Parenting in these Interesting Times is pretty awful sometimes.
It’s also incredible and brings me more hope than nearly anything else has in the last 3 years, though.
My husband and I have three kids. They’re 12, 9, and 8 years old and we’ve been open and honest with them since they were born. We’re both white, and we have worked to raise them with knowledge of their privilege as well as helping them understand anti-racism (instead of “colorblindness”), sexism, and homophobia since a very young age. White families especially need to teach our kids about these things because the wider culture isn’t going to do it for us. We’re “the norm” and it’s unacceptable for us to just let our kids grow up assuming that’s fine.
Our parenting goals have been to respect our kids as autonomous human beings while balancing that with their safety and others’ autonomy. In practice, this means that my kids don’t have to hug people they don’t want to hug, but they had to sit in carseats even if they threw a tantrum. They can choose when to use their screens or read or play outside, but they do have limits that they have to respect.
We aren’t perfect parents by any means. I struggled with undiagnosed, unmedicated postpartum anxiety when they were young and yelled more than I should have. We get frustrated because kids are frustrated and kids are FRUSTRATING! But our parenting priority is treating all kids like the autonomous human beings with fundamental rights that they are.
Which brings me to… today. The Interesting Times I mentioned above. The creeping tide of fascism. Our subculture of xenophobia and jingoism that got put into power by a long process of undemocratic and treasonous gerrymandering and the subjugation of democratic rights.
This is a toughie when you’re talking to sweet, innocent toddlers and preschoolers and idealistic elementary students and sarcastic but still idealistic middle schoolers and high schoolers who just realized their education was false and the democracy (and teachers and pastors and authority figures) they believed were wrong at best, or much worse – liars.
However, there are a few ways to make these discussions a bit more fruitful as a parent, aunt/uncle, or any other loving caregiver.
The first, and the most important for every single age group:
Welcome kids’ emotions and feelings and hold them together with the kids in a safe space. Kids who feel like strong emotions that are coded as negative are “bad” or otherwise unwelcome won’t be open with you. Tears and yelling and anger and hurt and grief are all completely normal and okay – and feeling them with you there for support will mean the kids will learn they don’t have to repress themselves.
For toddlers and preschoolers:
Use the Mr. Rogers method of looking for the helpers. Children at this age desperately need to feel safe with their caretakers. It’s incredibly easy to talk to kids this age about stuff like sex (make it simple, use the correct words for body parts, talk about consent, and discuss it pretty clinically), but discussing death and state-sanctioned kidnapping is REALLY SCARY.
A toddler or preschooler needs to know that they are safe and their parents have the power to keep them safe. Even if it’s not technically true these days (especially if you’re a person of color or an immigrant!), and even if it feels incredibly unfair to get to say “we’re citizens so we are safe” – keep kids’ hearts safe while you’re talking to them about the news. “The government is doing some things that harm these families and the kids and parents are being kept apart right now. This isn’t something that’s going to happen to you, and we and all the other adults we know are working hard to make this better for all the people in trouble. We’re giving money and we’re protesting and we’re making sure new people are put into the government. But it IS terrible, and we’re angry and sad about it. We love you, and we want these kids to have their parents back with them as soon as possible because they love their kids just as much as we love you.”
For elementary students:
These kids can understand a lot more about the difficulty of pushing back against the government than younger kids can. My kids started learning about the Civil Rights Era in school, and by 2nd grade they were learning about Ruby Bridges being screamed at by white adults and MLK getting assassinated. This varies based on school system. My kids are in Chicago Public Schools where they don’t whitewash it as much as many places do, but I still had to do some “homework” with them about the way people teach this history and how it whitewashes MLK and erases the contributions of Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
Speaking to kids about how we are working hard to improve the people in charge of our country by protesting, voting, donating, etc. is crucial, as is bringing kids to protests and letting them see you living out your ideals. Stand up to family members who are saying hurtful things, “Uncle John, I don’t feel comfortable with you saying that, especially in front of kids. Please be respectful of us.”
Make yourself available to questions the kids have even if they’re scary or upsetting to you. If you can’t answer questions because of your own anxiety or similar mental health struggles, find a trusted adult who can help them. (In my family, my anxiety acts up severely about school shootings, so I refer the kids to my husband when they want to have those discussions.) Ensure the kids feel like their concerns are important.
Helping kids have something to do to help will help them feel secure AND help them learn activism. Kids can:
- Make protest signs
- Help look up charities for your donations
- Write letters to elected officials
- Help you call elected officials (call your favorite “family values” politician and tell them your 5th grader has something to say and enjoy the guilt trip!)
- Look up youtube videos about stepping in when people are being bullied. Non-violent conflict resolution is a great keyword here.
For middle and high school students:
These kids are learning sarcasm and humor and often need reminding that empathy and love and friendship is not uncool. They can do everything the elementary kids can, and they need the same reassurance that little kids need, but they can also start to make their own choices about when to step in. They need to practice how to stand up for people with marginalized identities, how and when to go to an authority figure, and how to stand up to their friends.
You’re not going to be able to teach all of these things but you’re going to be their soft place to land while they practice living out their values. You’ll give them ideas, support them, sometimes maybe march angrily into the principal’s office if they’re treated poorly by authority figures – and you’ll answer their tough questions. Practicing telling the truth when they’re little is so crucial because 1) you’ll have more practice and will feel less awkward and 2) they’ll trust you to tell them the truth and they’ll know you won’t laugh at them for whatever they ask.
The big takeaway to all of this? Teaching kids about difficult topics doesn’t have to be a miserable slog. Kids are smart, interesting, invested human beings who want to make their world a better place. Help them figure out how to do it by giving them ways to take ownership of the world they live in, and help them understand that parents all over the world want nothing more than to protect their babies and children. We can all help, but pretending nothing is going on is going to do kids a major disservice in the long run.
Leah Chibe is originally from northern Michigan but has been living on the south side of Chicago for 15 years with her husband and, eventually, kids/dogs/a biergarten in the backyard. She is currently in seminary working to become a Lutheran chaplain. She can be reached at @LeahChibe on Twitter.
Moderator Note from Captain Awkward:
Could we keep the discussion on this thread for parents of kids under 18, by parents of kids under 18 today? If you don’t have the problem of trying to explain world events to kids right now, cool! This is not your catch-all drive-by politics-feelings-thread. Thank you.
133 thoughts on “Guest Post: Talking To Your Kids About Scary Things In The News”
I am a parent of two teens, and they have requested very different things to deal with the current dumpster fire of culture and politics. My son wants sarcasm and dark, angry humor. He wants Pod Save America, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. My other kid wants to know *only* the top-level headlines, and then they want some cute puppy pictures. Both are valid and fine. As for me, I call my electeds in front of the kids, my spouse and I talk about our political and charitable giving. The kids help me make my protest signs, I get them political hoodies and t-shirts. YMMV, but it seems important that they know and understand the world, at whatever level they can engage with it.
“I call my electeds in front of the kids”
Speaking as an ex-kid who listened in while her mom wrangled Big Corporate bureaucracies into submissions Back In The Day, I can’t overstate how valuable this kind of modelling has been for me, even fifty years later.
+1. I also was around when my mom called or wrote pen and paper letters to our reps. I think the youngest I was at a protest was 5 years old? It made a big impression on me, and even though I now diverge from some of her political beliefs significantly, she was able to teach me how to participate in the public discourse in meaningful ways.
My child is only 2.5 years old, but she has gone with me to the polls every election possible since she was born. I want to model that it’s not only important to say your opinion in protest (very important!) but also actually participate in the process of deciding who gets in. She was old enough to learn the word “Voting” last time, and I made little fake ballots for us to play “voting” with her stuffed animals. (I put pictures on each ballot, and we circled/scribbled the one we wanted.) I’m planning on upgrading this during the next election cycle and having a run off, including campaign promises/ideas. (Ms. Bear promises X but wants to take away Y vs Mr. Fox promises Y and wants to take away Z). And then have her vote and “live with” the consequences.
Mine is one and a half, so I am filing the voting for the bears away to pull out in a couple of years.
He’s already been to five marches/rallies/protests.
As a child, my mom took me to city council meetings, and let me see her make calls and write letters.
I’ve taken my four year-old to marches and explained as much as possible as I can. At march for our lives, she knows about guns and never to touch/play with one. So we talked about how sometimes even some grown ups don’t use guns correctly, they use them in bad ways, and we want to make sure there are more rules to protect people.
We’ve explained government as much as possible. Mommy and daddy make rules for our house. Our mayor makes rules for the city, the governor for the state, etc. We’ve talked about letters (she loves letters). She still is a bit fuzzy in the system. She showed me a “letter” (scribbles) she wrote to Wonder Woman asking her to arrest the current president. That led to a conversation about how mommy doesn’t want the president hurt (not really) but I want to use legal means like letters and voting to make better things happen. We try to include her in age appropriate ways, take her with us to protest marches, and let her be part of the conversation. Sometimes she is with us, sometimes she isn’t , we don’t push but introduce and let her follow as she can and engage at her level by following her lead after the initial conversation.
Your daughter wins at life, in my humble opinion.
lizinthelibrary, I agree with B, your daughter is indeed very fortunate. ❤ Yay for you!
Thank you for your incredibly thoughtful suggestions about approach on this issue. We’re having the same challenges with the kids (12 and 9), and the 9 yo especially is having trouble with anxiety personally because of what is happening (are they going to take me away etc…).
What we’ve found helpful is having discussions re: their allowance (and we’re lucky that they can have a couple of bucks a week from us as an allowance – aware that we’re very lucky there). We’ve always done the portioning approach with their money (spend, save and donate) and we’ve used the donate part to open up discussions money, power, privilege and how the choice you make (even with a buck a week) makes a difference.
My daughter is 16. She cares about what’s happening, but has a lot of boundaries about it. I’m the one driven to rage and tears, but let’s face it, I’m 40 years older and have a lot of life experience that she doesn’t. She isn’t into sticking out at a protest, but I can find someone else to go with. I have located my progressive tribe in our red county and am getting as involved as I can. I’m cutting back on my school volunteering this fall in order to work for the midterms. One of the teachers from my girl’s school retired and is running for office. I want to get my daughter involved in some of her campaign activities this fall. Realistically I know it’s only going to work if her friends are doing it, too, but I think they might. She’ll be eligible to vote in 2020 and we talk about this all the time–what an important duty this is, and how you make it happen. Like anything else that matters for life, we teach them about politics in stages.
How and when should I introduce these topics when my kids aren’t directly exposed to it? I am American and keep up with what is going on there, but we don’t live in the US right now and I don’t know how to walk the line between informing them and making them frightened of police, government, etc. My kids are white and blond like 90% of their school. There are 4 POC in my daughter’s class of 30. Our police forces set up safety awareness tables in the local grocery store and hand out safety doodads for free. People leave their strollers and bikes everywhere and they somehow don’t get stolen. Their daily lives are pretty privileged.
How can I introduce “the world is scary and really bad” when this is clearly not the reality in front of their faces? They are under 6.
I don’t want to be the white dude American who Brittainsplains, but I have to say I’d wager there’s some pertinent news coverage and examples of inequality and racism out in the world there given what’s going on with your EU membership. If somehow they never hear any of it anywhere I guess that’s something maybe you don’t want to change deliberately? But even with our privileged white life here in the US our five-year-old hears things and discussions, or comments on things or people that allows us an opportunity to provide some gentle direction.
We don’t go out of our way to introduce complex topics but the underlying root of our feelings about equality aren’t all that complex. He understands that there are bad people who do bad things and sometimes there are good people who make mistakes. Saying that there are some bad people who want to make decisions about someone based on how they look is something he can understand. Same thing for our government making mistakes. Talking about words and how some things hurt some people’s feelings we’ve been doing for years. He knows he’s not supposed to say “fart” rather than “toot” or “pass gas” and he’s just flat out not supposed to call people or things “stupid.” When he inevitably gets exposed to rude and/or hateful words about race and religion we’ll start with that sort of approach.
So I don’t know that you need to introduce the idea that the world is scary and bad. If they’re consuming any sort of popular media at all they’re probably getting stories about heroes and villains. If they’re still purely in Peppa Pig territory maybe not, but even the most sanitized kids hero stuff like “PJ Masks” has so-called bad guys. The things they’re doing aren’t kids-in-cages bad but they represent people choosing to do questionable or selfish things without considering the impact on others. Kids understand at that level. I think it’s fair to talk about the whys and hows without necessarily getting into the depths of how negative the results are.
I live in the US, but we are otherwise similarly privileged. I’ll be honest – I’m not currently exposing my preschoolers to much world news. It’s too abstract to them, and I genuinely don’t believe it would do anything other than scare them. What I am trying to do is look for more ways to get outside our largely white community and into spaces where my kids can form relationships with kids who don’t look like them. But it’s a challenge.
My elementary school kid gets information that’s largely couched in civics and history lesson contexts – i.e. here are things that are happening now and here’s how they relate to things that have happened in the past, and here’s how they tie into the values that are important to us. His summer reading list has some good suggestions and I’ve added to them, as well.
I found that sometimes I needed to bring it up myself because we don’t watch the news much and I didn’t want them to have their first exposure to it be some sad nightly news broadcast at Uncle Joe’s. So I’d say things like “there are some sad things going on in our country right now and I want to make sure you know about it just in case you see it on the news. X and Y things are going on, and…” then transition into the above talking points.
Can you start with “the world is different for every kid” before moving into scary and bad? A few years ago I stumbled across a documentary that showed what kids in different parts of the world went through to get an education. I watched it with my then 7 and 9 year old kids. My son was in awe that there are kids in Africa who legitimately have to walk past elephants just to get to school. My daughter couldn’t believe that there were countries in the world where girls couldn’t go to any school they wanted to. The documentary opened up the discussion of how the world isn’t the same for all people and how privileged we are. From there I was able to segue into news events that focused on how people in power treated those who aren’t as privileged as we are.
