Season 2 | Episode 1: Raising Peacemakers
Can kids be peacemakers? Preemptive Love founders Jeremy and Jessica Courtney share how living in Iraq has influenced how they raise their kids. With host Erin Wilson, they explore the ways culture, technology, and war changed their perception of parenting—and invite us all to enter into difficult conversations with the young people in our lives.
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Can kids be peacemakers? Preemptive Love founders Jeremy and Jessica Courtney share how living in Iraq has influenced how they raise their kids. With host Erin Wilson, they explore how culture, technology, and war changed their perception of parenting—and invite us all to enter into difficult conversations with the young people in our lives.
Their kids, Emma (14) and Micah (11), dive into their perspectives on growing up in Iraq, sharing thoughts on violence, media, and what makes home to them.
Kids are often shielded from bad things, but what happens when that’s not possible?
This episode also includes a call with Molly Goen, a teacher who confides what students taught her after they survived a traumatic act of violence in an Iraqi classroom.
Kids absorb more than we might imagine, and they understand more than we may assume.
When we examine what it looks like to love anyway, we often come up with complicated answers. But ask a kid in your life what it means to love anyway, and you might be surprised at the depth even simple responses bring to the conversation.
- How to Talk to Children About Difficult News
- Creating a Healthy Family Media Plan
- Why Engaging in Conversation with Kids Effects Brain Development
- Infographic: Evolution of Media Use in Young Children
The Love Anyway podcast is written and produced by Kayla Craig, Ben Irwin, and Erin Wilson. Skip Matheny is our digital production director. Jonny Craig is our audio editor. Dylan Seals is our audio mix and mastering engineer. Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall are executive producers. Special thanks to Emma Courtney, Micah Courtney, and Molly Goen. Our Theme music is provided by Roman Candle.
Jeremy: The engine of our life is: Who are we trying to become? What kind of world are we trying to create, first and foremost? Where do we fit into that? And what does that require of us? You don’t just change the world. You change yourself.
Erin: We’re bombarded by messages every day, from famous strangers on mass media, to those in our day-to-day lives via the phone in our pocket. Technology connects us to more people than ever before, yet we struggle to have meaningful conversations about difficult topics with those closest to us. How do we broach challenging — and even polarizing — ideas with love? How do we listen and learn from those of different ages or abilities, races or ethnicities?
And…what if the voices we need the most are the ones often unheard?
Erin: I’m Erin Wilson, Preemptive Love’s senior field editor in Iraq. And you’re listening to Love Anyway.
Erin: This season, we’re exploring challenging conversations, especially with the young ones in our lives. Instead of shying away from tough topics, what if we pressed into them, and if we’re honest, into the awkwardness that comes with talking about hard things? What if choosing to love anyway, if working to end war, looks a lot more like listening than we might have thought?
Here in our office in Iraq, I sat down with Jessica and Jeremy Courtney, my friends, co-workers, and founders of Preemptive Love. You heard them both in season one, but I wanted to get even more personal. I wanted to ask them about a demographic often left out of peacemaking conversations: Kids.
Jessica: When we had kids, we didn’t have a plan for how we were going to introduce them to the world. We just barely had a plan for how we were going to keep them alive. Micah wasn’t even a thought when we moved into Iraq. Emma was 18 months old. And years before we had Emma, someone had said to us, that parenting should happen in a going-along process.
Erin: “Going-along” process. My path to unmake violence might look different from yours, but many of us are figuring out as we go, what it looks like to love anyway. Jeremy and Jessica have raised their two kids among a wide range of experiences—from the joy of picnics with friends in the mountains of Iraq, to the threat of violence by ISIS. I asked them to share how culture, technology, and war have changed their perceptions on parenting–and how all of us with young people in our lives, can learn something from it.
Jeremy: The engine of our life is: Who are we trying to become? What? What kind of world are we trying to create, first and foremost? Where do we fit into that? And what what does that require of us? You don’t just change the world. You change yourself.
And then what does that mean about how we parent our children? A lot of us don’t set our intentions on anything that clear or that compelling. And so we’re left thrown about by the cultural winds and the news of the day saying, How do I talk to my kids about this shooting? How do I talk to my kids about this March? How do I talk to my kids about this outbreak. And it…it’s a lot, it’s a lot right now, with every time you open your computer or turn on the TV, it’s everything, the news and the headlines are changing so fast, it’s a lot for a kid to keep up with. It’s a lot for a parent to keep up with.
