This fall, my son came home saying things–political things, that he had heard at school. The things he was saying were complicated and required conversation. A canned response that ‘people have the freedom to vote for whomever they choose’ just wouldn’t suffice. On one occasion, my son asked if a candidate was a liar, and on another, he told me that Muslims are evil. My son is seven.
As the election season wore on, and post-election, my son heard me saying things as well, things that before this year I never would have imagined saying in front of my children. But, at times, my emotions were raw and it was hard to shield them from how I felt. I want to raise my children to think for themselves and to recognize the beauty in a country where one is free to think and act independently. That said, I also want to raise my children to be fair and to treat all people with respect. This election and it’s result made that challenging to balance.
Our conversations have become deep, deeper than I was ready for. But, that is parenting after all, constantly being pushed outside your comfort zone to adapt to your child’s development. I try to relate what are incredibly complex topics–racism, sexism, xenophobia, to his everyday life. I speak about rules, instead of laws. I talk about his observations with friends who are from the same faith but practice the religion differently–cheeseburgers vs. no cheeseburgers. I use what he learns about the past in school, like Martin Luther King Jr., to connect to the present. It’s not easy, and it’s definitely not always pretty.
These conversations are also mixed up in the every day. One minute we’re talking about religious freedom and discrimination and the next he’s describing what he did at recess. My son is a happy boy, and I don’t want to burden him with too much of the world’s problems, but I also know that my son is an incredibly privileged boy. His blonde hair and blue eyes have gotten him and I compliments from the moment he was born. I’ve had people stop us on the street and call out to us from car windows to express how handsome he is. We’re fortunate to provide him with an amazing education, clothes for every season, sports, a bike, and healthy food on demand. We have every intention of sending him to college, something we encourage, expose him to, and save for.
I want my son to grow up knowing that not every child lives the life he does, and to question why that is. I want him to believe that his privilege is an obligation to challenge inequity, not a right to benefit from.
This past weekend, my son, daughter, and I participated in the IRIS 5K Run for Refugees. This was my son’s second 5K and a great opportunity to raise money and show our support for immigrant and refugee rights. On the way to the race, I asked the kids if they knew what immigrants were. My son had learned a little bit about immigrants in school, so, using the story that his Nana told us at Christmas Eve dinner about her mother immigrating to the U.S. when she was a little girl, we discussed why we were running. I also asked them if any children in their classes speak multiple languages and we discussed how hard that must be to arrive somewhere and not know how to speak the language. Both kids hadn’t a clue what a refugee was, so I used the story of Anne Frank, a recent biography we had read together, to describe who refugees are and why it is so important that we welcome and support them to the U.S.
As we continue to embark into this new world–the world that my children are growing up in, I am hoping that I can continue to raise them to think both critically and with empathy. I don’t expect them to hold my all of my beliefs or political affiliations, but I do expect them to treat all people as they would want to be treated. When it feels safe, I will do my best to continue to engage my children in activities that expose them to the world outside themselves. It’s going to be a long four years, but a lifetime of momming.