We live in Northern Europe and it sounds a lot like your place. Idyllic as things seem, they’re not. If you are in Northern Europe, the outsourcing of refugee processing (or not) in Southern Europe and the rest of the Mediterranean is a thing your kid and you will have to deal with sooner or later. We tend to address it these days with our five-year-old by explaining other families want the good things we have, and they deserve them as much as we do, and that sharing doesn’t really make you poorer.
Agreed. We have lived in Europe and the US and small Bean is starting to notice and ask about the differences. You are the absolute boss of what you think your minds can/should hear, but I wanted to gently add our experience as a racially mixed (and partly Muslim) family. We have lived in one of those “idyllic” European cities and small bean was routinely bullied by both kids and even teachers (one teacher “corrected” the spelling of her name by crossing it out on the board in front of the class). Though I assume she isn’t any more exposed to news than other kids her age (6) she talks about it a lot, and is pretty scared by it, especially the talk about Islam (she has asked if we should not be Muslim, in the same vein as we should not cross the street when the light is red). This is all just to say that though these issues may be avoidable for your family at the moment, they are not avoidable for everyone around you, and to put in a bid for white families to teach their kids (like this fantastic guest poster does!) a vocabulary for supporting their friends, which might mean bringing up really hard shit that you could easily avoid.
Ack autocorrect: “minds” = “kids”
As a child someone in my life (teacher, relative, neighbor…I don’t remember who) said something that has always lingered with me “Sharing the cookies always makes them taste sweeter.” I think about this when people talk about the impact refugees and immigrants have on the places we live.
That’s beautiful. I’m gonna use the helll out of that. Thanks!
This is a really good point. Not currently living in N. Europe but I went to university in the Netherlands for a year. And as idyllic as certain aspects of the deeply egalitarian culture were, there’s always a dark side or a Jungian shadow to any society.
I never felt like it was my place to say much about it while I was there. I didn’t want to hear the Dutch tell me my country was full of sh*t. I was a guest in their country, not a paid consultant invited to criticize. But there were political assassinations before I arrived and after I left. A close friend who was a person of color received completely different treatment on the streets and in the shops than I did. And I saw a lot of implicit bias and subconscious behaviors.
Of course the US during the time period I was in the Netherlands was far from a bastion of perfection. And we’re certainly not now. Our collective id seems to be in charge of the whole country at the moment. It’s disorienting. I’m no pot calling a kettle black. And I take responsibility first for the dark side of my own society.
I guess what I’m saying is there are fissures in any culture if you look. I don’t think you even have to look all that hard. Besides which, kids almost definitely hear things on the schoolyard that other students bring from their parents. Biases, beliefs, political statements, lies or interpretations about what is said in the media, repeated from home.
If we’re not talking about it at home ourselves, our kids are getting something about it anyway from the terrible schoolyard where misinformation and myths reign. Because of that, I don’t think there’s anywhere kids are totally protected or sealed away.
Maybe start by asking open ended questions about what their peers are talking about. What are they hearing from other students. Be curious. Even 6 year olds talk about these things. I talked about ‘The Bomb’ at 6 because that was the preoccupation then, even though I couldn’t have pronounced ‘nuclear warhead.’ I’d be very curious to know what a 6 year old in the UK right now thinks the word Brexit means. Or Islam. Or Syria. Or refugee.
Because they’ve heard the words. Their bikes may not be getting stolen and they may live in an enclave of privilege in other ways. But they’ve heard some of these words. What do these terms mean to them. Maybe start there. As an open ended exercise of curiosity and discovery.
Roxy – I love this idea of talking about “key words”, since as you say, if they’re not hearing them at home they’re hearing them somewhere, and better that they discuss them with you. Then at least you’ll have a better sense of what they’re getting at school. Also, everyone here knows this, but since I have to remind myself of this every time I hand-wring about things like “safe” vs “unsafe neighborhoods: “safety” in neighborhoods is often predicated on a deep history of exclusion, and even though that history is often far in the past, it will still be reinforced any time safety comes up (ie, the types of people who were excluded to make the neighborhood “safe” will be the first targeted if it suddenly feels threatened).
This thread is really helpful and hopeful, you guys – I feel better knowing Awkwardeers are out there parenting and talking about these things!
I really like your emphasis on “sharing doesn’t make you poorer” because that is exactly the root of so much inequality, isn’t it? The Haves not wanting to share with the Have Nots and perpetuating a system where the Have Nots are Never Will Haves?
We donate a lot of clothes and toys to a local refugee charity who helps refugee families in our city so I maybe I will lean on this as a way into explaining why some people aren’t as lucky as they are.
Thanks for asking this Cristina. My small child is a similar age and doesn’t hear much news. I’m really ok with that but aware that his bubble can’t last forever 😦
Ours is 4.5 and I’ve found that choosing kids books written about marginalized communities and especially by marginalized authors create a lot more opportunities for conversations about the things her privilege largely shields her from so far. It’s also helps shake the notion that all families and all people look and act like our families.
I’m wrangling with the same question. We are Americans in Germany on a permanent basis. German schools don’t beat around the bush, and our daughter will get solid coverage of German history throughout her childhood. I’m told they keep it age appropriate, but by high school are tackling very difficult and upsetting topics. There is a strong sense of “this is what we did” that everyone takes on – even children of recent immigrants – that is in many ways different from what I experienced growing up in the USA where there was a lot of “doesn’t apply to me/not my history” when it came to topics like slavery, the Civil War, or even the civil rights movement. I’m going to let the German schools take the lead on German history, but at the same time I know that we will have to teach American history at home for her to learn anything in depth.
Replying to my own comment here after a long car ride full of contemplation….I guess the thing that I’m really grappling with is how to effectively teach American history, when she already takes on a big weight in learning that “her people” were responsible for the Holocaust. I will need to be very considerate that I don’t overwhelm her with presenting the other half of her people as responsible for wiping out a sizable chunk of the population of the Americas, introducing slavery, and now being terrible to the descendants of those slaves and original occupants. All things that are very true, but again, that is a lot to take on as a dual citizen. Being proud of one’s heritage is not a thing here, but I do want her to be proud of her ancestors – some of whom “fought Nazis up one side of the world and down the other” as the Captain put it last week – so I might start with little vignettes of history that directly pertain to our family (e.g. visiting the town our Norwegian relatives emigrated from) and work outward from there.
I don’t know whether this is still the case, but when I was living in Germany, there was a certain amount of romanticising the American South a ‘plucky rebels’: Dukes of Hazard were on TV, you could buy rebel flag stickers; and of course ‘the Wild West’ is tremendously popular; there was no sense that either of these are connected to _current oppression_. So you might want to keep an eye out for that.
I see your Dukes of Hazard and raise you Firefly.…(which, lots of non-the-Confederates-were-just-misunderstood people like, for good reasons, but is so resonant as a Lost Cause fantasy that I’ve seen people use it as a text in explicitly “what is great conservative/libertarian media?” presentations)
Growing up in Germany, I never felt actually guilty about what my ancestors did, I don’t think. I think it’s horrible, and I think that I would have been complacent and not dared to make a fuss (which does make me feel guilty). But it wasn’t overwhelming to me. Every child is different, of course. For me, it feels like “this is what people like me did, so it’s on me and all of us to make sure we don’t do a similar thing”. Learning about the Edelweißpiraten and Weiße Rose and scouting organizations and other people who resisted makes me feel better, and being involved in current activism, too. “Look to the helpers”, I guess…
Agreed with Friendly Hipposcriff that German pop culture mostly loves the US, and when it is critical of the US, it’s for the wrong reasons. (Mostly stereotypes about What All US Americans Are Like.)
Cristina, I think your kids are too young for discussions of a lot of this stuff.
What I have found with my son, who’s 11, is that conversations have grown out of his own circumstances and questions. So the first time he had a school shooting lockdown drill, in kindergarten, we explained it very briefly as a safety practice measure. The next year we increased the details we gave. And so on. This year he participated in an anti-violence rally.
A lot of our conversations are sparked by subway ads! So we talk about consensual sex and sexual harassment this way as well as our pre-prepared, at-home discussions.
The politics I wish I could shield him from more, but kids this age talk about it at school, and he’s perfectly capable of reading the news every morning when he gets on the computer to play video games.
My suggestion would be to talk about different peoples in the U.S. and their different histories, using picture books and age-appropriate materials, as a first step, and building on that to talk about histories of struggles for justice as they get older. My instinct would be to postpone contemporary news for a while, so that your kids feel safe when they’re so young.
You could use immigration as your lens—bc you’re an immigrant too, right?—and talk about slavery as a very different kind of journey, and Native Americans as not having journeyed at all.
You could seek out picture books and games that show a variety of family configurations, so that your children are exposed to same-sex and interracial partnerships. My daughter loves an app called MyPlayHome, which is like a living dollhouse, and one cool thing about it is that she can make a family any way she wants, which means her PlayHome is peopled with three dads, or two moms, or one dad, or kids of a different race from their parents (but always All.The.Babies. Like 9 at a time. Her PlayHome parents are always sleeping—go figure).
My feeling is that kids learn best from a place of safety when they’re young. Sheltering them from stories of violence and hatred at their age is absolutely appropriate. They will feel safe with you when you do introduce the tougher topics.
I wish you—and all of us—all the best.
I’m not a parent, but I am a teacher of 8-10 year olds. I don’t know that 6 is developmentally ready for “other parts of the world are scary and really bad.” I would start with something local that they can empathize with, with a focus on helping, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, donating toys, or making presents to send to kids in the hospital. You can also start teaching them to stand up to bullies and people that are being mean. In another year or two, you can maybe check out CNN10, which is a 10 minute long news program produced by CNN aimed for school-age children. You may want to prescreen it so that you’re prepared because they don’t shy away from heavier topics. I think it probably moves too fast for a 6 year old.
You could read with your child plenty of books with POC protagonists and stories from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. “Most people live differently from how we live,” is a lesson they can handle at this point.
Yes, I don’t do that as much as I should, thanks. I bought Last Stop on Market Street but my daughter wasn’t that interested and my son only wants books with construction vehicles. They are still very little, it will be a long term project!
Yes, my mom just stocked our bookshelf with lots of books by authors with a wide variety of backgrounds. Even if I wasn’t immediately interested, those were the books that made up my environment. I eventually read most of them, plus it just normalized the idea of EVERYBODY having a chance to tell their story. I say this to encourage you– it IS a long term project, but it’s working in ways you can’t even see, even when your kids are “ignoring” those books! (:
Are you planning to return to the US in the immediate future? If not, I think at their age frightening information about the situation in the US can wait until it either comes up organically and is immediately relevant.
Thinking about it from the child’s perspective: my own mother fled an oppressive regime to come to Canada, and my understanding of it when I was under 6 was “Mommy used to live there and now she lives here”. At some point I gained the idea of “Mommy came here for a better life.” I didn’t know the details of what she was fleeing until I was a preteen, but it didn’t occur to me to wonder either, just like it didn’t occur to me to wonder what the day-to-day of my parents’ jobs looked like. It was just beyond the scope of my little preschooler brain.
No plans to return. You’re right, I don’t need to crush their rosy world view, perhaps if I can just use opportunities to talk about things as they come up, that would be ok.
We started teaching our two year old about our local primary and upcoming election in November by explaining that we were choosing who got to make the rules for our city and state, and we wanted a certain candidate because she would make better rules. We get a lot of campaign mailers and we let him have them/pretend to read them since he loves notes and letters. I think the campaign materials helped him understand because they’re really like picture books – he can see a picture of the candidate with community members and we can tell him the text is about what the candidate wants to do in our city.
I’m a mom of a 2 year old and a baby and just wanted to add: you also need to take care of yourself, and being informed doesn’t have to mean poring over every awful detail. Reading about families being separated freaks me the fuck out, so I try to limit how much I make myself think about it. It can feel like a cop out but I’m still aware of the general situation and I’m calling my reps about it. Burning out in an anxiety spiral is not going to help anyone.
This is so true. And you need to be aware of your own emotions. Our kids (4 & 5) are in bed when the 10 pm. news comes on. There was a period of time where news from the current presedential administraiton was REALLY making my husband and me mad and we were really getting vocal with the cussing and yelling at the TV. Our kids came out of bed scared because they thought something bad was happening. It was a good reminder that if the news is making us THAT angry/emotional, we need to to keep ourselves in check because our kids are too small to understand many of our adult emotions.
Our kiddo is five and we mostly take the approach of explaining things in as complicated a way as he can understand but no more. If we were talking about “how does a car go” the earliest bits might be we turn the wheel to choose which way it does. Later maybe we talk about turning the key to turn it on, and there’s pedals down on the floor we press. Later we might include the fact that there’s an engine (or maybe a motor and battery). We have to put in fuel for the engine. We put gasoline in for fuel/plug it in to charge it up.
When it comes to news and consequences we talk about people making mistakes or someone choosing to do bad things. He’s already got experience with the fact that sometimes his little friends do things he doesn’t like and how he can’t always control that fact. We talk about fair and being kind versus selfish and not using mean words and a lot of times we can simplify what’s going on to that level.
Our explanations do not have to be complete and neither does his understanding. Luckily a lot of this stuff boils down to pretty basic principles of kindness so we don’t have to be complete with everything. And in the end, he should understand that our understanding isn’t always perfect either. So there are things where we say we don’t know why someone would do that, but here’s how we’re going to have to respond.
