Caring for Our Children and Ourselves in Tragic Times

Janet shares words of support.

Transcript of “Caring for Our Children and Ourselves in Tragic Times”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.

Today I’m going to be talking about caring for ourselves and our children in times of crisis, like this crisis that our whole world seems to be in right now. And I hope what I have to say also applies to crises in our personal life, in our communities. How do we care for ourselves while caring for the greater suffering of others? How do we find our way when it’s all so overwhelming? I’m no expert, so I can only humbly share what I’m learning from others who are, and what I’ve discovered for myself that helps me, and also some specifics for helping our children.

So, the reason this is very focused on us is because we are our children’s number one, as their parents or caregivers. When we become parents, we take on an enormous responsibility that challenges us to our depths, brings us lots of pain, but also enormous joy. Our power and influence over these younger people is undeniable and it’s unrelenting. It’s a job that only we can do, we’re it. We’re their baseline, always. The baseline for our children’s well-being is ours. That can be daunting, I know. And as I brought up in the intro, I know some things about caring for children; I don’t know as much about caring for ourselves, and I’m learning. So I’m going to share what is helping me and also what I’m learning from people who are experts on this topic.

And on that note of learning from others, I’m learning that I have to be discerning about the input that I’m receiving. And when we’re taking in information and perspectives, to keep the focus on feeds that feed us, feed our spirit rather than draining us. And maybe that’s not being on media at all. There’s so much misinformation, so much rage and hate. So whichever perspectives we’re letting in and giving our attention to, I’m learning that for me at least, it’s important to keep checking in with myself and keep assessing: Is this fueling my empathy and compassion, or is it draining it? It’s really okay to not be glued to the news 24/7, especially if we’re caring for young children—which I’m not anymore, my children are adults. Still, I’m creating boundaries for myself around the sources that I follow and I’m limiting the times that I check in. And, as you all know better than I do, we can still support a particular voice, a person, or a page by following them and then muting them, maybe, and checking in when it works for us. So, I’m learning to use the media, not look away from it, but use it in a manner that I can digest and that helps me to be in the place that I want to be for the people I care about, so that I can be of service in some way.

And then I recommend also focusing on what we can do, who needs us most, which is our child, and accepting those limitations. Our priority has to be this job that only we can do, which is raising a secure child, raising a compassionate problem-solver, and a future peacemaker. This is the biggest gift that we have the power to bring to the world.

So, focusing on that, and then from there, are there ways that we can be of service?

Children, they give us this gift in all challenging times, times of crisis, this gift of the mundane. They still have all their ordinary needs and feelings. They still need to cry over—seemingly, comparatively—small things, they still need to play and laugh and be silly with us. They still benefit from the reliable daily routines that we’ve developed with them. So I would try to allow for this healing gift and welcome it. It’s good for us, and it’s good for our kids. Yes, it’s normal to feel guilty for the many privileges in our lives, the privilege of our life, the privilege of our safety. And sometimes, yes, our feelings of guilt are a sign that there’s something more that we can do and want to do, there are changes that we can make. But guilt alone doesn’t affect us or anyone positively. It drains, it hurts. So what I try to do is—and I have a lot of guilt, believe me—I try to turn my guilt into gratitude and, from there, empathy and compassion. I don’t always succeed at that, but that’s my aim.

And speaking of sources that feed us, I want to share some very wise words from one of my favorite sources, which is Susan David. She’s the author of Emotional Agility, she’s been a guest on this podcast, and she has a newsletter that I could not recommend more, it’s at You can sign up for a free newsletter. And here are some thoughts that she shared this past week. I’m just taking an excerpt, so this isn’t the whole piece. You’ve got to go sign up for yourself to see it. Now I’m direct quoting her:

So how do we protect ourselves—and our ability to be compassionate—in a world that seems to be asking more and more of us each day? It’s crucial to recognize that “empathy fatigue” or “compassion fatigue” does not arise from having “too much” compassion or empathy. In fact, when we reduce empathy or compassion in the face of exhaustion or burnout we’re likely to actually perpetuate burnout rather than reduce it, because we numb our natural tendencies to connect and commune with others.

So instead of trying to blunt our inclination towards empathy or compassion, it can be helpful to think about how to enhance emotional regulation skills, including self care, setting boundaries, and recognizing what is within our sphere of influence and what isn’t. Remember that in order to maximize our compassion for others and reduce our risk of burnout, we must also show compassion to ourselves. None of us can do everything for everyone. None of us can eliminate pain from the lives of the people we love. But all of us can do something, and accepting our own limitations is integral to a compassionate life.

