Right around the time I was in high school, the “Safe Zone” movement caught momentum. Often in the form of stickers on classroom doors or pins on teacher’s shirts, the Safe Zone label indicated that a person or space was a place of safety, acceptance, and support. As you can tell by the image, this message was primarily targeted at the LGBT community. Even though I wasn’t out in high school and never felt the need to seek out a Safe Zone for any specific comfort or support, just knowing they were there brought me a wonderful peace of mind. I enjoyed my algebra class a little more because my teacher had that sticker on his desk.
But what if we could expand the concept? Couldn’t everyone benefit from having a Safe Zone? A place where you could fully and simply be embraced?
This idea came to me recently after facing a difficult time in my life. A time when I realized that so many people, including those I love, do not have a Safe Zone. Ever since, I have been consumed with creating such a space in my home.
In our Safe Zone:
- You can like any TV show, color, game, clothing choice, or whatever that makes your heart sing and you will not be made fun of for it.
- In fact, no making fun at all!
- It’s cool to be different. To have ideas, feelings, fears, and joys. It’s cool to be just who you are.
- You are safe to share. Silly, quirky, embarrassing, scary, sad, mad, guilty. It is safe to tell me. I will listen.
- Everyone matters. Everyone is important.
Granted, this isn’t an entirely foreign concept or a vast departure from the vibe of our home to begin with. My wife and I have always been on board with creating a family that operates around the concepts of value and respect. But, something about the label really does something for me, and I’ve noticed a difference in my children, too. For example…
“Please stop teasing.”
“But so and so did such and such first! And she’s _____!!!!!”
“Remember, this is a safe zone. We all get a break from teasing here.”
Cheesy? Maybe. Will I stray from the specific terminology and label in a month or two? Probably. But, I’m determined to make the concept a touchstone for our family.
When everyone comes home at the end of the day, I want them to be able to breathe. I can’t be by their sides every minute of the day. I can’t shield them from every bit of teasing, discrimination, peer pressure, harmful social messaging, or other crap they may encounter. What I can offer, is a safe place to return to. A place to lay down the battle armor and take a deep sigh of relief. A place to feel seen, heard, valued, accepted, and loved for the perfectly unique person they were created to be.
If I’m choosing a hill to die on, this will be it.
The other night I was laying in bed with my littlest daughter. That day I had been faced with the pain and despair that can came from living a life without a Safe Zone, so I was nearly in tears when I squeezed her close and whispered, “Baby, please please tell Mommy if anyone ever hurts you. I will listen. I will be here.”
She took a little breath and said, “Well…today, at the con-pUter, my friend said I was not sharing and he was not gonna be my friend any more and it hurted my feewings.”
Then a tear did fall, and I was glad it was too dark for her to see the smile that spread across my face.
“I’m sorry that happened, baby. Thank you for telling me.”