VioletBaby is scheduled to make their debut in September, so I hope I can comment here. I’ve been really worried about bringing a child – especially a non-white child – into the world right now. This does help a bit. Thanks.
Welcome to our messy world sweet VioletBaby! You deserve a more just home, we will keep working until you get it.
Welcome violet baby!
Part of my white privilege was always assuming, I wouldn’t have to worry the same way about my kids. Then I met and married my non-white husband. Now we have two beautiful girls, ages 4 and 1. One is very white appearing and one is not (if she reads as very tanned white girl or something else depends a lot on the preconceptions of the viewer). My husband and I have had some difficult conversations about what we are going to do when our girls start experiencing the world differently and helping them to see and understand it. My daughter likes to tell people she is MIXED. She discovered on her own that her skin was lighter than daddy’s and darker than mommy’s so we talked about children being mixed a little mommy, a little daddy, just like paint. (As an ex-southerner the phrase mixed hurts me, but my daughter and husband like it). We talk very specifically about cultures and traditions and where they come from, and we are very choosy on which media we show to her.
I was raised by well meaning white parents who never stopped and questioned their privilege and thought they were great because they didn’t teach hate. Pointing out in age appropriate ways the privilege every day is a new thing for me, a constant learning process, and so important.
I worry. I worry every day. Welcome to parenthood. It’s a whole bunch of worry and joy and some more worry and lots of love.
My daughter’s school is mostly non – white, and I’ve been trying to do the thought experiment where I assume my grandchildren will not be white.
It’s a helpful perspective, and I wish I could get more of my family members to do it.
As the child of a parent who struggles to wrap his brain around the fact that aspects of his children’s identities may be different from his own, I thank you for doing this thought experiment!
My little one is scheduled to arrive in December, and I’ve also been worrying about what kind of world I’m bringing them into. We are white but we’re also Jewish, so while the threat to us personally is less immediate than it is for POC and a lot of other marginalized groups right now, there is also a fuckton of inherited trauma being triggered by current events. All this is to say, I hear you.
Yay, VioletBaby, welcome to this world! ❤ Best of luck to you!
My small person is almost 5. We’re trying to be really conscious about naming people’s skin color – mommy is white, your friend is black, daddy is brown, you’re beige.
I was raised a bit “color blind” and I can see now how that had negative impacted my past behavior when it comes to race and how it makes the work I’m trying to do now to rectify that harder. So we’re hoping that by giving her the words now, it will make the later, more nuanced stuff easier.
I’m also surprised how many opportunities we have to discuss racial injustice, slavery, immigration, and other hairy issues in a kid-comprehensible way just by making a small effort to diversify her books – characters of color or characters written by marginalized authors tend to run into tough situations more often than the Cat in the Hat, which provides natural opportunities to introduce hard topics outside of the news.
My kids point out when I mention skin color. Recently I was telling a story about a funny interaction I had with a person I’d met at a yard sale. I started the story by describing him as a black man. My daughter stopped me right away and asked “is this fact necessary to the story?” I thought for a second and realized it wasn’t. She told me that I needed to think about only the details that were important to the story. She’s 13, absolutely right, and growing up too dang fast! She also likes to pop challenging facts into conversation like this nugget: my mom was talking about how she’d seen a story on TV about the Harry Potter play on Broadway. My mom has just read the books and seen all the films and was surprised that they had cast the role of Hermione with a black woman. My daughter, who is just now reading the books for the first time, says “well, there’s nothing in the book to indicate that she’s white – they just talk about her hair and how smart she is. Hollywood made her white, not JK Rowling.” I re-read the first book…she’s right! Ron is clearly described as a red head, Harry is described as thin with bright green eyes and the scar, but Hermione is described as having bushy, brown hair and large front teeth.
So–I can’t help but notice that this is actually advice given to privileged parents of privileged children. Parents who themselves don’t directly experience discrimination, of kids who don’t directly experience discrimination. I appreciate the intent and for that specific audience, I think the advice is sound. But not all of us are in that position, and I’d like to expand the conversation to include those of us who are either parenting in a more precarious situation, or whose children directly experience bigotry. I’m personally not in a super precarious situation, though as a single mother and a person with an invisible disability, it sometimes feels like it; my daughter, due to medical issues and disability, already experiences direct discrimination on a regular basis and has since before she can consciously remember. I’ve never been in a position where I have to tell her that some kids aren’t safe, and aren’t treated well.
In that specific situation, things I’ve found helpful:
You have value. You have value. You have value. You have value. You are not worth less because of your body. It’s the people who think otherwise who are broken, not you.
You get to say no to things. You don’t have to answer nosy questions. You don’t have to let people touch you. Just because your body is different doesn’t mean you don’t get to say no. Your life is not worth less because it’s lived in a body that’s different from other people’s.
You are less alone than you think. Lots of people are excluded or rejected for reasons they can’t control, like how much money their parents make or the colour of their skin. Remember not to do to other people what’s been done to you. Be kind to those who are different or rejected. That said, just because someone else is being treated badly doesn’t mean they are necessarily a safe person to be around, so if that person doesn’t treat you well either, you don’t have to be their friend just because they’re being bullied.
This is where networking for parents is helpful. Some situations are more or less rare than others and I’m guessing most parents in this situation will already know of and be part of networks of parents of children in similar situations. I had to hunt.
When you are in a more privileged position than your child, the temptation to pretend that they aren’t already aware of their position can be overwhelming. But it’s important to remember that they’re in the world without you for hours a day, already experiencing discrimination and hurt, and if you pretend (or try to) that the world will treat them fairly, you’re basically asking them to silence themselves so you can feel better. And that’s not cool. It’s important to find ways to begin those conversations. A way will present itself. For my daughter, it was often those times when she was asked by a teacher to do something she physically couldn’t (often in gym class–the number of times I had to tell a gym teacher that no, she couldn’t run a race, for god’s sake), and after we talked about the hard feelings that brought up, I’d ask her if there were other times at school she was made to feel the same way, by kids or by other teachers. Often she’s teaching me, and it’s not a fair position for her to be in, but her condition is very rare so she is basically my only source for Lived Experience. We talked. And I don’t assume that if she isn’t talking to me it’s because nothing is happening; I assume it’s because it’s happening all the time and she doesn’t want to keep bringing it up, so it’s up to me.
My kid is incredibly political, in part because of her experiences. I find the education goes both ways at this stage: she tells me about her experiences and what it’s like, and I tell her about other groups who have experienced similar things. She’s developed a huge base of empathy that I am so proud of and will reach out to kids who are marginalized and basically be the friend for them that she wants to have for herself. It’s not always reciprocated, but when it is, she ends up with fantastic friendships with great kids. Similarly, she uses her empathy and her experience to identify with and advocate for other groups who experience marginalization and discrimination. It’s amazing to watch.
But it’s not all roses. She has internalized a lot of messages about what she’s worth and what she can expect, so we are still talking about some things we started talking about in preschool: You have value. You don’t need to accept one-way friendships because you’re disabled. You don’t need to be grateful for crumbs because you’re disabled. You are a great person and a great friend and if others can’t see that–their loss. Truly. You get to set the boundaries for your friendships and your time. Other people don’t get to tell you what’s good-enough for you to accept. I expect this is work she’ll be doing for herself for much of her life, because the messages that she’s less-than are going to be out there for the foreseeable future, and I can’t protect her from them. But she knows that I’m in her corner and will help her in whatever way I can and that she can talk to me about all of this stuff.
Some things that have helped–with my kid, YMMV:
1. At this point, I don’t tell her how to handle disability-related problems, or what she should do about ‘friends’, or what kind of behaviour she should accept. I listen to her. I ask her questions about her feelings and thoughts. I ask her what she thinks her options are. I suggest options she may not have thought of. We talk about what options feel good, feel right, to her, and what is the best path for achieving them. I offer to help her, but it’s just an offer, and if she’d rather do it herself, that’s what happens. If it works, we celebrate. If it doesn’t work, we talk again, come up with other options, and again I offer to help.
2. I look up and send to her blogs, tumblrs, twitter accounts, etc. related to disability rights. I get her books. I do everything I can to understand her life and experiences and feelings, but I don’t live disability the way she does, and ultimately she needs a tribe that gets things that I can’t. So I do everything I can to find it for her–and then let her make up her own mind about them.
The one thing I would add to the original post, for privileged parents of privileged kids, is about empathy, understanding, and building bridges with people in your community who aren’t so lucky. It’s one thing to have an understanding in the abstract and work on activism on a general level, but if there are actual human beings nearby who experience discrimination, prejudice, exclusion, etc., there are more direct and human experiences. I’m sure there are lots of parents of kids at my daughter’s school who talk about politics and Trump and the alt-right in general terms, but I wonder if they ever talk about kids AT THE SCHOOL who may be in need of a friend or support because of these issues. How do racial, class, gender, ability, orientation, etc. categories affect cliques and friendships and social status in your kids’ worlds and at their schools? How do they navigate them?
You’re 100% right that the OP and discussion is coming from a privileged place, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your thorough comment.
Can I suggest not using the word “tribe” when you mean a “Team Me” if you are white? Native people have asked us not to do that.
The school system our 11-year-old is in does a decent job of teaching about kindness and personal responsibility. That framework (along with what we teach her at home) has been useful in having broader conversations about what’s happening in our country. She’s been comparing the actions/feelings behind some current events against the framework and getting to the “answer” of ‘this isn’t right’ much faster than I would have at her age. She is learning to stand up, though it’s very hard for her. We do the best we can.
And if you have a middle-to-high schooler who starts sharing the type of political views you find abhorrent, don’t let that shit slide rather than have an unpleasant conversation. Kids test their boundaries in other areas and they do it in politics too – sometimes by advocating for positions they know you find offensive. Plan for this ahead of time so you can respond from a place of parent helping child grow into being a good person instead of shocked parent speaking out of emotion & upset. Sometimes it is *your* kid who is doing the shitty thing and it is *your* job to step up and check that – just like you didn’t allow them to throw rocks when they were toddlers, you need to provide limits/boundaries/correction in the area of political discourse. Character doesn’t just happen, it is taught, and we can not abdicate our responsibility to teach our kids.
Adding – one kid is 14, one is 19.
Knowing that friends and Awkwardeers are out there, raising kids, is one of the few things that gives me hope. Thanks, y’all.
I’m not a parent, but I work in education. I’m not sure if it’s okay to comment. I wanted to second telling the truth and not sugarcoating too much, especially when it comes to history. I teach in California, and we’re very proud of our liberal reputation, but I think it’s important to acknowledge our past. A student asked if California had slaves working on the missions. I said yes. And I’ve had students tell me they appreciate it, because they don’t feel like they’re being talked down to.
Just a reminder for the middle class white people reading this: sheltering your kids from the news and social upheaval is only possible if you are privileged.
I work with poor POC and poor white kids a lot. Very few of them had the privilege of being kept innocent of the world and naive about the chaos going on now. They know. They live it.
5 year old whose father died from coal mining
10 year old whose mother was a WOC who resorted to selling herself to feed her kids. Kids which were then taken from her because she was arrested for prostitution.
A 15 year old tribal member who has already been raped twice.
Childhood innocence is a very recent, very loaded concept. It cannot be discussed or approached without giving s hard look in the mirror.
I appreciate this comment very much. I’m one of those middle class white parents with middle class white kids, and I struggle a lot with the knowledge that I’m exercising a ton of privilege by being able to shelter my kids in this passive, just-living-my-life way. And I recognize that it’s been much easier for me to talk to my oldest son about sexism because he sees that it affects me as a woman and I can talk about my feelings around it.
This was a really insightful piece. We’ve had to do a lot of thinking on this topic as well. My MIL and SIL are both very strong activists and I respect that a lot about them, so the idea of activism has always been around in our family.
I think one thing that helps is also just not being afraid to discuss things in front of the kids. I think it helps them not just to be talked to about it themselves, but to hear adults talking to other adults about these things, even if they can’t yet participate in the conversation themselves. They might miss a lot of the context, or they might have questions or they might have questions later, or they might decide we’re boring and go look for bugs, and that’s all just fine. Letting them choose how much they want to participate in activism is a good step towards autonomy. It also opens up some talks about how different people may or may not be able to help in different ways, like “Grandma can help by going to marches and protests, and we’re proud to have someone in the family that can do that, but Mommy doesn’t do well in crowds, and so she needs to find other ways she can help.”
My older daughter (7) is very interested in activism, and we’ve had to have some conversations with her about what activism actually means. She’s young enough to be very interested, and doesn’t always know where the lines lie. We had to have a few talks about how it’s great that she cares about the environment, and I’m proud of her for wanting to walk home from school sometimes and I will walk with her when we can, but having a tantrum and telling Mommy she’s hurting the environment because she drove the car to get groceries isn’t really helping and is just frustrating for everyone. About how yes, the next-door-neighbor smokes, and no, that’s not healthy, but that doesn’t make her a bad person, and she still deserves for us to be polite and respectful to her.
I often find myself falling back on the phrase “Activism isn’t telling other people what to do, it is showing them what YOU can do.” We try to use a bit of the Mr. Rogers method – Who is helping? – but also combine it with some deeper thought-provoking questions, like: What are they doing to help? Do you think that’s helpful, or not? Why or why not? What can you do to help, and why would it be helpful? What is something that you could do that wouldn’t help?
There are a lot of good ideas being bounced around in the comments here. It’s interesting to see what different people are doing with their kids.
It’s hard. My kiddos are 5 and we took them to a Keep Families Together rally a few weeks ago. They mostly complained about how it was hot and boring of course, but it was important to me that they be involved. They’re both super sensitive, though, so we had to tread a very fine line of “it’s very sad and very not-okay that families are being separated, but you personally are safe.” I can’t stop them from being scared, even though we’re about as privileged as we can get, but I’m hoping that slowly that fear can be translated to empathy and action over time.