So, none of us can eliminate pain from the lives of the people we love, but we can connect. We can connect with them to bring compassion to them and ourselves. So if you’re blessed to have people in your lives that do need you, maybe even outside of your children, people for you to be with, commune with them, especially in times like these.

Here are some other things that I do. I cry. Lately, I’m crying at least once a day. And it’s so interesting to me that I still experience this moment of resistance. It’s like this little wall of resistance, this voice saying, Oh, don’t do this. It’s going to make you feel bad. Don’t give into this. But yet, just as with our children, it never does. It releases something that allows me to feel a little bit better, a little clearer, a little more connected to my humanity, vulnerable and therefore open to others. I mean, I’m a crier. If you’re not a crier, then maybe there are some other ways that you can allow yourself to release your feelings. In healing ways, not ways that actually end up making us suffer more like when we’re enraged and then we feel guilty about that or regret that. We have to keep caring for ourselves, loving ourselves. It’s crucial for caring for our children.

Now, how do we talk to our children about our feelings? Like, say we are crying. And how do we talk to them about what they may be hearing or seeing? First and foremost, listen. To their perspective, to their questions, their feelings. Then, to the questions they have, offer honest, simple, age-appropriate responses and explanations. “You see me crying. I’m feeling sad because people are fighting and hurting each other, and I wish there was something I could do to help them make peace.” Another gift of being able to be honest with our children is that it affirms us, it helps us get our center and express how we’re feeling.

And saying, “I’m feeling sad,” it’s this small adjustment from saying, “I’m sad.” That’s a tendency that I still have, to have the feeling be almost my identity in that moment. But this is something I also learned from Susan David, to give yourself that distance as a person from the feelings. It’s a perspective that helps us remember that feelings pass through us, they are not stuck places. They have a beginning, middle, and end, as Magda Gerber said. So right now, I’m feeling sad. Susan David even says sometimes to say to ourselves, “I’m noticing that I’m feeling . . .” Even giving it a little more distance so that we can not only have a healthier relationship to our feelings, but understand them. It takes that little bit of distance to understand it instead of being just totally absorbed in and overwhelmed by it.

And then with children, we always want to do what I’m always harping on in this podcast: encourage them to express their feelings, or not. Maybe they don’t have what we would expect as feelings about a situation. Just encourage them to express it in whatever way they do, or not express it if they haven’t processed it enough yet. And of course, if we are in or near danger ourselves, we want to remind children with as much confidence as we can muster, “I’m here to keep you safe,” along with welcoming their feelings.

And we can model for our children, with them and with others, small acts of kindness. Here’s more from Susan David’s newsletter. She says:

The beautiful thing about compassion is that it’s a practice we can all develop. One way to become more compassionate is to notice moments in your daily life when you’re inadvertently withholding compassion. It’s easy to get so stuck inside our own heads that we miss opportunities to care for ourselves and others. We move through the world on autopilot, failing to realize the small ways we can contribute: taking on an extra household chore to support an anxious spouse, calling a lonely friend who just moved to a new city. These simple gestures may not feel heroic, but compassion doesn’t require us to be heroes. It just asks us to be aware of what we can do for others while honoring what we must do for ourselves.

And now I’d just like to end this with a prayer for the Middle East conflict by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby:


God of Compassion and Justice,

We cry out to you for all who suffer in the Holy Land today.

For your precious children, Israelis and Palestinians,

Traumatized and in fear for their lives;

Lord, have mercy.


For the families of the bereaved,

For those who have seen images they will never forget, 

For those anxiously waiting for news, despairing with each

passing day;

Lord, have mercy.


For young men and women,

heading into combat,

bearing the burden of what others have done and what

they will be asked to do;

Lord, have mercy.


For civilians in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, that they

would be protected and that every life would count and be

cherished and remembered;

Lord, have mercy.


For the wounded, and those facing a lifetime of scars,

for those desperately seeking medical treatment where there

is none;

Lord, have mercy.


For medical and emergency personnel, risking their own

lives to save those of others;

Lord, have mercy.


For those who cannot see anything but rage and violence,

that you would surprise them with mercy, and turn their

hearts towards kindness for their fellow human beings; 

Lord, have mercy.


For people of peace, whose imagination is large enough to

conceive of a different way, that they may speak, and act,

and be heard;

Lord, have mercy.


Mighty and caring God, who promised that one day, swords

will be beaten into ploughshares, meet us in our distress,

and bring peace upon this troubled land.




Thank you for listening. We can do this.

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