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War: What Is It Good For? ... And How to Address It With Your Family

In February 2022, Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian Military to invade Ukraine, pushing Eastern Europe into a state of War. The collective West, led by the US, responded by providing hundreds of Billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in a series of escalating contributions, starting with small arms but now moving past tanks and long-range missiles and into fighter jets by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, in Russia this past week, there was an attempted Coup against the Putin regime, with a private mercenary army, The Wagner Group, numbering 50,000 soldiers, marching against Moscow. While the rebellion ultimately ended peacefully and the Wagner group is now effectively being disbanded and exiled, Russia now sits on the brink of Civil War or regime change, with most analysts believing the end of Putin’s regime is now weeks or months away, and that he’s unlikely to go quietly into the night.

These stories have dominated headlines and social-media trending topics for 18 months now. And yet I was having a conversation with a few female relatives recently, moms all, and I was surprised how little conversation we’ve all had with our kids and family members about it all. Me included, I don’t think I’ve had any major conversations with the young people in my household or extended family about the war in Europe and its global and historic implications.

That got me thinking: how do you even have this conversation?

Maybe we all think they must be discussing it at school in History or Civics/Government classes. But with our schools so distracted by topics like Gender-Identity, Equality and Inclusion movements, State-wide test scoring models, drug use, and gang violence, do they even teach topics like History and Government anymore? Can we rely on schools as a source of valuable context and information anymore? It hardly seems so, I think most of us have our doubts. I bet if you attend your next PTA meeting the topic of how to address a potential Civil War in Russia or the threat of the US becoming involved in some form of World War III against a Nuclear-power doesn’t come up, while whether or not biological males should be allowed to use the girl’s locker room and bathroom may.

Such is the state of many school systems in America. But let’s address the public school topic and dilemma another day.

How do you talk to your kids about War? It just isn’t something we’ve had to address in a major way for most of our lives. Don’t get me wrong, of course just in the 21st Century the US has been involved in several major military conflicts, mostly covering The Middle East, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria. But oddly, maybe because they were against opponents who posed basically zero military threat to the US homeland or because they went on for so long, they simply faded into the background. As if they’d always been going on and, in a way, always would be to some degree.

The War in Europe feels different, and I think a large part of that is that the major combatant there, Russia, is or was perceived as a near-peer military opponent to the US and our allies. Unlike the Taliban or Iraq, Russia actually can strike NATO conventionally and the US via its nuclear capabilities.

And Russia’s major allies end up being China and Iran. China is already a nuclear power that is currently engaging in the largest military build-up of any nation in modern history, and Iran on the brink of becoming a nuclear power, in no small part because of help and partnership with Russia and China.

And now Russia is on the brink of a Civil War. Perhaps the only thing more dangerous than a Nuclear-armed Putin regime invading its neighbors is a Russia broken up into chaotic wars between Oligarchs and Generals, with control of Nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction up for grabs.

Now imagine little Timmy or Suzy coming home from school or after spending an hour watching YouTube videos walking into the kitchen and asking, “Mom, is the US about to fight World War Three?”

Who among us is ready to have that conversation? To help provide our children and even the adults in our household with enough context to be able to make sense of it all? Easier to just pretend it’s a European problem and ignore it and hope for the best. But the reality is that we don’t get much of a choice anymore about what our children will end up being exposed to. At school, on the Internet, at a friend’s house.

I think back to my parents and grandparents (and great-grandparents) having to explain Pearl Harbor and World War II to their kids, or how/why the US was going to War in Vietnam. For those of us who were kids in 2001, how did our parents explain The World Trade Center and the US invading Afghanistan to us?

And so here we are again. Our generation’s turn. Maybe Mr. Putin will just retire to a villa and there will be a peaceful transition of power in Russia to a state-body that wants to end the war in Ukraine and withdraw Russian troops. Maybe. But we need to be prepared to have these conversations with our kids, based on their age, based on their maturity, and based on their questions.

Is there a right side and wrong side of this? Are the War-Hawks who seem to dominate the news punditry and political debate correct that we should continue to fight a proxy-war against Russia via military support of Ukraine? Do our kids have sufficient historical context, like World War II’s Lend-Lease support of England, Western Europe and Australia against the Axis powers, to understand the risk and severity of our support of Ukraine and NATO-Europe today?

And how much is too much? I feel like we owe it to our children to give them a baseline of context, but at the same time, I don’t want to make them feel unnecessarily afraid or create neurosis that don’t otherwise need to be there.

My own answer to this dilemma is to at least become and stay informed as much as I can. When speaking to younger people, whether my own family or kids from a homeschool group I help with or kids I’m giving a ride home from soccer practice.

Yes, there is a massive war in Europe. The US is participating by providing aid to one side, Ukraine, against Russia. Most experts believe there is only a very, very small chance the War will expand outside of Ukraine and an even smaller chance that the US will end up being drawn directly into the War or need to worry about any sort of attack by Russia against the US homeland. But it is a major conflict that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives in Europe, both military and civilian.

Next, be prepared for questions, especially those questions that might seem like they are out of left field…it’s likely that kids will be exposed to a significant amount of propaganda and misinformation from one side or the other, so be ready for questions like, “I saw a video that proves the CIA actually led the coup against Putin” or “But Russia has hypersonic missiles we can’t stop, right?” You just don’t know, so be ready with answers like, “Some people think that, but not everyone agrees,” or “When wars like this happen, there are always a lot of stories and rumors that end up not being true or accurate, so it’s important to realize that and to try to find multiple sources you think you can trust.” And if they aren’t your kids, then of course recommend they speak to their parents or guardians about the topic, even if you are giving them your opinion about it.

Finally, yes, it’s unfair to you and unfair to your children that this topic is probably going to be a part of your remit in the near future. Unfair to you because nobody trained you for this, yet another part of parenting and adulting you just have to figure out on your own…and unfair to them, too, of course, having to figure out how to deal with such a heavy topic over which they have no control.

One final thing you may consider is giving your kids an outlet for their feelings of concern, fear, patriotism, or whatever manifests, and that is by way of providing a care package or thank you card to US Servicemen positioned in Europe. Even though US Troops are not directly involved in the War, more than 150,000 total US combat and support troops are now deployed throughout Europe, from Germany to Romania to Poland.

While not officially endorsed by MomSquad, you may want to look at Operation Gratitude, Red Cross or HeroCare Packages. There are many others, but helping your kids understand the value of supporting US Troops who are putting their lives at risk and sacrificing so much to ensure the blessings of peace of freedom for us and our allies is always a win. I think it’s worth considering, as it does help children feel like they can participate and provide support, whether or not they support our war efforts, supporting our troops is still worthwhile. Either way, be prepared and stay calm, each generation seems to have to go through this, and it’s our turn now. Good luck- and we welcome your comments and thoughts on this one: what’s worked for you and how are you dealing with this one?!

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