The good news is we live in a much more diverse community than the one I grew up in. I spend a lot of my time fighting my own reflexive racism (other isms too, but that’s been the biggest struggle for me) and I’m putting even more energy into helping make sure the kids never internalize that crap to begin with. My main challenge there is figuring out *when* to have the various discussions. Again, our privilege makes that a question a luxury– we get to decide when and how to talk about how to behave around police officers, for instance– but it’s still a challenge.
The gender stuff is the most common topic in our house. As a parent I try to encourage media with good representation but my daughter just loves Paw Patrol, which has a serious Smurfette problem. Both kiddos like to pain their nails, but my son’s friend at preschool told him that boys can’t do that (that was an easier one: step 1) “well, you have painted nails, so it seems you *can*, and 2) here’s a picture of Travis McElroy!). It’s easier to deal with the stuff that comes up on an everyday basis, so I’m hoping that by giving them a grounding in the stuff that directly applies to them, they’ll eventually be able to extrapolate to other stuff.
But yeah, this is all Hard Stuff on top of the regular parenting anxieties. Jedi hugs (well, my personal preference is Ahsoka Tano not-Jedi-not-Sith hugs, but ymmv) to anyone and everyone putting in the work to raise empathetic, aware, functional younglingss!
Little Jules is 10, in NC US, and we’ve ‘gone to explain to the law makers that they are making bad decisions’ several times. We are fortunate that we can usually meet up with friends and family at the rallies.
A thing that we are doing is comparing this era to history overall, and it makes both me and little Jules feel some better.
I have an 18 month old sproglette, and she has already come with me to several protests! She enjoys having her own sign (that she helps with) and yelling “no” at the top of her lungs. Luckily she isn’t old enough to be asking hard questions or even knowing that news is a thing, but I’ve been doing reading to try and come up with answers when she starts asking why… Honestly at this point dealing with my anxiety about her future is the hardest thing for me. She has a cousin who is bi-racial and we live in a community where white is the minority. We will have to have some conversations on passing privilege when she is older, which I have lots of practice with at least. For now we just focus on what makes a good friend. Good to know fellow akwardeers are in the same situation.
I have an 8 month old son, and sometimes I wonder why we chose to bring him into this world at this time. But I try to remember that kids are hope. Not to put too much of a burden on them, or pass the buck to them. But if we’re very lucky and fortunate he will far outlive me. What kind of world do I want him to live in (my responsibility) and what kind of world do I want him to shape for the future beyond him (his responsibility).
I remember asking my mom about Watergate, about the MLK, JFK, and RFK assassinations, and about Vietnam. She lived through those, she dealt with them firsthand. My understanding of those events were through her eyes and her experience (because they were not teaching it in schools in my childhood, and there were no Ken Burns retrospectives on PBS). I’ve tried to imagine what kind of answers I could possibly give my son when he asks me later about this time period, about this presidency. Because what I say will end up shaping his memory and his sense of possibility.
What experience am I having right now, what experiences am I pushing for, what change am I creating? Because the person I’m answerable to isn’t my partner, or my ancestors, or god. It’s my kid. I am answerable to him for what I do today, in this climate, in this unimaginable world. He will have at least part of the narrative of what happened in these times through me, for good or for ill. What will I be able to say about what I did?
And that’s what I try to let guide me right now. I don’t know if it’s enough. I don’t know if it’s too much. It’s the best I can do.
First of all, I LOVE this piece by Leah Chibe. Thank you so much for it!
I am not a US citizen, I am Scandinavian and recently I have especially talked about these issues with my 15 year old daughter and also a bunch of her geeky friends whom I love very dearly. Since I was bullied as a child I have always felt a little timid around children but luckily my own experiences have been mainly positive. I have also discussed about “the hard topics” with my husband and our adult friends (and obviously, with the children themselves). I consider bringing up children something which is done together with the child, not an autoritarian process where information is only passed from the parent to the children.
I completely agree with Leah Chibe: opennes, truthfulness and calmness are very important elements – though I must confess I love to tell stories to my kids while trying to teach them to always trust themselves and search from the truth – and that being an adult does not mean that people are always right and know better than them. I also wanted to pass along the stories my own grandparents and my mother’s friends, stories which have probably been passed on for generations. They are a mixture of Finnish and Norwegian/Swedish mythology, ripe with beings like tomte, spirits and elves. Apparently I use a different kind of voice when telling these stories, though, so they learned instantly how to distinguish mythology from everyday issues.
I wanted to add a little bit about culture. Here in Scandinavia we have only recently began to realize how poorly we have treated the Sámi people and how marginalized they have been. Their languages are on the brink of extinction due to Sámi children being forcibly removed from the custody of their parents and being forced to learn the “main language” in their area, be that Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish or Russian. Also, the portrayal of the Sámi people has been truly horrific: in 1980’s they were commonly portrayed as stupid and dirty drunkards and their customary clothing and symbols were exploited without second thought. Still, to this day, very little of the history of Sámi people is taught at schools in here, so I wanted to encourage parents from this area to search for more information by themselves. The same applies to Romani people: where there is ignorance, harmful stereotypes often rule – but I have not found it useful to talk about these stereotypes to children if they have not encountered them first. Usually I have opened the discussion by asking if they know any Sámi/Romani/etc. people. My children (like me) are quite talkative so they have needed little prompting on sharing what they already know and think but more shy children might need some encouragement. If I find out that they have encountered stereotypes we discuss them. We head to the library to find books on the specific culture; we share internet content I have previously read through and approved. If there is an exhibition on culture and/or art the better. I have also approached the principal in my children’s school and emphasized that they teach the children about the history, culture and languages of Sámi people (etc.) In some schools here all the holidays of the different religions of the students are celebrated and this has had a very positive impact.
I am white but I do not really look like a stereotype of “a typical Scandinavian”, whatever that means so I was bullied for having black hair and very dark brown eyes. My bullies told me that I looked foreign. Only later I discovered about my Japanese ancestry. I can only imagine how hard it must be to confront racism everywhere one goes. Having to live with the repercussions of bullying for the rest of my life I cannot stress enough how important it is to never accept any kind of intolerant behaviour – but unfortunately it is not always safe to be brave. I have been recently following the field of education especially in Finland and in there they developed safety skills for children. They might not be applicable everywhere: Finland is in many ways a safe place to grow up and children often travel to school unattended by adults. Also approaching a police officer is much safer in Finland and other Scandinavian countries than in many other countries. As far as I can recall, the police actually drew a gun only 6 times in Norway in 2016. That does not mean that we would not have problems with law enforcements, we do, but that is beside the point.
THE BRIEF VERSION OF THE FINNISH SAFETY SKILLS FOR CHILDREN
I have also studied pedagogy in university and I wanted to share a brief version of the educational material for security skills, mainly for children from 5 to 12 years old but very applicable even for adults. The original is in Finnish and developed for Finnish schools. I actually ended up using different elements of different safety instructions. Please, feel free to add to them and modify them. I know that they are culturally biased and they also have a default that there is a safe adult available in the child’s life. At this point this is the best I can offer, so I hope you can help me modify them.
IF YOU GET LOST
– If it is safe to stop where you are, stop. It is okay to feel scared. Breath deeply a few times and then look around. What do you see? Any familiar buildings or trees? A road sign with a name in it? If you can read, read it. All the details you have might be useful.
– If you have a cellphone with you call a trusted adult or an older family member: mother, father, sibling, grandparent…
– If you do not have a cellphone or it is unusable or no-one you have called answers look around. Do you see any adults in work clothes: any policemen or women, guards, shop clerks? Those people are safe to approach. You can tell them that you are lost and that you need help. If you do not see any people in work clothes do you see any families with children?
– If you do not see anyone who could help you try to remember where you came from. Did you see any buildings? Any malls? In those you can find people who are working.
IF YOU WITNESS BULLYING OR VIOLENCE
– First of all: are you safe? If you are not safe, run. If you believe there migth be people who could help you around, yell for help.
– If you are safe: call the emergency line in your country (practice this with your parents or other adults). Tell them where you are and what you see, they will give you instructions on how to proceed.
– If someone else is already calling for help, film with your phone what is happening. Note that this material is not meant for further bullying the victim but as evidence
– If there are lots of people around and the bullies are younger/smaller than you, you can proceed to stand up for the victim and encourage others to intervene. People are far more likely to intervene if they are specifically asked to do it, like “Hey, you in the red jacket, help me to stop the bullying!”
– You can intervene by making it known that you are with the victim, for example by saying: “Hey, so nice to see you! How are you?” If you have backup you can go to the bully/bullies and say: “This is not cool and you need to stop.”
– If this is happening in your school always tell to your parents/teachers/other adults you deem safe no matter what the bullies say
IF YOU ENCOUNTER VIOLENCE FIRST HAND
– If you can, run and seek for shelter or help from other people. Yell for help if you are not hiding. People are far more likely to intervene if they are specifically asked to do it, like “Hey, you in the red jacket, help me!”
– If you can, call the emergency line in your country. Some countries have a special app for this so the help line workers immediately know where you are.
– Freezing or crying in a situation like this does not make you a coward, it happens to most people
BODILY SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS
– You do not have to do or accept any kind of touching you do not feel comfortable doing. Other people should ask for permission before they touch you
– People have private parts which are only for them to enjoy. Those parts are located under what a swimming suit covers. Those body parts are great and they are a part of you but do not show them to other people and do not touch other people’s private parts.
– It is completely ok to talk about these body parts with other children or adults
– All kinds of human bodies are absolutely great and worthy of equal respect and love, no matter their shape, size or colour
– When you want to touch another person, ask for permission first. If the other people does not feel like to be hugged/kissed etc. it does not mean that they do not like you, it is probably not about you at all.
– No-one is allowed to speak rudely of another people’s body. It is ok to feel hurt about what another person said about your body. If it makes you feel bad bring it up or speak about it to a safe adult.
– If you accidentally saw someone naked or their private parts it is ok. If it bothers you talk about it with a safe adult.
(I completely agree with Leah Chibe, do teach your children the correct anatomical names to every part in their body in your language(s)!)
GENDER AND SEXUALITY
– All the people are different (yes, even identic twins) and that is absolutely fantastic
– It is fun to try on different kinds of clothes (though some clothes have cultural meanings, like the traditional Sámi outfit)
– Every people get to find out and decide themselves who they are and how they want to define themselves; that may also or may not change during their life. Be there for your friends for their journey of self discovery. If you need more information, ask a safe adult.
– There are no such things as toys only for girls or boys. Play with whatever you want as long as it is safe and the toys are safe (in other words, for example not broken with sharp edges)
– If you feel like you really like someone, good. Remember that your feelings are yours and you are responsible for them. If you want to tell that you like them to the other person, go tell them. It is as simple as that. If you feel unsure, ask advice from a safe adult. Remember that liking someone is not anything to be laughed at, it is great. Do not force the person you like to do anything they do not feel comfortable about. If they say “No” you have to accept that.
– If someone really likes you but you do not like them back that is cool, too. Remember that you do not have to do anything you do not want to, so you can always say “No” and they have to accept that. If they do not accept, seek for help from a safe adult.
– Remember that no-one is allowed to say anything rude about another person’s body. If the person you find interesting says it is ok to ask questions, ask them. You can also ask safe adults. Note that people might have different opinions on matters.
As a mother of a teenager I would also like to suggest that you take time to check out body positive fashion bloggers and models so that you can be sure that your teenager gets to see a variety of bodies of every shape, colour and size. I am also quite sure you will enjoy it: there are so many amazingly beautiful people there! Also, if possible, try to make living not to be only about looks but mainly about other things.
I’ve got a high school kid in a suburban school (and town) that has mostly whites, some asians, a few hispanics, almost no blacks. Kid has been mentioning to me that what black kids there are (mostly bused in from nearby large city) are invariably at the bottom of whatever academic classes they are in, and feel it their duty to “look and act a certain way”. When I ask what that way is, kid says: basically basketball. School is big on liberal values. Kid is worried about growing up racist. Any advice?
Hi George, there’s lots of stuff out there: http://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/why-white-parents-need-to-talk-to-their-kids-about-racism
You might enjoy/benefit from reading this recent book. The more knowledgeable you are, the more able you are to be confident in having those discussions.
My twins were born 3 months early in late October 2016. I remember visiting them in NICU the night of the election and telling them how exciting it was that they were going to be born during the term of our first black president and grow up during our first woman president. It’s hard to describe the sinking feeling that started growing in my stomach when I woke up at 4 am to pump breastmilk and look at the news. The shock of having preemies in NICU plus that orange piece of human garbage being elected was too much to process. For a long time I just kind of shut out the news and focused on my babies and getting them home. Then it was taking care of them and getting back to work. As things calmed down I have slowly brought politics back into my life. It’s overwhelming sometimes. I couldn’t take the stories about families being separated because I would look at my two beautiful girls and cry at the thought that little ones just like them were being ripped away from their families. Raising children in the current political environment is scary, but all we can do is try to help where we can and raise better humans.
Dear, EmilytheLibrarian, I just wanted to send you jedi hugs (if you want them). Sounds like you went through a lot with your lovely twins; my daughter was born 1 month early so I only have shared a part of that experience. You did a fantastic job with all the pumping breastmilk and taking care of your daughters.
I truly hope from the bottom of my heart that you (and we all) can get rid of that big orange bully and that the wolrd will be a better place for all of our children to grow in.
“Orange piece of human garbage”? Really? That’s how you talk about another human being?
