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Mental Health

Being a Mom in the Era of Mass Shootings

Country of Origin: The United States of America

One Saturday in August 2019, parents, grandparents, and children were shopping for school supplies at an El Paso Walmart when they came face to face with a gunman set on taking as many Brown lives as possible. While this was happening, I was at Walmart in El Paso, buying school supplies for my son. I just happened to be at a different Walmart in town on that fateful day. 

I spent the rest of the day watching the news and video clips online. I cried a lot. I attended a vigil at a high school football stadium. I was shaking.

I felt the kind of fear you have that’s not for yourself, but for your child, who is smaller and more helpless.

My son was with his father that day and although I received a text that they were ok, it wasn’t enough. I needed to hold my baby, to hug him and kiss him. I needed that as a mom. It was the first time I ever realized that I needed that reassurance because I had never experienced a moment like this. 

(Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash)

My son is my first child, and he was four years old at the time of the shooting. I was still very much new to parenting. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was experiencing parental anxiety triggered by the mass shooting. I had intense worry and emotion that my son was not safe. These fears were irrational, and although I knew he was safe, I felt otherwise.

After the Walmart shooting, I sought therapy, and it helped immensely. I was offered helpful ways to cope with my worries. Now, I make use of tools that I know will reduce my anxiety. My favorite calming activities include listening to my vinyl records, baking, reading fiction, exercising outdoors, and taking my son to community events. I usually have a good stretch of time before the next mass shooting.

Parental anxiety is a normal reaction to something as upsetting as a mass shooting. But considering that mass shootings occur so often in the U.S. they are now part of our culture, this is a reaction that can recur frequently. Now, when a mass shooting occurs, especially if it is one that involves children, a school, or a place I frequent with my son (like a store), I feel this intense worry again and the need to keep him safe. I recognize the fear and I work toward improving my mental health, identifying rational or irrational fears, and using coping mechanisms to reduce my parental anxiety. But sadly, mass shootings are the norm and the cycle of events for parents can look something like this:

(Diagram created by Corin Ramos)

A Community Shaken 

When a tragedy like a mass shooting happens to your own town, it changes you. It changes everybody. I should say that El Paso is not like other cities. To say we are close-knit is an understatement. The people here speak to their neighbors, confide in strangers, and support each other. This is not the kind of city where you can meet someone at the mall and then never see them again in your life. I have had pharmacy techs speak to me like they’re my sisters, panaderia workers regard me as a daughter, and grocery checkout people tell me about their day and genuinely ask me about mine. This city truly does have a “small town feel.” 

On weekends we go to local festivals or Farmers’ Markets. In the mornings and evenings, we walk dogs in our neighborhoods and greet our neighbors. Our kids make lemonade stands and sell chocolates door-to-door. Carolers come to your door at Christmas. If your dog runs out the door, a neighbor will bring him in, so he is safe. We take care of each other, and we care for each other. This is what it means to be an El Pasoan. 

This is the kind of community that quells your anxiety. When a heinous act like a mass shooting happens, it leaves an impact. For days after the shooting, there were reports of people, especially elderly people, being afraid to go in grocery stores. They waited outside and even asked workers to get items for them. Years later, I still cannot step foot in the Walmart where the shooting occurred. 

Among the victims were friends of my coworkers. One was going to be a guest at my coworker’s upcoming wedding. Also killed was my husband’s former bus driver. A family was broken when two parents shielded their baby boy, saving his life but losing theirs.

This was our community. People we knew, saw, and remembered. 

(Photo by Rux Centea on Unsplash)

The victims of Uvalde, mostly children, lost their lives in May, 2022. Every time a shooting happens, I hope that will be the last shooting. But in hoping and praying, every time a shooting happens, I will also act. First, I must take care of myself and my family. I cannot be a good mother to my son if I am suffering and not taking care of my own mental health. In doing so, I make sure my family feels healthy and secure. Then I take care of my community, doing everything I can to make positive change. 

I vote, I march, I prepare. 

This is what it means to be a mother in the era of mass shootings. 


References

Grose, J. (2022, May 25). How to manage fears after mass violence. The New York Times. 

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2022/05/25/well/family/texas-mass-shooting-fears.html

Miles, K. (2022, May 26). How to cope with school shootings as a parent. BabyCenter. 

https://www.babycenter.com/child/parenting-strategies/school-shootings-parental-anxiety_40009570

Rowden, A. (2022, April 26). What causes parental anxiety and what effects does it

have? MedicalNewsToday. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/parental-anxiety


Thank you to Christina Lee for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Mental Health team.

If you are interested in submitting a piece to the DG Sentinel, please visit our submissions page here.

Corin Ramos, Ph.D., is a mother, activist, and psychology researcher residing in El Paso, Texas.

2 Comments

  • Ashley Redsell

    Beautifully written, Corin. Even for those of us who watch from a distance, it’s distressing that Americans have to live from one of these tragedies to the next… and the next… and the one after that.

    With best wishes for your family’s continuing safety, Ashley

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