PBS News Clip: “A new report is again casting a spotlight on the harsh conditions for migrant families and children who are being detained by the U.S. government near the Mexican border.”
PBS News Clip: “With an increasing number of school shootings across the country, school boards and administrators are struggling with how to prepare for the worst-case scenarios.”
PBS News Clip: We return now to the military crackdown in Sudan today, the worst violence since the overthrow of the country’s president in April.
Jeremy: The only way we know to do it is to set our big goal, our big intention on a certain kind of world that we want to be a part of, and to constantly reflective, we ask ourselves and our kids, what then does that require of us?
Erin: Each one of us gets the chance to set the tone of our lives, regardless of circumstance. For some of us, growing up with the privilege of relative safety, regular meals, and decent schools, setting that tone can be a matter of intention. Privilege allows us to choose much of what the children in our lives are exposed to.
Erin: So talk to me about privilege. We all happen to be white Westerners living in living in Iraq, we all have privilege, no matter what kind of a life we’re living here. I think we were probably all from privileged communities back in the United States and Canada, before we even moved here. Not everybody has the choice. To live in particular kinds of ways with their kids.
Jeremy: I can’t just sit on the sidelines. So we’re trying to learn and trying to lead in a way that invests and leverages what we have to the benefit of everyone, to the equality and the raising up of everyone.
Jessica: Doing this as a family, I think is a privilege. I think it’s beautiful that we get to live in a place where our children can go along with us, that our life is set up in such a way that our kids get to be a part of the solutions to the problems that we’re seeing, that we get to think through all of that together.
Jessica: For those of us who have been raised in places of privilege, we have the privilege to turn off the news, and to turn off the phone when it’s overwhelming, or when our children walk in the room, because what’s being said is most likely not going to alter our lives. If there was a shooting across town, that we don’t want our kids to be aware that exists. There’s entire neighborhoods across town, who for home that happened in their day, they know that person who was killed, or maybe the person who was shooting the gun, and they can’t hide from that conversation. And they can’t hide from the one that’s potentially coming next week, in their neighborhood the same way in Iraq, that no one could hide from the effects of ISIS.
Jessica: we have to recognize if we choose that posture of protection not everyone has that privilege, and if we continue to promote that privilege, if we keep imposing it on our children, we’re not inviting them into conversations as we go, to be able to really process what’s happening so that they can become even better human beings than we are today.
Jeremy: I think we’re trying to raise our family and trying to lead an organization in a way that says where there is privilege — where there is opportunity afforded to some but not the others — how can we leverage that? Where can we invest that? Where can we put it to use so that we create the world where everything rises?
Micah: Hi, I’m Micah William Courtney and I’m 11 years old and I live in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq.
Emma: I’m Emma Courtney. I’m 14 years old.
Erin: I sat down with Emma and Micah Courtney, Jeremy and Jessica’s children, here in Iraq. They fit our conversation in between reading chapters in their current books and playing with their dog, Ninja.
Erin: So when people ask you guys what where you’re from? What do you say?
Micah and Emma: Iraq.
Erin: And when people ask you where’s home?
Micah and Emma: Iraq.
Erin: It does feel like home. You’ve spent your whole lives here.
Emma: Americans think that it’s a desert here, or that it’s not entirely safe, like it’s always a war zone. But it’s not. I feel like right now here in Iraq, it’s safer than it is right now in the states, because of school shootings and other stuff like that.
Americans shouldn’t be afraid of Iraq ’cause it’s pretty much the same as America. It’s still a country, people still live there, it’s not always dangerous, and it’s not dangerous everywhere in Iraq.
Erin: I think there’s people that maybe wonder if your life has been really hard here because you’ve lived in Iraq instead of the United States. In some ways, life in the United States is, is easier. Um, the electricity is better, things like that.
Micah: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s easier. I would say it’s more convenient.
Micah: And I guess you could say that things that make it more convenient do make life easier, but you don’t need electricity 24/7, like it’s cool if you have it. Like that’s great, but it’s not a need.
Jessica: I learn a lot from my kids because I think when we get in these hard conversations, their oftentimes simplistic view of things can really help distill a problem down to what’s at the root of that problem.
Erin: We’ll be right back.