Would you prefer
Admirer of Dictators
Pig-Ignorant Piece of Shit
Rapey Can Of Fanta
This is an anti-Trump website and its creator is actively working to undo everything he has done and will ever do. If that makes you uncomfortable, ok! Now you know and can avoid it.
Thank you so so much for this post! I would love some recommendations about talking to my young children about bigotry in a way they can understand, specifically racism. I have 3 year old daughter and about to give birth to my second daughter. We are white and live a pretty safe, privileged middle-class life in a large metroplex area in the south – so not totally conservative, but definitely more conservative than other parts of the country. I’m not sure how to go about talking to them about “casual” bigotry, especially racism – things like when my parents say things like “Asians always like things clean” or treating a POC working at a fast food restaurant as dumb, but still treating them “politely” – as in, they aren’t outright rude to them, but sort of treat them like dumb puppies. I try to talk to my daughter about her feelings and thoughts on these things in a way she can understand, and be a good model to her for treating everyone with respect, but I’m kind of at a loss as how to talk about privilege and racism, especially in these contexts, in a way she can understand. Thank you!
Here are some things that I thought worked well when my daughter was 3 (also white and middle-class). When she was that age, I felt I was more successful creating a foundation of “diversity is great!” ( I know that sounds really trite, I’m trying to sum it up for the purposes of this comment) as a way of working toward the goal of talking productively about bigotry and racism when she was a little older — but not MUCH older, because kids are picking up biases from the culture at large as young as 3 or 4. My daily affirmation was that I had to actively interrupt all the passive messages kids are soaking in simply by living in the US. But, I think it seems weird to suddenly talk about the problem with stereotypes about Asian people if we have never talked about Asian people in any other context before.
At 3, she wasn’t really up for a focused conversation on “let’s talk about privilege and racial justice!” But like most other things in a 3 year old’s life, she learned a lot by observing me talking to other adults. It is super great if you are able to make it a typical thing to talk to other adults about privilege and social justice and particularly how this relates to your being white, so that even if she doesn’t pick up on all the details, she learns that this is a normal, common thing for people to be interested in and concerned about, and the vocabulary becomes familiar.
I tried to be thoughtful about what books and toys were in our house. I was really ignorant about how challenging it was to find a selection of non-white dolls until I tried to do it, but I was determined to make the doll population reflect the various identities she would see at school, in our community, etc. Librarian Scott Woods has some awesome lists online of children’s books featuring Black characters: https://scottwoodsmakeslists.wordpress.com/2016/01/30/28-black-picture-books-that-arent-about-boycotts-buses-or-basketball/
If A Mighty Girl isn’t already on your radar, definitely check it out for great recs on girl-centered resources for parents, and I think they do a reasonable job of being inclusive of a wide range of racial, religious, and cultural experiences and voices. https://www.amightygirl.com
One thing that was especially challenging for me was to get in the habit of being explicit about race within everyday conversations about 3 year old interests, because I was definitely socialized to believe that the “colorblind” approach was more polite and refined, and I’ve had to unlearn that. Back in that golden age, Michelle Obama was the First Lady and she was in the news a lot and on Sesame Street so my daughter definitely knew who Michelle Obama was — and when I talked about the things I liked about Mrs. Obama (who, btw, my daughter believed was the president, which I might have let go uncorrected a little long) I made a real point of talking about her accomplishments and compassion AND including the context that historically, many Black people were prevented or discouraged from taking those paths.
In my mind, where my life is a perfect TV show, my daughter would then have said something like “tell me, dearest Mother, how can we work to dismantle anti-Blackness and institutional racism today?” which (spoiler alert) totally never happened, and sometimes would feel like I was talking like the teacher in Peanuts, and absolutely none of what I was saying was sticking in any way … but really and truly, I can tell you it does. It comes out at weird times six months later or a year later — which is not surprising because that is exactly the same way my kid absorbed all the other information she appeared to ignore at the time but yet felt moved to share with my mom or strangers on the train at some point in the future.
(I think almost all the examples in my post were about Blackness, so all of that for LatinX, Native, and APIDA as well)
I must confess I took mostly the same approach. When my daughter was 3 she had three best friends, two of them of African heritage and one of South East Asian. Most of our kindergarten teachers have a university degree of pedagogy so they did a fantastic job in the kindergarten; all parents were invited to share stories and participate in cooking lunch and the parents of the children adopted from abroad held presentations on the culture of their country of origin. The kindergarten seemed like a happy little paradise. I always felt welcome there and I never heard any racial slurs. The more harsh truth hit me when I traveled with my daughter and her friends. I love those kids so much and hated to see how some bigoted assholes stared at them in the public transport. I did not want the children to notice so I just chatted to them and nailed the bigots with my worst stare of death. Luckily it worked every time, but now that the kids are almost grown ups I feel horrible for not being able to be there for them anymore. I do all I can but it always feels like it is not enough. I know most of us Scandinavians are against racism – but then there is the disgusting, loud minority of racists. Aargh!
When the children are 3 or 4 they absorb the attitudes and behaviours of their environment like a sponge. When my daughter was that age I remember that she was oblivious to the whole concept of racism though we had talked a lot about bullying and saying unkind things of others so racism probably went in her mind to that category. She is a very empathetic and strangely calm individual so I remember her standing up in defence of her friends when she was a small child. We read books about adoption (one of her best friends was adopted) and stories from all over the world. I would have wanted to talk to her about racism, but how do you bring that up if your child has no first hand knowledge of it? Is the best we white people can do to act as well and bravely as we can? I was raised to be polite so I of course offer the same courtesy to everybody around me and seeing how surprised people of colour are always make me feel bad. I wonder if every white person is a Schrödinger’s racist in their eyes?
Since my daughter began school at the age of 7 we have had many conversations on racism, ableism, sexism, body shaming and the inherent biases people have. Of course, the history of Scandinavian countries is different from the history of US but unfortunately the rasistic attitudes and opinions are the same and unfortunately they also travel swiftly accross borders and continents. They need to be actively fought against. Now that she reads and speaks pretty good English I encouraged her to read the archives of this page.
Thank you, Captain for the link, the article was very thought provoking (let’s put it here again, just in case): http://www.cbc.ca/parents/learning/view/why-white-parents-need-to-talk-to-their-kids-about-racism
This can be tough because teaching kids about this kind of thing can mean they are calling people like grandma out. Then you’ve got a whole new awkward family dynamic!
But the first thing I’d do is mention things in context of TV and movies they watch. “Do you think it bothered Tiana that she lives in a small house and her friend has a huge one? A lot of people have to go though that even today. There’s a lot of history that explains why, but mainly things just aren’t fair for most people. Especially if they’re from another culture than ours (here you can talk about some examples of bigotry and microagressions).”
Then I might mention that some people weren’t taught to be careful about these things in the same way as you’re teaching them. It’s not fair either, but you kids are getting to hear about the experience of other people before they ever did so you’ll know how to be kind and careful of other people’s feelings.
My kids are 7 and 9. When I began to talk to them about this stuff, I started by giving them a couple of really obvious examples so they can laugh at the stereotypes. “Some people say all _____ people do _______. Isn’t that silly?” “Some people are mean to other people because of the way they look. Is that what we do? Noooo!” Then I segue into whatever my point is: not treating people differently because of how they look, what respectful communication looks like, generic diversity of populations, etc. It’s never just one conversation.
One thing to keep in mind is the behavior that you’d like to see from her. “[Person in the store] said [this] to the clerk. Is that a nice way to behave? Are we going to do that? No. So what do we do? That’s right, we talk in a normal voice to them!”
To give a personal example, my boys have taken to pretend shooting guns or swinging swords all over the place. I told them to stop because there are actual white people who are really shooting POC just because of the color of their skin. We want our neighbors to feel safe, so we are not going to go around pretending to shoot people or things.
Oh, and it’s okay if your daughter calls grandma out. It means she’s learning. If/when she does, back her up! “Actually, mom, you were speaking down to that cashier.” If you won’t abide by the rules you set, she isn’t going to take them seriously.
+1 to it being okay to call out grandma if the situation calls for it. And if visits to grandma mean a heaping spoon full of sugar and bigotry, it is your responsibility it call out yourself, your kids are watching your actions.
I was six when Watergate sank Richard Nixon. I knew it was important because my parents brought the TV into the dining room during dinner, which they never did. They explained it to me and my younger siblings as “the president told lies about important things, and it’s especially bad because he’s supposed to be a role model for us all.” That was good enough for me at the time. I didn’t really need to know more. What I got out of it then was that even important people still have to play fair, and don’t get to be mean or dishonest just because they are important.
Our family still goes pretty much the way Don Whiteside’s does (above) — tell the kid only as much as he can clearly understand for his age. My son is 15 now, and we basically don’t hold back. We discuss the news daily, and he and I watch John Oliver together. My husband and son have gone to several protest marches in the past couple of years (march for science, gun control, etc.). However, if Son were only 5, I wouldn’t be talking about really scary stuff or abstract concepts of law and justice with him. At that age, it was scary enough for him to consider tangible, immediate dangers like car accidents or angry dogs, or a mean kid on the playground. And when Son was 5, we didn’t watch TV news unless he wasn’t around.
I have a 10 year old and a 6 year old. I think it is important to point out personalities as well. My son is a very deep thinker, and we discussed the affects of WWII when he was 7. Now we really go into the ideas of the damage current ideas of masculinity there are, how they vary by culture, and the negative impacts that has on both men in women in various societies. With my daughter, she is a little more closed off and only likes to focus on superficial things like the weather or where to get sparkly shoes. With her, I discuss the importance of compassion and understanding of others. She has a short supply of patience, so we work on that within different contexts.
Another really important thing I think is exposure. I do not raise my kids with any religious beliefs, but I encourage 100% there curiosity. I go out into the world and make friends with a variety of types of people. Then, I expose my kids to them. I ask my friends if it is OK to ask them questions. They want to know about Christianity, fine. I ask my sitter from Mexican descent if she would like to take them to her church’s free activities. They want to know Judaism? I ask my ex who is an Orthodox Jew to speak them about it. They asked my old landlord all about Islam and why his mother wears what she wears. My current boyfriend has a wealth of knowledge on Hinduism as he was raised that way in Bangladesh. We watch foreign based films. We expose, but expose I do choose carefully who I am expose them to (in case that wasn’t clear). I surround myself with people with open minds – and people who will speak to them with an open mind.
My son plays with the neighbor girl who is 8 and dresses “like a boy”. My son defends her identity all on his own volition to anyone who questions her choices. Her fathers are a very nice gay couple. Exposure to things different from our three person household (single mom with full custody of both) and are white middle class family. When I was young, we weren’t middle class. We were dirt poor. Sometimes I tell them what that was like.
I think my degree in humanities helps, because I do not view the world as black and white. We discuss race a good bit. We discuss how places like the south side of Chicago happen. We discuss how people get involved in white supremacy. We discuss the rampant sexism I have had to deal with my entire career. We discuss how that has held me back – and therefore all of us as a family.
We talk about their own biases. A great way to get this going and learn about the motivations of your kids and what their personalities are is to actually play a very common and well known game with them called “Would You Rather”. They have even likely played this at school. And questions get asked like “Would you rather be the smartest person in the world or the most beautiful”. When my daughter answered “be the most beautiful” I knew right away what she was internalizing and where I needed to start to react with her. You can tell their insecurities about money all the way to how they feel about themselves as a person. And trust me, your kids are internalizing the hell out of what is going on around them. I never taught my daughter anything about beauty, yet here we are!
Your kids will get it, this I am 100% sure. There is no need to hide things from them. Just like how would you describe how a bus runs you then can explain other things in the world to that level as well depending on age. Because, at the end of the day, it all is just a part of this world.
I can vouch that marching into school offices can be one of the most important things you can do as a parent. Administrators at my schools got up to shenanigans from the bad to the oh-my-god terrifying, and the fact that my parents would march in to help me, and mor eimportantly explain to me when and how administrators were abusing their athority (that it was NOT my fault) literally saved my life.
Ya know, I literally almost teared up at what happened in my kids’ school district this past year.
Back story: When I was in school, female dress code was strict. Everything that dealt with females was strict! I got caught smoking a cigarette after school off school property and was kicked off my sports team, had a week of in school suspension, and was forced to miss my senior homecoming. The ENTIRE boy’s football team mooned another team on the bus after a game at the opposing team’s school – on school time on another schools property bearing the private areas (not only butts are shown, ya’ll) and got detention and missed 2 games. That is it!!! My parents fought them hard and still didn’t win. Even after other teachers and coaches complained as well. It. Was. Messed. Up. And unfortunately was my first taste of sexism.
Now flash forward to the end of the school year this year at the junior high at the same school district. About 10 girls were sent down to the nurses office for wearing “too short shorts”. The shorts in question were actually athletic shorts with biking shorts on underneath. The reason they got sent down was because a bunch of boys were sexually harassing said girls and then telling them that if they weren’t wearing such shorts than it wouldn’t happen. The nurse, of all people, screamed and belittled the girls for wearing athletic shorts to school and shamed them in front of many students. Now what happened next was AMAZING!!! The parents from all over the school district flipped the eff out! Went ballistic. Blew up their facebook pages, called the school and told them off, the whole shebang. The school actually reacted! They went after the nurse. They went after the boys. They apologized to the girls and ensured them that they will do everything to prevent that from happening again and to come to them if it does! I literally teared up! I couldn’t believe it. 15 years ago I was treated like garbage by this school, and now these girls were treated like human beings. Interestingly enough, up until this last school year, the same administration that was there when I went all resigned when they hired a new superintendent of schools – and now you know why! This new guy isn’t having any of that crap!
