Discussing Homelessness with My Sons

My youngest son blows bubbles at the Next Step Shelter in late 2011.

My youngest son blows bubbles at the Next Step Shelter in late 2011.

Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. ~Neil Postman

My oldest son is 8 years-old and he recently brought up the topic of homelessness. Students from his school were working on a project to raise awareness on homelessness, and he pointed at the various posters and signs that were plastered around his campus. I was touched by his acknowledgment of the project I had been working on. He said to me, “Mom, they are trying to do something to help the homeless too. Maybe you can show them what you are doing.”

My sons never saw my father when he was on the streets, but I did show my oldest son some photographs recently. I showed him the progression and decline of his physical health, and tried my best to explain what was happening mentally. Developmentally, I know that my 8 year-old has the emotional and cognitive capacity to understand. He had frequented the shelters when he was just a kindergartener. I wanted both boys to gain an understanding of a variety of living conditions, and hoped that it would help remove social stigmas.

It is amazing to hear their thoughts on homelessness today:

“They should be able to stay there [sidewalk] if they have no place to go. If they have no place to go then it is mean to make them move.” –

“We can build a place for them to stay. We can have them help build it too so it’s theirs.”

“The kids should definitely get homes first because they are growing really fast.”

“If they don’t have money, we can give them an allowance.”

“They can do my chores and have my allowance.”

“But we can’t help them with everything because then we will be abandoning ourselves. We can’t miss stuff that we need to do, so we help them when we can.” 

The last quote was something my 8 year-old said, and it really struck me. He used the word “abandoning,” and I asked him what he meant by that. His follow-up statement that we wouldn’t “miss stuff” that we needed to do was actually very comforting to me. Underneath it all, I took his message to heart because it’s true and this is something I struggled when my father was homeless. We can’t completely abandon our responsibilities, but we do what we can, when we can.

It’s a great reminder to continue focusing on our children. They are the next generation of great thinkers and hearts of this world. Every homeless person on the streets was at one time a child, and I think it’s really important not to lose sight of that. We are all human.

-Diana

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