As professors and parents, the recent events in Gaza, vividly reported by CNN, resonate with us beyond the immediate horrors of war. The ongoing crisis is not merely a distant geopolitical conflict; it serves as a mirror reflecting our societal norms, especially in terms of our relationships with our children. The harrowing images of Palestinian parents saying goodbye to their children amidst conflict deeply resonate with us. They not only depict the horrors of war but also tap into a latent grief within us: the sorrow over the limited time we spend with our own children in our daily lives.
In our capitalist society, and through our academic pursuits, schools and workplaces significantly influence how we part with our children from an early age. Children are ushered into educational institutions, marking the start of a series of goodbyes that continue throughout their developmental years. This routine separation is often overlooked as a significant emotional event in our society. The data is startling: by the time our children reach 12, we will have spent 75% of the time we will ever have with them in our lifetimes. This statistic underlines a profound truth about family dynamics in our society – time spent with parents and siblings peaks in childhood and declines after age 20, while time spent with children peaks in our 30s and then sharply decreases. These “magic years” are fleeting, often slipping away unnoticed amidst the grind of daily life.
Our grief upon watching Palestinian parents say goodbye to their children is twofold. It’s an empathetic reaction to the immediate horrors of war but also a reflection of our unacknowledged sorrow over the minimal time we spend with our own children and the ways in which our society treats them. This grief makes us question the depth of our empathy. Reflecting on Gaza compels us to confront uncomfortable truths about our society. The tragedies, such as Sandy Hook and other school shootings, expose glaring vulnerabilities in our commitment to protecting our youth. Our reluctance to enact substantial policy changes for their safety speaks volumes about our societal priorities.
The way our country treats its youth in the criminal justice system further amplifies this concern. Incarcerating children for profit sharply contrasts with our professed values. Witnessing the suffering of families in Gaza, we are forced to question our moral authority. What does it mean to advocate for the wellbeing of children abroad when we have yet to address critical issues affecting our own children?
This realization should serve as a wake-up call. The societal structures we’ve created, including our education systems and work demands, have inadvertently taught us to be comfortable with the idea of parting with our children, accepting it as a necessary part of life. However, we’ve lost sight of the precious, limited time we have with them. The crisis in Gaza and the images of families torn apart starkly bring this reality into focus. They compel us to confront not only the horrors of this war but also to recognize an internal war within our own borders – a war where profit often takes precedence over people. As we advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza and express solidarity with those suffering, we must also confront our internal conflict. We need to challenge societal structures that normalize parting with our children. Witnessing the pain of parents in Gaza, let’s also reflect on our own lives and commit to ways of being that support nurturing and sustaining the precious moments we have with our loved ones.