Interestingly enough as well – the systemic bullying that contributed to my son’s hospitalization this summer for depression and suicidal thoughts was actually dealt with! Every other year they told me that “they can’t very well make all students friends” and this year it was “we can’t very allow students to belittle and bully others”! Bravo to this new superintendent. I am so glad watching society change.
Oh, Spicy Onion, this is so encouraging! Let’s keep communicating with the schools in which our children are!
💖💖💖 yup. Hard but so important.
Oh yes…. I wear my badge of “THAT Mom” with pride.
My concern is that my son, who is a senior in high school (just made the cutoff!), is exhibiting signs that his political beliefs differ from mine significantly. Too many people in our area are on the other side of the political divide from where my husband and I stand, therefore a lot of my son’s friends come from homes that espouse beliefs and opinions that I find troublesome. Throw in the fact that he has access to pretty much any platform on the internet and sometimes he says things that truly alarm me. I try not to get excited or visibly upset because sometimes I wonder if he is just pushing my buttons or being contrary because he’s a teen aged boy. I try to remain neutral and question why he says what he says and where he gets his information, and both my husband and I have been stressing to both our kids that they must always question the source when they read things on the internet. Where is this information coming from? Who is saying what? What is their agenda? Did you check other sources to verify fact versus fiction? I think deep down he does hold the same beliefs as I do, and I’m not even saying that I expect him to be a carbon copy of either me or my husband. But there are fundamentals that I expect from having raised him in a home that demonstrated certain principles and values. So…my question to the forum is how should I handle it when my teen expresses ideas, opinions or thoughts that I don’t agree with? I hate the idea that my child might end up one of those relatives that I no longer want at my Thanksgiving table!
“I try not to get excited or visibly upset because sometimes I wonder if he is just pushing my buttons or being contrary because he’s a teen aged boy.”
What do you think would happen if you told him that his comments truly upset you? Not in a suddenly-angry-reactive way, but just stating, “Wow, it really scares me to hear you say things that promote [racism/sexism/homophobia/fascism]. Do you realize that’s what you’re saying? Is that what you mean to say?”
Your son is on the verge of adulthood. He is old enough to understand the impact of his actions. A high school senior can be held accountable for toxic beliefs. Even if he is “just” saying these things to push your buttons, that makes them no less harmful; this election should have taught us that “ironic” political beliefs are as dangerous as sincerely-held ones.
The same stuff he says to “get a rise” out of you? He says that shit at school, too. He says it to “get a rise” out of whoever–maybe it’s the queer kids, or the weirdos, or the Black kids, or the teachers. I know that because that’s what my bullies always said; they just liked to “get a rise” out of me. Their parents would say, “They don’t really believe that,” as if they somehow could see into the purity of their children’s hearts. As if what they believed deep down actually means anything in the face of their actions.
Your question is “How should I handle it?”
Set a boundary. Tell him that talk is unacceptable. Tell him it HARMS people. Tell him he’s too old for this shit. Tell him that he can read and believe whatever he wants, but in your home is a space free of bad-faith, ironic oppressive jokes. Let him know that if he wants a good-faith discussion about what he’s reading, you’re available, but otherwise, shut this shit down.
I am with Typhoid Mary in this though I must admit I have not experienced this personally; not at least yet. Of my kids the older, my daughter, is very empathetic and always sides with the oppressed person(s). Luckily, in this society, this also happens to be the “cool” way to think – but we do have some relatives whose views are alarmingly racist.
You described that the cultural pressure in your area is towards oppressive and old fashioned views and there probably is peer pressure towards your son from his circle of friends but it is important that you and your husband clearly state that you despise opinions and behaviours which oppress other people.
Is there any other liberal minded parents whose children are your son’s friends or acquintaces? Could they also speak to their offspring about this issue?
LMC, I think a lot of it starts with modeling good “disagreement behavior” yourself. That is, no yelling, name-calling, outright rejeciton of him just because you disagree, for example. And deifinitely stay on him with questions like, “where did you hear that?” “do you understand what that word really means?” “have you considered [opposite] point of view” “how do you feel about the fact that your opinion is in conflict with what our faith teaches, our values are, our family code, etc.?” “are you clear about what biases that blogger/news station/author has? do you think those biases have slanted what you’ve heard?” And it’s OK to tell him, “I’m hurt to hear you say that” “If that’s really what you believe, I have to say I’m disappointed” and then reiterate your stance/values.
Also, since he’s older, do you have any way to give him a real slice of life? I see a lot of comments here about taking kids to protests. That’s great!
But protests are mostly holding signs and making noises….but then we go back home to our neighborhoods of privilege.
I’d love to see more of us parents seeking out opportunies where our kids can actually interact with “those people” and “that group” and “other people who don’t look and live like us” Lots of teens need volunteer hours for school credit or scholoarships and whatnot…may be a great opportunity to steer your son toward opporutnities to see life from a different side of the fence.
I don’t know if this is “best practice” or not, but since my child is only 14 months, we’re practicing having really serious conversations with her now. She likes flags (they’re pretty and move so nicely!) so on Memorial Day, while we walked and she waved at flags, I talked about what the meaning of the holiday is, and that I hope for an end to war so that no one else has to die in violent conflicts. She’s so little that she doesn’t ask questions and I think she is more interested in the fact that I’m talking than in parsing any of the content of what I’m saying, but it helped me because I was able to start and stop and change the way I talked about it with her without worrying her. I genuinely don’t know if it’s wise or not though. And she’s starting to pick up on more and more every day!
I think this is fantastic! There are things I started talking to my kids about as infants….not because I felt like they were going to internalize any of the information, but because I wanted to practice those conversations enough that when they actually became a two sided dialogue I would be comfortable with it.
Thank you for this post. I still remember so vividly how my son woke up to the news that Trump had won the election, and cried because “Trump was going to bring slavery back.” At the age of 11 now, he knows far more than I ever wanted him to about hacking elections, anti-immigrant bs, and gun violence against kids. Well, the list goes on.
It seems like having to have A Big Talk with him happens more and more often these days. And there’s shit I don’t tell him, like how we make sure he and his sister have valid passports at all times so we can get the hell out if necessary. (I was born in the U.S., but I’m not sanguine these days about how much that matters as a brown person.)
I try to focus on teaching him how to be a good and decent person, in the hope that when he’s an adult, we will be on our way to making a more just world.
And this is terrible, which is why this is the only place I will confess this: I’m glad my daughter’s disabilities prevent her from knowing what a president is, what a school shooting is, what anti-immigrant raids are, what transphobia is…any of these terrible things. Of course these days I worry about her future more than ever, given the attacks on Medicaid and other programs serving people with disabilities. But she won’t have to bear the burden of worrying about that.
Thak you for this. I don’t have kids of my own but I am a ‘professional parent’–a youth worker with suicidal queer kids with largely non-affirming family and house parent in a therapeudic residental intervention services for teenagers in foster care with too severe behaviours to live with foster carers. I have been having so, so many ‘explain the world, contexualise the world, and find your place it in’ conversations with teenagers the past year and it is so, so hard.
It gives me hope to see all of you engaged in this work with your younger kids, because by the time my kids get to me, they have lived more than a decade without any of that kind of support, and they STRUGGLE for not having had that foundation. It’s interesting to work in the two populations I do, because while they’re both full of kids who know the world is a shitty, messed up place that treats people unfairly, cruelly, and often violently, the first set has internalised this information in a toxic way and the second has externalised it and often has very weak internal concepts of self. It’s been such and honor and a challenge to help these kids unpack their respective baggage and figure out how to interact in the wider world.
My biggest challenge has been navigating how to react ‘to exact right amount” (which I think is the main challenge of parenting teenagers in general). Undereact and there’s no learning, overact and they either shut down or realise it’s a way to get attention/rile people up.
Last night, I got to talk to a couple of kids about why they shouldn’t casually doodle ‘nazi signs’ (swastikas) and how this was materially different than just graffitting ‘bad words’ or sexually suggestive things or whatever. Oof. I think I managed it well, but gah, the world sometimes.
High school students are fragile and need more support and care than they appear to need. I was suprised by this, and think it is important to remember.
Thanks for this post. My boys are 4.5 and smart and sensitive, and they know almost nothing about what’s happening in the world this year because we’re gatekeeping like it’s our job (I think it’s my job?).
They idolize firefighters (yay) and police officers (meh) — they think that a big role of each is rescuing animals and wearing cool suits. What’s not to love?
I’ve been politically active since 7th grade, and was mouthy long before that. For the last 25 years, I’ve showed up, debated, marched, canvassed, registered, donated, and organized for many progressive and moral causes. It’s just what you’re supposed to do! It’s what I want my kids to want to do… eventually.
But right now, we don’t watch the news (or even talk about it) in front of the kids, and I planned to attend the recent ICE protest without them.
I’m telling myself that it’s temporary — this fighting for a space for their hearts and souls to keep growing without secondary trauma — so that when they’re older theyll be ready to participate more, and they’ll have more to offer the world.
How much older, I don’t know — I have to trust they’ll find a way to show me, while we keep talking about right and wrong, fair and not fair, local and global, friends and not-yet-friends. (And trusting does not come naturally to me!) I just feel so guilty for protecting my own children while there are families who are being prevented from protecting their own.
EJ, these are exactly the same thoughts I struggled with when my children were the same age your sons are. At the same time I appreciated how privileged I was because I got to choose how and when my children encountered phenomenons like racism and sexims etc. and struggled with how many horrible things existed in this world. I did discuss racism with the mother of one of daughter’s best friends; a child adopted from an African country and also another mother, a white local lady married to a man of African origin. I especially wanted to learn how I could best respond if I ever encountered racistic behaviour while traveling with these children. We lived in a small neighbourhood which was unusually safe (even by Scandinavian standards) and multicultural.
I realized that I did not fully explain some reasons behind my daughter’s “colour-blindness”: when she was a young child she was visually impaired so she mostly used her other senses, hearing probably being most important to her. When she got scared she used to cover her ears instead of her eyes. I had feared that her disability would impair her ability to form friendships but little did I know. So, quite literally, she was colour-blind. Because of her disability she could not grasp the meaning of “race” when she was little. With medical attention and procedures her ability to see gradually increased so that when she was 5 we gradually began to discuss the concept of “race” and the ways people looked different.
EJ, I completely understand why you shield your children from the news. I wish my mother had done the same service for me when I was young. I have always been very sensitive and imaginative and also I have the tendency to lose my sleep or develope horrible nigthmares. Nowadays I do not consume horror movies and I do cry when I watch the news but when I was 5 or so I had a tendency to understand everything very literally. After hearing the news of a Cuban bloodbath I lost my ability to sleep for weeks. I usually loved to bathe but back then I refused to bathe because I feared that the water would turn to blood.
In my opinion the goal is the most important thing here: to create an environment where it is possible for a child to grow up to create a safe environment for everybody and to defend the rights of people who are less privileged. Traumatizing a child is a disservice: most of the children are different from each other and while some are calm (like my daughter) others are very sensitive (like me). Children’s different temperaments and abilities must be taken into account. In my opinion, if one is privileged like we are, providing information in a way which lures the child to become interested and seek more is the best thing – and so is our own example.
My children have also grown up in an environment where the amount of childrens’ books with people of colour heroes is somewhat limited: they grew up bilingual, but English was neither of those languages. I tried my best to be active, to contact publishing companies but that was the time before social media so I am not sure how much effect my letters did have. The situation is luckily much better these days.
One of the things I have found helpful in discussing these situations with my daughter, is fully understanding I feel about them first. Explaining a challenging concept to my child within the context of our own family values, helps me to do so with confidence. That confidence is comforting to her. It helps her to be emotionally comfortable, which then frees up her mind to process the meaning of what we’re talking about.
My oldest child is over thirty. My youngest living child is three. The vast age gap between my kids has some definite drawbacks, but the best part about being an older than dirt mom who has been parenting for a long ass time is knowing that in general, most issues aren’t pass or fail in the moment. Beyond the reality that every kid is different, the issues that I faced raising a white male child in the late eighties are vastly different than the reality of raising a biracial daughter in 2018.
I want to preface my comment with two caveats: First, I don’t think for a moment that I have all the answers or that what has worked and not worked for my children is applicable to other families. I feel like it’s very easy for parenting discussions to devolve into “if you aren’t doing it my way, you’re doing it wrong…” that dynamic can be exacerbated when people realize how long I have been parenting. So just to be clear, I don’t feel like I’m an expert when it comes to my own kids, much less other people’s. Secondly, I come to parenting from the perspective of being raised by a parent who failed to protect me and who I could not trust to be honest with me. That still shapes me as a person and as a parent and I don’t want to project that on anyone else.
With all that said, my now nineteen and twenty two year olds were three and six on 9/11. We absolutely limited media consumption and I remember how invaluable the “Look for the helpers” was for both of them as they navigated that difficult time. My ex husband and I made an effort to give them the information they asked for without overwhelming them. By and large, I feel like we handled it reasonably well, but then we had the luxury of being able to tell them that yes, this was a terrible horrible tragedy, it was something that likely would not ever happen to them.
Unfortunately, I don’t feel like this strategy is very helpful for my youngest who is an American citizen, but who was not born in the US. When she saw the picture of the two year old crying as her mother was being arrested and the images of children in cages, she’s looking at pictures of kids that look a lot like she does. Even more problematic is that the people who my older children could look at as helpers are actually the perpetrators in those images. A split screen image of an ACLU attorney who obviously isn’t physically with the kids isn’t as comforting to her as spotting police and other first responders was to her older siblings.
