Kimberly Fletcher can’t stand it. She can’t stand watching violence and destruction, no matter where it occurs or whom it harms. As are so many other parents, she’s terribly dismayed by the terrorist actions in Manchester, England, at the Ariana Grande concert on Monday night, which took so many young lives and injured more. And she’s concerned, in general, about the growing prevalence of violence in the world even as millions of parents are doing their best to raise great kids, provide a stable home, and prepare their children for a successful future.
Fletcher’s beliefs are firmly grounded in a respect and love for the family — she is heartland America all the way. Based in Ohio, she’s the wife of a retired Air Force officer, the mother of eight children (six boys and two girls, ages 12 to 30!), and the president and founder of Homemakers for America. In addition, she is the author of the book “WOMEN: America’s Last Best Hope” — and writes for a number of outlets. She also helped create an upcoming event in September of this year called Moms March for America, which seeks to bring together the voices of scores of mothers who remain focused on the health of their families — and the future of their children.
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LifeZette connected with Fletcher in the wake of the Manchester terrorist bombing for her passionate views about where families go from here, no matter where they live or what they’ve experienced. “No parent deserves to go through the pain and suffering that those in Manchester felt and will continue to feel,” she said.
Question: As a mom, you feel it’s critical to speak up about this incident right now and share your views. Why?
Answer: As a mother I am heartbroken when I see other mothers suffer so needlessly. There is way too much anger, chaos and destruction going on in the world — and in our own country. I speak with other mothers all the time who share their anguish and frustration with the direction our nation is heading and the future we are leaving our children.
But it isn’t just the future they’re worried about. They are concerned for their children right now — their safety, the negative influences, the distorted history, propaganda and anti-family, anti-American rhetoric heaped on them every day. Mothers are very frustrated because they don’t feel they have a voice — and the only voice the media seem to be listening to are women who are, knowingly or not, supporting and promoting the very policies that threaten the safety, health and freedom of our children.
It’s time to raise the bar of humanity and decency in our nation and the world, and it is the mothers who have the power to do it — to stand up united and say “enough.” Our children should be able to go to a concert, enjoy themselves, and come home safe. We are better than this. But the fact is, we can’t always be there and our children will be in unsafe situations, so as mothers, I think it is vital that we strengthen, encourage and empower our children to be prepared and empowered to face any situation with calm courage.
Q: How, specifically, do you teach your own children about responding in emergencies?
A: The most important thing I do for them is reinforce the idea that they don’t have to be a victim even though they may be victimized. If our children walk out the door thinking everyone and everything is out to get them, they will live in fear — that is not how I want my children to live. That’s not living.
I want them to enjoy life, reach for their dreams, serve others and live their lives to the fullest. Unfortunately there is evil in the world, and my children will and have faced it in many forms. But if they can differentiate between what is a real problem and what is not, it helps them to know how to deal with it.
“My children don’t have to be victims even though they may be victimized.”
Q: You talk a lot as a family about being prepared, you say — largely because of 9/11. Tell us more about what you discuss.
A: That really woke us up to the reality of the world in which we live. My husband was stationed at the Pentagon on 9/11. Through a series of miracles, he came home that day — but it was a very difficult day for our family and for many of the families in our community.
No one knew how to handle the situation. Parents were flooding the schools to take their kids home because they thought the world was ending. There was so much chaos, confusion and fear — and it scared the kids. I overheard one mom respond to her children’s questions about why she was picking them up that day by saying, “Because our country was attacked, and we might be going to war.”
The children were visibly shaking with fear. I didn’t want my kids to fear. I wanted them to know that, no matter what, everything was going to be OK because we would make it OK. I wanted to comfort and assure them even though I was crumbling inside.
Since then, we’ve had a lot of discussions on everything from “if they get lost in a public place” to “what to do in a natural or manmade disaster.” If the children get lost, they know they are to look for a grandmother or a mother with children and ask for help. If there is an accident, we encourage them to help others if they can, but not to get in the way. We’ve of course talked to them about not talking to strangers but also stressed the importance of one’s personal space and what is and isn’t appropriate touch.
Q: You talk about being at the “crossroads” of your children’s day. What do you mean by that?
A: I’m right there. I am with them. I ask them about their day. That communication helps them know they can come and talk to me, and it creates an atmosphere where they feel comfortable doing so. I let them know over and over again if there is anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared, they should bring it to me and we’ll talk about it.
I think the best way they learn is by our example, and I have always tried to be a good example of calm in any situation — which is very hard at times, especially when your children are hurting or in danger. One very valuable thing is the power of a mother’s voice. One day my son let go of my hand and ran toward a busy street. He was just chasing a butterfly and didn’t know he was in danger, but I immediately recognized the imminent danger and screamed: “Stop!”
My son instantly stopped right where he was, giving me the few seconds I needed to reach him. I realized at that moment that if he heard me yell all the time, then he wouldn’t have paid any attention when I yelled that day. He stopped because it was not normal, and it caught him off guard. It saved his life.
“Let your children guide the conversation, but be aware of any changes in their behavior.”
Q: How about discussions of violence — how have you handled that?
A: We’ve had a lot of talks as a family about what to do in cases of violence. I’ve taught our children to stay safe by being alert to their surroundings and not putting themselves in dangerous situations. Unfortunately, those situations sometimes find people no matter how cautious and alert they are, so I encourage them to get down, stay calm, evaluate the situation and their surroundings, get safe as best they can — and help others if they can.
And then, to talk about it. That’s important. If you just shut an incident away, it haunts you, but you don’t want to dwell on it, either. They need to move through it so they can move beyond. It may take time, but it is absolutely doable. Let your children guide the conversation, but be aware of any changes in their behavior that may alert you that they aren’t handling things well and need you to reach out more with understanding and support.
Above all, teach them to forgive. Help them understand that forgiveness doesn’t mean the person isn’t wrong or shouldn’t be punished — it means you let it go. The people who committed that heinous crime in Manchester, England, don’t care whether or not you forgive them. But if you hold onto it, you will be enslaved as their victim forever. Let it go. Don’t give them that power.
Q: It’s such a conundrum, isn’t it. We want our kids to be kids and enjoy their innocence, yet we must deliver the hard realities of life for them.
A: I’ve had to really think about the best way to handle this. When I was a kid, the world was my playground and the “mom standard” was, “Be home when the lights come on.” Now we’re afraid to let our children leave the front yard. I want my children to enjoy their childhood. I want them to be able to ride their bikes to the park or play with their friends down the street, but I also want them to be safe. I can’t always be there — but if I can prepare them as much as possible to protect themselves, it gives me the peace of mind to let them venture out.
In the end, I decided honesty was the best policy. I’ve let my children know there are people in the world who hurt other people and do bad things. We have set up safe standards such as meeting the parents of the children they play with, and having the children call me when they get to that house and when they leave that home. As they get older, I let them venture farther; they can ride their bikes to the park or the store, and they know when they are due back home. I don’t want to teach my children to fear — I want to teach them to be responsible and aware.
Q: Final words to other American moms and dads across the country?
A: Be at the crossroads of your kids’ lives — talk to them about their joys, sorrows, triumphs and challenges. No matter what they face, if you are there when they come and go, they will know they can talk to you. That relationship is the best thing you can give them. It is the safe place they can turn to no matter what, and need a place of refuge from the cold world.