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These colorful stuffed dolls are hand-made by a community of Israeli and Palestinian women working together for unity and peace. It’s amazing. The peace dolls are super soft and each one has a special name meaning “peace” in a different language. But honestly, a description can’t do them justice, you just have to go to preemptivelove.shop to see them. And while you’re there, you can use our special code “podcast” for 20 percent off any peace doll. And you can feel good about knowing the money you spent will go right back into empowering families in Iraq, Syria, and beyond. Alright, back to Jeremy and Jessica.
Jessica: I remember the January, when the US government decided that people who came from Iraq were no longer allowed to come into the US. Jeremy and I were traveling, we were in the States, the kids were staying with friends. And there was this announcement that if you were from these countries, you were no longer you were banned. You’re banned from America, you couldn’t travel to America.
PBS news clip: “Protests erupted within hours Friday and continued all weekend, after President Trump issued his sweeping executive order temporarily barring all refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations.”
Jessica: Jeremy and I, our hearts were broken. And we went into action mode: speak against it, figure out how to make sure that friends from this part of the world weren’t being seen as a group being lumped into this idea that they didn’t belong in America. We were away from the kids about a week, and it never occurred to me in that time, that they might have had access news about what was happening or how they would process that. And we got back home to the kids. And we were packing up and headed to Iraq. I remember the plane landing in Iraq two days later, and stepping off the plane standing in the passport line to get our visa stamped. And Micah, his little shoulders just released all of this the sigh of air.
And I looked down at him and he has tears in his eyes. And I said, buddy, what’s going on? Are you okay? And he said, Mommy, I just feel so safe now just feel so safe. We’re finally here back in Iraq back in Iraq. And I said, I said, buddy, why were you afraid in America? And he said, because they don’t want us there. We’re from Iraq, and they don’t want us to be in America, they made a ban against people coming to America for Iraq. And I just didn’t know when they were going to tell us we had to leave.
Jessica: I just broke in that moment for my son who I thought had no idea about this conversation. And he’d been trying to process it all on his own. And I said, Honey, where did you hear about that? And he said, Well, we heard the adults talking about it. But they didn’t want to talk to us about it. They weren’t talking to us about it. So we went on YouTube, and we just looked for the news so that somebody would tell us what was happening.
Jessica: I realized in that moment that trying to avoid a subject, trying to hide children from a subject they’re going to hear…we just live in too connected a world right now, to think for a minute that any, any child above the age of eight, in probably even younger isn’t going to hear this somewhere or see it. There’s screens everywhere they go. And it’s so much better to have the opportunity to be the one to help process and direct the emotions and feelings and thoughts of our children, to hold that place as their parents, and, and just help guide them through these conversations than it is to avoid it.
Molly: What’s cool about younger kids is their questions. You know, they’re not inhibited and so they ask maybe even harder questions. And they understand the gravity of it too.
Erin: That’s my friend, Molly Goen. Molly used to work with us at Preemptive Love as Jeremy’s executive assistant. But before that, she was a teacher, in places like the United States, China, the United Arab Emirates, and Iraq. When I talked with Molly this week, she was in Israel. Between Israel and Iraq, our internet connection was terrible, but it was so good to hear her voice.
Molly knows what it’s like to be open to the kinds of kid’s conversations that spontaneously derail a Tuesday morning English class. But she also knows what it’s like to face a shocking tragedy beside them—the kind of tragedy that a growing number of US children and teachers have experienced.
Erin: You’ve had the shock of dealing with a really terrible tragedy in a classroom full of students. Can you tell me briefly what happened?
Molly: Yeah, in 2012, I was teaching at a school in Iraq. And I was observing one of my friends–and co-worker–teach 11th-grade literature and humanities classes and I was learning a lot. And one day a student brought a gun to the…into class and stood up. Yeah…got my friend and then…got himself. And he died a couple hours later, and my friend died pretty instantly.
Erin: So this was this was during a class in session?
Molly: Yes, it was there was in front of the whole 11th grade. I think. I actually don’t remember the number of students there but I think like 18 or 20. 20.
Erin: If this event had taken place in the US–there were 94 incidents of school gun violence in 2018 alone–it might not have been so shocking. But school shootings are incredibly rare in Iraq. And this was Iraq before ISIS. This was a good school, in a good neighborhood. And yet Molly, her teaching colleague Jeremiah, and 20 students found themselves caught up in a tragedy.
There are times when we choose to avoid talking to children about hard things, and then there are times when we can’t, because the kids are part of it, and they need the help of adults to process.
