Love, Mindfulness, Parenting, Philosophy

Guns are just a metaphor

This is not a post about gun control. It’s not a post about violence prevention in our schools or in our towns.

It’s a post about growing up — my growing up — as a mother.

And the single greatest lesson I have learned in my ten years, 364 days of parenting.


I know nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

If I look at myself now from the future, this will always be true.

Each day, as a mother, I am growing and learning and changing. And when I look back at the mother I was two years ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, I understand instantly how little I know. And in knowing this, I know everything.

When my son, who is turning 11 this weekend, was a little boy and started to amass little boy toys, we had a rule (my rule): No guns in the house.

As my son transitioned from dinosaurs to Playmobil, the rule shifted a little: No handheld toy guns in the house. But Playmobil policemen were allowed.

And as he grew, in a house that didn’t allow guns, he still played with imaginary ones, as boys do. I could’ve attempted to enforce a new rule, “No pretend guns with clothes hangers,” but by that time I started to realize, just a little, that I might not be able to prevent imaginary gun play and so I instated a new rule: No video games or computer games with guns.

This, I knew, would prevent my son from turning into one of those scary people on the 6 o’clock news; I just knew it. Video games and TV were really the culprits in the downward cycle of violence in America. If our children didn’t see it on TV or in video games, we’d all be safe. I was certain of it.

But, as you probably have gathered by now and mothers more seasoned than I already know, my son grew older. He started to do things on his own — when I wasn’t around. He played shoot ’em up computer games at friends’ houses where rules didn’t get in the way, and watched Clint Eastwood movies on YouTube. And one day, last year, got a Nerf gun as a gift from his classmates for his birthday.

On that day, I had to choose: Would I rescind a parenting decision I had made 10 years prior? Or stick to my guns, so to speak?

I let the Nerf guns in.

I held up my palms to the air that day and looked skyward and said to someone (or no one) in that defeated mother’s voice:

“What, really, do I know?”

And an answer came down from somewhere or nowhere: You know nothing. And yet …

And yet, my son seems to. He seems to know something.

A year later, the kid has amassed a Nerf collection — guns, foam bullets, a vest.  And despite this, seems to know the difference between right and wrong. Play and reality. Seems to be able to function appropriately with peers — completely against my assumption 10 years ago about what happens to boys when they start playing with guns.

In a twist that feels unfathomable to me — a woman who once thought her sons would never handle a toy gun — my son is hosting 20 of his friends today at a paintball party. It makes me uncomfortable a bit; it does.  I find myself asking this morning: What does this say about my son that he wants a paintball party? Worse: What does it say about my parenting that I am allowing it?

And the only answer I can come up with is:

I know nothing.

This is my BIRTH-day gift.

This knowing does not release me from fear or from self-blame for whatever my son may choose to be or to do in the future.  But, rather, allows me to be free to love in the best way I know how … today.

I am certain that I will keep making rules for my children. Just as I am certain I will always be afraid for them.

But, I suppose, that with each passing year, as I understand more and more how little I know about what my raising them will ultimately lead to, I will allow myself to let go.

To trust them to raise themselves.

And hope that my loving them was enough.

Because really, I know nothing.

gun cake

14 thoughts on “Guns are just a metaphor”

  1. So the question is do you know everything when you know nothing because knowing that you know nothing is everything you need to know 🙂 I hope you son has a great birthday and a good paintball party 🙂


  2. Love this post Jen. Perhaps you do know more than you think though, because if he started playing w/guns 10 years ago, he may not have had the time to form those right/wrong views he has today. But I’m with you–parenting is a challenge that changes so much over time, we are all works in progress as much as our kids are…


    1. Maybe. But then what does that say about his little brother and sister who are growing up with a different mom than he did (eating lots more junk and watching more crap on TV, not to mention the fact that I hardly ever read to them!) i am SUCH a work in progress (which is so exhausting, isn’t it?).


  3. Oh I love this. It is hard for me not to roll my eyes a bit inside when I hear other parents’ grand declarations for what their kids will do and not do. As they get older, they do (thankfully) develop into their own people. Limits and boundaries are still good, but we’re not molding these people like lumps of clay.


    1. I think I started rolling my eyes when my first turned four. (which is also when I finally got all the eye rolling at me that I had missed years before.) Now I try not to eye roll but to smile, knowing soon enough they will start feeling the eyes roll up too! (circle of parenting life)


  4. Great post Jen. Throwing our hands up in the air and saying “I know nothing” allows us to open ourselves up to true knowledge. I agree with Robin. I think that it is because of your parenting and the rules that you put in place, at appropriate times, are leading him to the respect that he shows today. I am sure you have raised a great kid and you are a great parent.

    Happy Birthday to your son!! Happy **birth** day to you!!!


  5. I try not to roll my eyes at things that other parents say about what they will or won’t do…unless it’s at my MIL when she is revising history.
    i made a no toy guns rule for my household before i even had kids and i’ve been pretty good at sticking to it even though my son will be 8 this summer. i get rid of any toy gun gifts (including nerf and water guns) and don’t let any into my house. I don’t try to get in the way of the imaginary warfare that he involves himself in at his friends’ houses with their toys or with his pointed finger in my own house. I never said that I thought that toy guns would turn him into any particular sort of person, rather that I am uncomfortable with having them in my house and in my immediate world and I’m pretty sure that I’ll stick to it, because I doubt that *I* will be any less comfortable with it at any point in time.
    Knowing how little you know as a parent is key but it is also just as key to respect your right to feel a certain way and to expect your kids and others to respect your mishegas, as it were, for no reason other than because you feel that way. Really.


  6. “If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything.
    In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”

    Shunryu Suzuki


  7. Hi Jen,
    I had the same feelings about guns when my son was young; there was no need for guns in our home. At the same time, my husband was a policeman and carried a gun everyday as part of his uniform. So instead of banning guns, I tried my best to avoid toy guns but boys will create weapons from anything – Barbies, Lego, a stick. My best parenting moment was when I realized I knew nothing.
    I still find it amusing to listen to the “perfect” parents tell me how they are going to raise their kids. You know, the ones that don’t yet realize they know nothing.


    1. I love it when I am able to find things amusing rather than judge. This is also one of my great lessons I had to learn “on the way.” (And still learning!)


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