More than anything, what I wanted to do when she came to me in tears after seeing these images was to hug her and tell her that I could keep her safe. At the same time, my one of my cardinal rules for the last thirty years of parenting has been, “thou shalt not bullshit the kids”. In that moment, I realized that the idea that I had the ability to protect my children was, in part, founded on white supremacy. My older kids had the luxury of seeing law enforcement as 100% good guys who would help them. My daughter doesn’t have that luxury. In the moment, I hugged her and helped her find the words to describe her feelings and I
Subsequently, we’ve had many conversations. Some of them were easier than others, Impossible Girl: “Can I vote?” Me: Sorry, kid not yet, want to help me with my ballot?” Impossible Girl: “Can we march about this?” Me: “Yes!” Much tougher- Impossible Girl: “Momma-Ji, why are white guys so angry at brown people?” Me: “I wish I knew….”
While I can’t “fix” things for her, I do feel like I have the ability to give her a set of tools for navigating feelings. We do a lot of yoga and mindfulness for kids. We do art as therapy, last week she “wrote” a letter to our congressman. We went to a “families belong together” protest. We talk about how courage doesn’t mean that we aren’t afraid, it means that we keep working even when we want to hide. Sometimes these conversations are solemn, sometimes they are silly, but I work to make sure that we follow her lead. We read a lot of age appropriate books about social justice I think that has been incredibly helpful to all of us. Knowing that other people have confronted, coped with and triumphed in the face of this kind of ugly gives us hope and provides a road map.
Lastly, I take care of me, because ultimately if I’m not okay, she will have a harder time.
Thanks very much for this. I’m raising a white Canadian child, and one thing that’s important to us personally, because we are queer and because of what my partner does for work, is not glorifying the police or playing “police and bad guys.” We’ve explained that the police have to enforce the law even if it’s unjust, and have given a very rough sketch of what that has meant for queer people in the last 50 years, as well as for people of color (especially in the US). And we’ve explained that when someone goes to jail, that person is being separated from their family, and that that’s really, really sad for families (the families that Mommy works with), so even when someone is arrested for breaking the law that is not a fun or happy thing. I mean, sucks to know these things, but they’re true.
As difficult as it can be, you also need to let your kids have opinions that disagree with yours. My 13-year-old middle child is VERY into the idea of hunting and shooting and gun ownership, and is dead set on the second amendment meaning “no limits, ever.”
I’ve explained my rationale to her, and we don’t (and won’t) own a gun in our house, but she is allowed to believe what she believes, and she is allowed to shoot/hunt with her dad and his family.
I’m a parent of a young teen, and a teacher to teens, and also trying to acknowledge my own privilege. Thanks for all of the thoughts.
One suggestion I’d like to make, stemming from the sometime need to “march into the school offices”? Please be careful how you communicate to kids about their school.
I have thought that some of the students in my diverse school are being explicitly told, or having it very clearly implied, that Those People are Not to be Trusted. Maybe Great Grandma barely survived the tribal boarding school, but still the majority white school is the best (or only) option, or maybe Pastor says those godless heathens at the public school are trying to undermine faith, but homeschooling or private school won’t work for the family’s finances. Even when the parental concerns are easy for me to understand, I can see that the kids are in a tough bind. It’s emotionally hard to spend all day in a state of wariness, and it’s intellectually hard to learn from someone if you think they’re full of shit.
I know that choosing your child’s school or teachers can require a lot of privilege, so parents can easily find themselves in a tough bind. I suggest that parents who are stuck in a school that puts up their hackles try to think of it like post-divorce coparenting. If you thought your child’s coparent was an idiot, you would, hopefully, vent that to someone other than your child. Do that about your kids’ teachers. If your child reported that your coparent said an idiotic thing, you might try to present your own opinion and values without name calling their parent. Ditto for teachers. If something your child said about weekend at coparent’s seemed concerning, it would be best to avoid grilling the child for incriminating details, and instead, call up the coparent, starting with calm questions. Ditto for teachers. None of this is a gift you give the coparent or the teacher; it’s a gift you give your children. This way, little folks can feel like everybody’s taking care of them, and older kids can feel like they can tell their parents anything without having to become the adult disagreement referee.
All of this, of course, is for “put up your hackles” kind of behavior. If your kid is unsafe or unwell, you make the best choices you can, given the resources you have, to get them into a different situation or classroom or school or IEP or whatever you can manage, starting with marching into the school offices….
I have a 6 year old daughter who is afraid of going to high school because she doesn’t want to get shot. It’s been difficult to alleviate her concerns and fears due to the frequency of mass shootings as of late. I try to reassure her that there’s still a lot of years until she goes to High School where lawmakers can finally strengthen gun control measures and I also let her know about safety precautions she can take during an active shooting. But, that straw man argument comes apart when I think about how at my High School (over 20 years ago) a kid brought a gun to school to shoot someone and a bystander suffered brain damage from it. And 20 years later we still have problems with guns in High Schools.
One great way to expose kids to difficult topics if you’re having trouble knowing where to start the discussion is to find books that deal with those topics. There are lots of age-appropriate books that deal with a wide variety of issues including privilege and standing up for others’ rights. Your local library/librarians can be a valuable resource if you want to find something in particular.
Thank you so much for this! I have a four year old daughter and really struggle to explain these things to her. (You’re right; explaining sex is so much easier!) I would love to understand how to better gauge her responses. I’m trying to explain racism and civil rights issues by talking about ideas like fairness and “bad things that many people used to think,” but she doesn’t seem to be getting it. How can I tell whether I’m not being clear enough, or if she just needs more time and development in order to understand?
Four is pretty young still. My older daughter is about to turn six, and made some really massive jumps in understanding other people and social justice concepts in the last six to nine months.
I would just keep up gentle explanations and not worry too much about whether any one of them is sinking in properly yet. It’s about the overall pattern, and you’re still establishing that.
Four is a great age for picture books, either just generally including racial/family/ability/etc diversity or specifically discussing historical events or current issues. I’d like to plug I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer specifically — it’s the best picture-book treatment I’ve seen of Rosa Parks in the context of the larger civil rights movement, and includes a lot more detail than the standard very streamlined myth. Also Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap by Clay and Gail Morton, which explains the difference between an autistic kid and his neurotypical friend from the perspective of the autistic kid.
Okay I could go on suggesting books for a really long time so I will just stop there and recommended looking for booklists compiled by members of whatever group you’re looking for books about; these just keep getting easier and easier to google. Up with modern technology!
I have an 8 year old (girl) and two 5 year olds (girl & boy) and this is basically how we try to raise our kids too. We definitely aren’t perfect either, but we try to teach them as best we can and better than we were taught. Consent for sure, privilege (we are white and lucky enough to have good paying jobs), anti-racism/sexism/all bigotry in general. They get to make age-appropriate choices, but we set limits on those for safety, health, development, etc. reasons. Talking about the scary world is so hard sometimes! Something as simple as an amber alert going off when we were in a store the other day (we always keep our phones silenced, but the alarms were going off on others’ phones in the store) and explaining what it was for but reassuring them that they were safe was a tough conversation to have.
Not so fraught but still tough conversations about what is a girl or boy toy/cup/color/etc. We talk about how some people and society in general have designated certain things for boys or girls, but that it doesn’t mean boys can’t like “girl” things and vice versa. You like what you like and that is always ok in our house. I also talk about how it is also ok to like girl things as a girl and boy things as a boy too as for me this was something important that wasn’t really taught. I internalized first that I should like certain girl things, but I mostly did not, but then felt like I couldn’t like any girl things. I’m still reclaiming some of that as an adult and still have to catch myself and say “Yes, it is ok to like/not like this!”
Thank you for this advice, it is good to hear what is working and what to expect as my kids get older. Being a safe place for them to land is so key: they need to be able to tell us the truth, express emotions, etc. with us so they can figure it out and we can teach them as best we can.
This is great! I have a three year old and eight month old, both of whom have been attending protests since birth (a typical occurrence when raising kids in DC). We have approached conversations as discussions about our family values. My 3yo doesn’t know what a government is, but she does understand what neighbors, kindness, and fairness are. So when we drove to the Families Belong Together rally, we talked about how our family welcomes new neighbors in our community. Some people are not kind to new neighbors who look different or speak different, but as a family, we believe difference makes our neighborhood a better place to live. Framing these discussions in the positive—this is what we believe—has helped my older kid understand better why we march. And now we hear her often march around the house, chanting “this is what democracy looks like!” which warms my leftist heart.
Honestly? I lie. My daughter (4) came home from daycare and was concerned because someone told her that people were stealing kids. I told her no, that wasn’t happening, and that if someone tells her something like that, she should tell them that they’re making her scared and to stop. That is probably a deeply problematic way of handling the situation, but she’s a toddler. She’s scared of the dark and cries when she sees the fish counter at the supermarket because all the dead trout makes her sad. As she gets older, I’ll tell her more and explain the importance of political engagement, but right now the world isn’t going to be helped by me frightening my child. There is no good that can come of me trying to explain the messy and cruel reality.
I am very aware that the fact that I can choose to lie and hide the truth from my daughter is an enormous privilege. I use my gratitude that I can shield my baby a little while longer, my anger that Donald Trump’s racism encroaches on her or any other baby’s childhood, as fuel to fight for a kinder world.
Finally, I will say that some of my most cherished memories with my parents and brothers is of watching the news with them in the evening. To a certain extent, they “censored” us (by switching the channel if the coverage was too violent or graphic) based on our maturity level, but it was really cool. We felt grown-up and engaged in the larger world, and becoming informed was seen as a personal responsibility. I want to do the same with my daughter though I’m terrified that by the time she’s old enough, very little of cable news will be appropriate for her.
“I told her no, that wasn’t happening, and if someone tells her something like that, she should tell them that they’re making her scared and to stop”
I appreciate that you acknowledge that your privilege allows you to make this decision. I would like to point out that the people she may end up saying this to may be children her own age, whose parents have told them the truth because they do not have those privileges. Kids with undocumented family members, for example.
I wonder if there is a way she can set this boundary that does not contribute to the dynamic young Black and brown children having white people tell them their fears are unreal or unfounded.
*dynamic OF young Black and brown children, etc.
I understand the desire to protect your daughter, but this is something I really need to push back on. This strategy has some ugly repercussions for a child like mine and obviously that colors my perspective, but your priority is your child and that is as it should be.
I do think it might be a good idea though to think about how this could end up increasing your child’s fear over the long run. Because none of us have the ability to shrink wrap our kids, it is very possible that your daughter could see images of children in detention. She could come into contact with a kid like mine who flat out tells her that yes it is happening and who could give examples. She could end up overhearing other adults talking about it. When that happens, my concern is that she would then be confronted with the reality that you didn’t give her accurate information. I doubt highly that your child would think “my mom is a horrible liar”. In my experience, what kids tend to conclude instead is stuff along the lines of “this truth is so bad my mom can’t even talk about it….. her imagination will then fill in the rest. Alternatively, she could conclude that no one else can be trusted….and that’s not a good thing either.
My worry would be that while this denial was effective in that short term, there is a distinct possibility that it could backfire and undermine your relationship over the long haul.
Could I ask for more resources on the anti-racism vs. colorblindness issue? I feel like I could use a refresher myself.
sorry, I meant my comment below to be a reply to you. I’ve found good resources here:
Yes! Here’s a very short article with some great linked resources to use specifically with kids – and it’s a great jumping off point for adults too. https://medium.com/embrace-race/colorblind-isnt-the-goal-9f350074e8cf
There’s also White Privilege: Unpacking the invisible Knapsack
While in a perfect world, everybody would get the same treatment, in our racist reality, people of colour have a very different lived experience. So if you’re White, you may well see police as ‘friends and helpers’; if you’re a Black man, you may have a reasonable fear that they’ll shoot you on sight and lie about it.
While the exact list may not be suitable for all children, you can find talking points like ‘when a White child acts up in school, it’s likely to be dismissed as high spirit, when a Black child acts up, they’re more likely to be excluded’.
The hardest thing for me is the school shootings, obviously. My son turns 12 in about a week and a half, which means he was the same age as the kids who died at Sandy Hook. I just remember crying in the car every single day after I dropped him off at school. The balance I struggle to find is how to protect him without being overprotective. How do I make sure he’s cautious and informed without making him (more) anxious and paranoid?
My mother is gay married to a woman she’s been with for 35 years, so the social justice and equality side of it was always the easiest. And I’m really impressed with and proud of Generation Z so far. They’re so pro-people, it’s great.
Also, I’m in SE Houston, Tx, if there are any other Awkward parents in the area!
I’ve personally found some good resources here:
I’ve often taken the “so I heard something on the news today (or cuz happened at work) and I’d like to get your opinion/thoughts on it/how I could have handled it.” approach with my daughter as she grew up. I’d frame the issue in what I felt was age appropriate at the time and our discussion would go from there. I found it was a great way to start many dialogues and to get her engaged. It’s been interesting hearing her opinions evolve. I’ve watered things down for sure as in haven’t wanted to really scare her. But now that she’s 12 I find we can discuss things with candor. She’s always shown me when she’s needed a topic change – either by random topic change, goofy faces, or physical signs that led me to end the convo. I wonder how much she “gets” as we too are not part of the marginalized groups – but I’m often astounded by her empathy. I struggle sometimes to get her to be her own voice as she doesn’t want to stick out (which I get) – but that’s where convos of situations I’ve been in can hopefully role model for her. I also often remind her that the right thing isn’t always the easy thing. But I feel good about myself even through the uncomfortableness of standing up for my beliefs.
I am struggling hard with this issue right now. My 14-year-old blonde, blue-eyed very white son is sweet and caring and is horrified by violence, and yet he has used the ‘n’ word (and knows he cannot do that anymore), recommended the ‘colourblind’ ideology, has said that real americans are white, and is simultaneously is horrified by and resigned to depictions of shootings of black men by cops. I honestly do not know what to do.