Erin: I asked Molly if she’s talked to those 11th-grade students, those who had to bolt from behind their school desks to find safety outside the classroom seven years ago. Iraq isn’t a place where psychological help is widely accessible…or sought out.
Molly: I noticed that the students that I talked to knew that I was a safe person to be able to talk to you. And a lot of times they just wanted to talk about either our…their teacher–who was my friend–or the student, and still ask the question as to why did it happen? You know. There’s a lot of unanswered questions surrounding this. And so just to be able to process that.
Or the other thing I noticed, and I don’t know if it was a language translation thing, is that a lot of times they would refer to it as “the accident”. And, and it took me a little bit to catch on to it, but then I realized that was the story they were starting to tell themselves, is that it was an accident. And so I did feel like I needed to say, “No, I don’t know if, if it’s a translation thing or not, but if you want to say it was an incident, you can say that. But it wasn’t an accident. The student bringing a gun to school showed planning, you know, so it wasn’t accidental. And I, I didn’t want them minimizing it.
But they were wrestling with—this is a classmate. This is a cousin. This is a friend, who did this to our teacher. Who we’ve known…who we’ve had for, you know, six years. and trying to reconcile what had happened.
Erin: I asked Molly if she’s talked to other children in her life about what happened—children who haven’t experienced violence first-hand.
Molly: Yes, there’s been a few kids and like young kids, there’s been a few. And I was talking to some family friends in the States. And they’re really open with their kids about a lot of things. And I started talking about it and I asked them, you know, is it okay. And what’s cool about younger kids is their questions. You know, they’re not. inhibited and so they ask maybe even harder questions. And they understand the gravity of it too.
It’s a little intimidating to talk about death and to talk about violence and in a realistic way and not try to hide it.
Erin: Molly summed it up this way—with kids, you don’t have to pretend you have all the answers like you sometimes have to do with adults.
Molly is headed back to the US shortly. She’ll teach a fourth-grade homeroom filled with kids who are immigrants and refugees, who each have their own kind of difficult realities.
Molly: I want them to feel like I want my classroom to be a safe space where they can talk about those experiences if they feel like that need to, and that I wouldn’t say a lot of these experiences probably lean towards peacemaking. And so we can talk about ways we can be peacemakers in our corner of the world on a daily basis.
Erin: Safe spaces for hard conversations…
Emma: My dad teaches me about what’s happening in the news, and I like that because I like to know what’s going on.
I don’t know how to explain it… [laughs] like equality…and rights for people of color. I just feel like things should be easier the color of skin shouldn’t matter, or gender shouldn’t matter, age shouldn’t matter, we all should be treated equally.
Erin: The kids around us absorb more than we might imagine, and they understand more than we may assume. When we examine the definition of ‘Love Anyway’ in our own lives, we often come up with complicated answers. Ask a kid in your life, and you might be surprised at the depth even simple responses bring to the conversation. Emma Courtney sums it up well.
Emma: To me, preemptive love means loving anybody and everybody.
Jeremy: That mantra, love anyway, it’s an invitation. It’s not a weapon that we use against our kids. It’s not a weapon that we use against each other. It’s not to be weaponized, period against anyone, anywhere, anytime. But it is an invitation that is always to be extended to anyone, anywhere, anytime.
Erin: Visit this episode’s show notes at preemptivelove.org/podcast for more detailed information about how children consume news, and tips for watching the news with kids.
In our next episode, we explore how to talk with the kids in our lives about immigration. You’ll hear from our friend Jose, who shares what he wants you to know about growing up in the US as an immigrant from Mexico. We’ll talk with an immigration expert about the language we use and why it matters. And we’ll check in with our friends at the US-Mexico border, to get an update on the emergency relief you’re providing to asylum-seeking families.
Connect with us and learn more about what we do via @preemptivelove on Instagram and Twitter. Use the hashtag #loveanyway to give feedback or start a conversation.
I’m Erin Wilson, and this is Love Anyway. Thanks for listening.
The Love Anyway podcast is written and produced by Kayla Craig, Ben Irwin, and Erin Wilson. Skip Matheny is our digital production director. Jonny Craig is our audio editor. Dylan Seals is our audio mix and mastering engineer. Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall are executive producers. Special thanks to Emma Courtney, Micah Courtney, and Molly Goen. Theme music is by Roman Candle.