Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if we could shield our children from the ugliness of the world, protect them from the real bad guys, drugs, poverty, racial insensitivity, discrimination and despair, but we can’t. Try as we might, it exists.
Sometimes it’s standing on the corner of a neighborhood you frequent, staring you right in the eye, daring you to face it is as a parent, forcing you to look at it through your child’s eyes, imploring you to make better choices, to make a difference.
We saw a young woman this past weekend on the corner as we were entering the freeway, she was young, maybe mid-20s. She was holding a sign that said something like: Homeless. Need help – anything you can offer. God bless you.
We kept driving and as we did, Lucas asked what the woman was doing. He wanted to know why she was standing there and wanted to know what her sign said. We explained to her that she had no home and needed help.
You mean she has nowhere to live?
Why doesn’t she just go to the hotel and stay there?
We explained that hotels are expensive and she probably can’t afford to stay there, especially if she’s out on the street asking for money.
Why doesn’t she get a job and then she’ll have money and then she can stay at the hotel and then she won’t be homeless anymore?
We told him that there are many reasons why people are homeless; she may be trying to get a job but she can’t make enough money to stay at a hotel. She probably needs money to just eat.
If she gets a job she’ll have money and then she can eat and stay at the hotel.
We told him there could be many reasons why she can’t find a job, maybe she doesn’t have an education, maybe she’s on a lot of medications (in lieu of getting into what drugs are) that impair her brain so it isn’t working properly. We assured him that it was okay to feel sad for her and her situation.
What will she do when she does get money?
Trying to remain positive, we told him she would most likely get something to eat or find an inexpensive place to stay, like a shelter.
This went back-and-forth a little bit longer and then all of a sudden as if he realized that the concepts we were so delicately trying to explain were too hard for him to comprehend at this young age, he suggested we should talk about something else.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. Lucas is very astute and whether he realizes it or not, in many cases we answer his questions as simplistically as we can and let him dictate where the conversation goes and how it ends.
A day later, out of the blue Lucas asked me if we had money. I said yes, we have enough money to buy the things we need and some extras from time to time and then asked why he was asking. He said that seeing the woman by the freeway had made him sad and that if we have money we should have given her some. I told him that we could have bought her lunch but by giving her money she may not spend it in a way that would help her. This was way over his head. To him, she needed money and she needed a place to stay and money is the way to obtain those things. All that came out of his sweet five-year old mouth was a quiet “oh”.
How do you explain a topic so big and abstract as homelessness to young children?
How do you become part of the solution and not the problem?
How do you tell your child that you can’t hand out money to every person asking for it?