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When Missile Sirens Interrupt: Parenting in Uncertain Times

Today was not the day I thought I was waking up to. We are currently located in Jerusalem, a city usually untouched by sirens or rockets. But today was different. Today was shabbat, our sabbath, and also Simchat Torah - a very important holiday where we truly celebrate receiving our Bible. My husband took the kids to Synagogue for the customary dancing, but the festivities were punctuated by sirens and distant explosions. We shifted from a synagogue gathering to a more localized prayer session in our courtyard, as per the recommendation of the government. Each siren sent us scurrying to external bomb shelters.

We listened to the panic, kept our children calm, prayed that the Iron Dome protected us, and then broke the silence that followed by continuing our singing and dancing our hakafot, celebratory prayers appreciating the reception of our Torah. However, our songs transitioned from celebrating the holiday to hymns about fearlessness.

Fear and anxiety causing child to cry

We were invited to my in-laws for a family lunch and walked the short few blocks to their apartment. As we left our home, we saw reservists being called to duty. Husbands and fathers leaving their wives and families. Sons leaving their parents. Enroute, a siren blared and my husband and I took cover behind a large tree and crouched over our three kids huddling in and around the stroller.

What we did was new to us. Others experience this more frequently, and are therefore, sadly, more familiar with the phenomenon.

Do my kids get what happened today? No. Not fully. My three year old looked up at me while I huddled over him at the side of the road and said, “Ima (mommy), I am not scared.” Was there fear written on my face or was he able to feel the concern I had for his safety? Was he trying to reassure me? I do not know.

After sunset, I turned on my phone to check the news and see what actually occurred in Israel today, as we continued on in complete oblivion until Havdalah, or the end of the sabbath. Messages from America flooded in, asking about our safety. I skimmed through news reports but had to focus on putting my children to bed. That the rabbit hole of media I’d find myself in later this evening didn’t interfere with my kid’s routines. Their emotional well being was my priority.

School and work is paused for tomorrow. Some cities have been evacuated, families have been boarded up in their homes as terrorists try and fight their way in, people are sheltering in place and are told not to leave their homes due to the rampant kidnapping and murdering. Thank God that is not us.

The distant booms aren’t just noise. They are real. The earth shaking is a hit. All the noises, all the emotions, they are all real. For us as well as for our kids. Our kids may not have the vocabulary to express their feelings, but they look to us for understanding and protection.

As I tucked all three kids into bed tonight, I realized a few things. That it is truly important during times like these, emotional care is paramount. We need to assure our kids that they’re safe and protected - not just by us but by the community, soldiers and God.

It's crucial to explain safety measures to our children, possibly even shifting where we prioritize our boundaries. Depending on their age, we can assign them specific roles, like bringing water or toys to the shelter. Walk them and show them where the external bomb shelter is, or show them which room in the house is a mamad, or safe room to use. We can offer them specific roles, depending on their age, to assist in bringing water, food, games, etc. to the shelter when they hear it. Or to grab a toy for their younger sibling to help during those seemingly endless minutes in the safe room. Maybe they can be responsible for closing the door, counting that everyone is inside. Giving them responsibility can help them cooperate and take ownership of what is occurring, allowing their brain to process the event differently than through fear.

Additionally, the boundaries that we may have in place when it comes to their sleep may need to be slightly more lenient and forgiving. For example, if your child typically sleeps alone, then maybe now is a time that they can bunk with their sibling, or even join you in your room. It is important that if your child is afraid, to help comfort them through it with your physical touch, understanding and through age appropriate logic and reasoning. If your child asks to sleep in your bed, and you typically don’t co sleep, know that this is a time to make an exception. Now is a time that you can snuggle with your kids in their beds and help them fall asleep easier. That now is a time to lean into that extra layer of emotional safety they get and feel from you.

In terms of interrupted sleep, if your child is under age one, you can continue to follow sleepy cues and awake windows as you normally would. Routines and scheduling should not change. However, if a siren sounds during your child’s nap, please wake them and safely get yourselves to shelter. Depending on the duration of the siren, how long they have been asleep for, you can attempt to rescue the nap either on you or after the alarm ends. If that is not an option or unsuccessful, follow their sleepy cues and offer a nap a little earlier than they might have normally taken the next one. If you have the safe room in your own home and don’t need to leave the house for the bomb shelter, you might try and offer the naps in there instead. Again, if it is easier for consistency to be in their own room, then stick to the consistency. Whichever age you are dealing with, the day can be rescued by an earlier bedtime. If nights are interrupted, please remember to have a little grace with both yourself and your children. They may need more comfort during the alarm as well as going back to sleep when it is all said and done. If you are a mom doing this alone because your husband was called up to serve and fight, try and be more flexible. Allow the children to play, to eat, clean only the necessary, forgive yourself for not being able to do it all. Be present for your kids. Follow routines as best as you can, and ask for support when possible.

For parents struggling with processing the traumatic events of the past 24 hours, struggling to be present for your children during the day, allow yourself the forgiveness and the right to set your children in front of an appropriate show, so that you can have time to digest your emotions, and ultimately return more focused and emotionally available for your kids when the show is over.

We are all here for each other. Let us help each other with emotional support, guidance, maybe opening our doors to displaced “single” mothers who don’t have family nearby to lean on. We are a country who lives and breathes together, fights and thrives together and we will continue to do so side by side.

If you have any questions regarding solo-parenting, routines, safe sleep during trying times, or anything else, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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