Here’s an article (with some links to others in the series) that might help you start to have these conversations.
What we know for sure: Ignoring this stuff doesn’t make it magically go away.
One of the challenges I found in raising teenagers was hitting the balance between allowing them the space to develop a sense of self and explore ideas while also being very clear that I have values that I will not compromise on. It’s not unusual for teenagers to “try on” different ideas and test drive them. My second son especially went through a phase where he was really attached to the idea of being the “devil’s advocate.”
What worked well was for me to save my outraged responses for outrageous behavior- use of the “n-word” would definitely have qualified. On a gut level, hearing one of my white, blonde privileged sons talking about “real Americans being white” would have made me feel that outrage. However, in that situation, I probably would have taken a deep breath and rather than venting that outrage I would try to respond along the lines of “tell me why you think that is true.” “Have you considered?” “I’m a little surprised that you think that, tell me more…”.
Then listen. Really, really listen. I try hard not to slip to “debate” mode early on in the conversation. The goal for me was to figure out the scope of their thinking. Staying calm and engaged while they test out their talking points isn’t easy for me, but I’ve noticed that I have better results if I let them “talk themselves out”. I also try to find out what their sources of information is especially given the way the alt right targets young white men for radicalization.
I work hard at not getting sucked into a power struggle when I do respond and I try to remind myself that there are very very few situations that I have to nail on the first try. There are definitely times when I’ve said, “hey, I’m going to step away for a few minutes because this topic is intense.”
However, it’s critical that we have those conversations and that we let our kids know where we stand. When I start sharing what my positions are, I usually preface it with, “I’ve listened to what you have had to say, and it’s important to me that you do the same.” I stay away from personal attacks in general, but I also don’t pull punches. (My oldest son gave me a hammer that he had painted with gold paint and decorated with silk flowers and ribbons one year….. labeling it “hammer of duh”).
Keep the conversation relatively short and try to avoid them derailing you.
Remember that pushing back on this is critical, and that doing so doesn’t mean that you are undermining your relationship with your child.
I really appreciate this forum. My husband and I have three kids under 6. I would love to go to protests and get involved politically, but they would require a long drive out of town. This isn’t very feasible with my kids’ nap schedules.
I have tried to change things in small ways. I put a bumper sticker about immigrants on my car. I bought baby dolls of color for my kids’ classroom. I buy diverse books for all birthday party and new baby gifts. I wish I could do more, but this has been practical for now.
I have not talked with my kids much about what is going on nationally. I remember being terrified of Russia and World War III when I was young, so I do not want to cause them anxiety.
FWIW, I bought my bumper sticker from this Etsy shop. I especially love her “Make America Love Again” sticker.
My kids are 4 and 5. We have learned
* to turn the TV off if the images are too scary. “Off” is a forgotten option!
* to limit their screen time in general.
* to keep our own emotions in check. “That Politician pisses me off so much!” and “To hell with That Group” does nothing to help a child understand.
* to use phraseology and concepts they can understand. Like “Adults make sad choices too” or “Even grown ups can use words that hurt” or using scientific facts to explain how that scary wildfire got started…or why so many people in that town are getting sick.
* to model the behavior we’d like to see in the world. It’s amazing how much braver and bolder you can be in the face of ugliness when you know your kids are watching!
* incorporating our faith and our own moral code to make a news story a teachable moment. “The man on the news said [horrible thing] and it hurt a lot of people’s feelings. Does that sound like what Jesus teaches us? What are some nicer words he could have said?” or “The lady on the news is going to jail because she hit someone when she was mad. What’s a better way to react when you’re mad at someone? Making the news a teachable moment not only reinforces your family’s values but it helps kids learn how they, themselves, can control scary situations.
Moderation Note: The Spam filter has been VERY HUNGRY this week, and I have had some commitments that took me away from the computer. I just liberated so much stuff. So much. Thanks for the respectful discussion so far, keep it going!
Does anyone have any advice on how to talk about this stuff with your kids when your spouse has some very different ideas that have come out lately? My husband has recently “come out” to me as a Trump supporter. No matter how many disgusting things I point out about Trump and his administration, he is adamant that Trump is the president and deserves to be respected. He was also raised in a house that did not always celebrate diversity and did not acknowledge white privilege. He is from a different country.
I am having a very, very hard time reconciling the fact that the person I love, have been married to for nearly ten years, and have known since I was 13 is suddenly spouting some viewpoints I find abhorrent. He used to be a very liberal person and while he disagrees with some of the Trump actions, he is always trying to refute things going on (“those kids aren’t really in cages, that’s fake news”; “that little girl was reunited with her mother”; “this all started under Obama” etc etc).
I don’t know how to talk to my kids about this when their dad has such a different opinion. I’m afraid to even bring stuff up because I don’t want to just get into an argument in front of my son (he is 5). We don’t put the news on at home because it’s so depressing, but eventually he’ll be exposed to this when he starts school this fall.
I’ve gotten to the point where I’m considering divorce because our ideals are so different but I am terrified of what my kids might hear at his house without having me there as a buffer.
The paradox is, he’s a good and loving father and this Trump stuff comes out of nowhere. I think it’s partially fear from becoming a dad and wanting to keep his kids safe (misguidedly), a strong respect for authority and his upbringing. But I don’t know what to do.
Sorry this is long and offers no helpful advice, but maybe someone out there has some ideas for me…
I know my point of view is probably different but I encountered a similar problem. My ex husband is Swedish Finnish and when I found out that he had voted for Perussuomalaiset (it is a far right party in Finland) “to support the diversity of opinions” I became so disgusted that our marital life suffered significantly. A few years after that we ended up divorced. Luckily my ex husband kept his disgusting far right views to himself.
In my opinion you should definetely talk with thim about your thoughts and bring up the thoughts of divorce. Is it possible for you (the plural you) to get couple’s counceling? You probably cannot change his views if he is not ready to change them himself.
Best of luck to you!
Wow! I have no advice, but you definitely have my sympathy.
Hi Kat, this is a rough situation. It’s a weak analogy, but FWIW, my husband and I have very different views on religion. He is vocally atheist; I’m a pick-and-choose Hindu who believes in some force of divinity that is named in many ways. He doesn’t talk to our son about his Jewish background at all, while I turn my mom loose on him with her repertoire of Sanskrit prayers. This difference means that while he’s strictly rationalist, I believe there are things we don’t know or under about our world. So our son gets very different answers from us when he has a nightmare—my husband is the “It’s just a dream, there’s nothing to be scared of parent and I’m more of the “let’s talk about what you’re scared of and how dreams can help us understand those fears and perform the Ridikulus charm together” parent.
Now, I believe this is a topic on which the two of us have managed to respectfully disagree. I will be honest and say that I don’t know whether you and your husband can *respectfully* disagree on the topics that divide you. These are fundamental differences about human rights, not abstract theologies. I think you might have to take a leaf out of the divorced parents’ handbook, and not badmouth your husband for having those views to your children, but calmly explain to them what your ideas are. And lead by example, and empathy, and compassion, for the people your husband’s views demean, but also, very importantly, for your children themselves. Kids will choose their own paths. Make your path as appealing to them as possible, both by its content, and by your character.
I grew up in a mixed race household. I am the only one of my siblings who is white passing. I married a white man. My children tan and have my dark hair and brown eyes but they will never be seen or treated like a person of color unless they are with my side of their multigenerational family. My family lives in an affluent and largely white town in the Mountain West, over 500 miles away from my nearest blood relation. I want to say as firmly and as kindly as I can to people who want to shield their children from the world for a little while longer, and keep them safe that it is a dangerous path to tread. My husband regularly reexamines and casts a questioning eye on his lily white upbringing, especially as we face these issues of how to raise our children and communicate about the world. We watched a talk given by a sociologist through the Methodist church, and she spoke to something that I have struggled to articulate to my white in-laws when they fret about us living in a neighborhood less ‘good’ than we could afford, and sending our children to public school instead of private. Google Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin DiAngelo if you’re curious.
One of the excerpts went like this:
“I think the most profound way that my life has been shaped by my race is by the power of segregation. Most white people do live in segregation, we choose that segregation, and in a lot of ways we celebrate it. What makes a school good, and what makes a neighborhood good? Well. The absence of people of color. That is the way that white people measure the value of their neighborhoods and schools and while we don’t come out and name that we all know what it is. And so I have had to think very deeply on what it means to have grown up in a primarily white neighborhood, to be born into, to go to school, to study, to learn, to play, to worship, to love, to work, and to die in segregation and not have one single person who loved, mentored, or guided me convey that there was any loss. And I’m going to repeat that because I think it’s very profound, and I really want us to sit with it. That I could live my whole life in segregation… I could easily never have any consistent ongoing authentic relationships with people of color, and not one person who guided me ever conveyed that there was loss. Just sit with that for a moment. That there is no inherent value in the perspectives or experiences of people of color. If my parents, if my schools, if my curriculum, if my teachers, if my government saw value in those perspectives I would be given those perspectives. But I wasn’t.”
We talk about racist people and not racist people in this country. We should talk about racist and not racist behaviors. Even I, a woman raised by a latinx mother and a mixed black/native father, have made my siblings and cousins feel small and devalued because I went through life easier than they did and didn’t think about why. My parents didn’t think I needed to be talked to about colorism or hair texture as it applied to me because I was raised in a family that faced all sorts of struggle with those things. But I did need that talking to, and I should have gotten it when I was younger. I absolutely guarantee- if you are white, your child needs these discussions. All of them. From a very young age. Do not segregate your child. Do not devalue the perspectives of people different from yourself. If you don’t consciously do this work, it will not come easily to them, no matter how well you raise them in all other respects. If your child lives a segregated life, if you never talk to them about the struggles faced by people due to skin and religion and nationality, then they will at the very least have racist behaviors. And how could they do otherwise? They literally never saw or thought about people of color in their formative years.
What you need to talk about will be different depending on your child’s geography and heritage. When you bring these things up to your children will depend on their age and maturity, but they must be addressed, thoughtfully and with the perspective always shifted to where their place in the world is in relation to these things. If you know it makes you uncomfortable, please, make a roadmap of when you are going to start this work and hold yourself accountable. Some of it can start regardless of their age. Help them to make minority friends by making your own. Model what it is to lead an unsegregated life, with respect and value for difference.
And please, keep in mind, their innocence will shatter someday. They will begin to read news and ask questions in class. If you are the first one to talk to them about difficult topics, you can be present with them to process their fear or sadness and channel it into understanding or action. Things are scary or sad! That’s okay! That’s necessary in developing empathy. My kids get scared or angry or sad at all sorts of things big and small. We talk about why they’re feeling that way, and what they wish they could do to address the root cause and what they CAN do to help the root cause. Then we support them as much as we can. Sometimes we ask them what someone in a different circumstance than ours could do, and if they can’t do anything why is that, and what sort of help they might need. If you take the initiative to talk to them about things you can help them become people who treat diversity as a basic value. You can help ensure they don’t habitually recuse themselves from conversations on race or religious discrimination by citing color blindness, or believing only bad people can do racist things and thus being terrified of admitting much less modifying damaging behavior (trust me, I did Not Like It when my Mom and Dad sat me down and told me I was propping up racist behavior and stereotypes, but I was). You can teach them that they benefit from racial social orders, and that they should despise that fact and push back against those systems whenever possible. You can teach them that a life without people who are different is missing something. If you don’t do it, you’re leaving it up to the world as it comes to your child, and there are too many bigots with too far a reach to make that a safe choice.
Thank you. OMD, thank you. I need to tattoo this on myself. Thank you again.
Thank you. This morning I was reading a book to my 7 year old and the story chosen was “Guerrilla Girls”* (the awesome illustration definitely made it appealing). We talked about why they were protesting about diversity in art, and was asked who picked the art at the MET. I hedged and said the people in power. Right of way we both realize how much of a non answer that is. I then awkwardly explained to my middle class white son that it is white people like us and men who are the people in power who chose the art.
My take away from this morning is that each conversation doesn’t have to be perfect to be important.
From a recommendation point of view for families with intersections of privilege, ensuring that the media your family consumes be created by diverse people will move the conversations outside your family’s bubble.
*From the book Rad Women Worldwide, artists and athletes, pirates and punks, and other revolutionaries who shaped history
One thing I would like to recommend for folks whose young kids might be picking information about current events up at school or another location away from you that I haven’t seen mentioned so far — ask the kids what they know already and whether they have any questions about it. This is a great way to help adjust your approach to the child’s actual concerns without either introducing things they hadn’t thought to worry about yet or coming in from some totally unrelated angle and confusing them.
For instance, we took our five-year-old to the local Keep Families Together rally. Beforehand, I asked her what she had heard about what was going on. “Donald Trump is putting kids in jail,” she said. I thought that seemed like a pretty good age-appropriate summary of the problem, really, so I asked her if she had questions, which she did not, then passed over the markers and we made our protest signs together. (Hers read “No putting kids in jail”.)
I note that the five-year-old in question is one of the most extroverted people I know, and truly loves marching in a group, having people compliment her adorable sign, and call-and-response chants, so protests are 100% her jam. Our younger daughter stays home. I realize that I am in a pretty privileged position to have people to stay home with her when I want to go out to a protest, and I also feel like I should say that if you are not in such a position it is totally okay to stay home if you need to keep a kid (or yourself) out of dense crowds or too much sun or whatever.
Thanks for this! My son is 3 and has seen me break down in tears several times listening to the news about children being taken from their parents. He came and comforted me, sweet boy, and it was so hard to know how to explain to him what was happening.
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