends, health issues or fears of global warming, war or famine, the idea of maybe can be a guiding light every day that allows them to clear their worry and guides them to all that life can offer. Over time, children come to understand that they have a choice. They can sit in the uncertainty with fear, anxiety or total despair or they can realize that there MAYBE a way out, a way forward or another way to look at what is before them. And even if a child’s fears do become reality as fears sometimes do, maybe will help them see that the next moment brings a chance for something new once again.
The best part about it — all our children need remember is “Maybe!”
Guest contributor Allison Carmen is the author of The Book of Maybe: Finding Hope and Possibility in Your Life.