Anyone who has said parenting is easy has probably never been a parent. While the experience has been more amazing than I imagined, being a parent has also challenged and tested me in immeasurable ways.
When my daughter was first born, I agonized about so many things: Would we ever sleep through the night again? Was she getting enough breast milk? Was she developing on track and meeting milestones?
Over those first few months and years, some things got easier (yes, she did eventually sleep through the night, and I was no longer a perpetual mommy-zombie!), while other challenges and worries arose.
Now, my daughter is 9, and we’ve been confronted with even bigger questions: What TV shows can she watch and what music can she listen to? What video games should she be allowed to play and for how long? What extracurricular activities should we encourage her to participate in? How do we help her navigate social circles and learn to deal with peer pressure? What do we tell her about puberty and the birds and the bees? Yikes! Often these seem like really big daunting questions.
Recently, she came home with an invitation for a birthday party, which was a drop-off party at a school friend’s house. She told me that all the kids were going (of course!) and she desperately wanted to go, too. The problem was that my husband and I knew little about this girl and had never met her parents.
While many different worries flashed through my mind, the one that really bothered me was this: Did the family have any guns in their home?
Like so many parents, I have watched the news over the years and heard story after story of children being shot by guns — at schools, in homes, and in so many other places they frequent. I have learned that about half of all American homes have at least one gun and that over 7,700 kids under the age of 20 are shot every year, with over 500 killed.
With those staggering numbers in mind, there was no way I was going to be able to send my daughter to this party without talking to the girl’s parents first about whether they had firearms. So, what does the modern mother do?
I sent the mother a text. I chose my words very carefully as I wrote the text and then, in all honestly, I was a little nervous while waiting to hear back.
It was not easy waiting, but like so many things with parenting, this was what I felt I needed to do. I knew in my gut that this was the right thing. I thought about how, if I didn’t ask this question and something happened to my daughter, I would have to live with that forever. I calculated that a few awkward moments were worth the price of potentially saving my daughter’s life or the life of another child.
Fortunately, this mother soon wrote me back a very understanding text and reassured me that they did not have any guns in their home. I felt so very relieved and much more confident sending my daughter to the party. If this mother had not responded, or if she had been offended by my question, I wouldn’t have been comfortable with my daughter going to her home in any case.
To me, asking this question is just another part of parenting. My main intention as a parent is to keep my children safe. When they were younger and always with me, this was easier. I could put safety locks on cabinets, baby gates at stairs, and cut their food up into non-choking-sized pieces.
Now that they are older I know I can’t control or provide for their safety at all times, and I know that no matter what I do, there are no guarantees, ever. They must go out into the world and have their own experiences.
What I can do, however, is everything in my power to try to ensure that the places they go are free from access to guns.
To me, asking this question of other parents is an important step in that process and an important aspect of parenting. Because, really, at the end of the day, what could be more important than keeping our children safe?
When confronted by difficult things in life, I have always encouraged my children to do their best and to speak up for what they need and what they believe in. In my heart, I know I can only ask them to do this if I’m willing to do the same as their mother.
Oesa Hauch, a mother of two and birth doula living in Bothell, works to reduce gun violence as a board member of Washington CeaseFire. This 31-year-old citizen activist group is dedicated to reducing gun violence in Washington state and is launching the Asking Saves Kids (ASK) program. This program is focused on encouraging parents to ask friends, family and neighbors where their children play if there is a gun in the home, and if so, if is it safely stored. For more info visit www.washingtonceasefire.org