I ask the same three questions every night at dinner that we discuss as a family.
- What is something that made you laugh or made you happy today?
- What is something that made you sad or frustrated you today?
- What is something you did that made you proud of yourself today?
The first question starts a discussion about the humaneness seen in people and in the world. These conversations have become instinctive and our family has started to look for the goodness in the world. The second question allows us to talk about the disagreements that have occurred throughout our day. This can lead to considerations into another person’s way of thinking and why they might have made the choices they did. This has created more understanding towards others. We’ve discussed how everyone does what makes sense for them. It’s acceptable to not agree with someone but we can still be courteous. I have often been astounded at what came up when I have asked the third question. This allows my children to take control of their own self-worth and not expect validation from others to build themselves up. If I forget to ask these questions, my older daughter reminds me as I put her to bed. This usually transitions into conversations about her day that didn’t fit into the three questions. I want to put in the time to listen when my girls are young so they will come to me as they grow. I want them to know that I will answer their questions without judgment. We can then come to a solution about struggles together. By working through it as one instead of telling them how to resolve the problem, they develop independent thinking.
My daughters are privileged. They are blond, blue-eyed, petite, and white AF. They are both very social. They have college-educated parents. I have an education degree and I used this degree to homeschool my young daughters with confidence early on. They have grandparents that live nearby and are always able to step in whenever needed. It’s easy to take for granted what we have. But we cannot do this. Parents often tell kids that everyone is the same. I know that I’m guilty of that too. But we’re not. Being white makes it easy to drift through life knowing my family will get better treatment and get away in situations where others do not. It’s important for us to talk to our children about what happens when others are treated unfairly. My husband and I are teaching our girls to speak and stand up for others who do not have a voice that my daughters have. We challenge ourselves to point out why it’s not okay to cause harm to others who are in different social situations in front of our children. They see us stand up against intolerance and we expect them not to stay silent when they see abuse happening. We want them to have planned responses if they witness bullying or other bigoted situations so they will feel they are in control and will have the confidence to do what is right. Children inherently are not born bigoted, biased, or racist. This is something that is taught unfortunately. I see many white parents sidestep the topic of injustices, especially racism because it’s uncomfortable. The reality is if parents don’t introduce their children to the reality of racism, then you can be sure that their peers will, and this doesn’t guarantee that they will receive the correct message.
With Donald Trump, we’ve chosen to discuss the problems with his behavior and choices with our girls. We were hesitant to do so at first as some of our family members voted for Trump and we didn’t want the girls to think poorly about people they love. But we cannot stay silent when human rights are being violated daily for so many. I have often heard adults insist that children should always listen to their elders and do what they asked, no questions permitted. My role that I wish to serve is as a guide, not a boss. “Honey, when you grow up, I want you to be assertive, independent, and strong-willed. But while you’re a kid, I want you to be passive, pliable and obedient.” Why would we teach our children to conform and be obedient for adults and then expect them to be able to think for themselves thereafter? While insisting on obedience from a child, a relationship of respect and fear is built in hopes of raising a self-reliant child. Instead, I would rather build a relationship on respect and trust to raise our girls to be self-nurturing. I want them to learn to examine why those in charge claim what they say and act the way they act. I want them to form necessary thinking skills and develop their autonomy so they are able to refuse ideas with confidence if they do not agree with them. Although adults do have more life experience, this does not make them the experts on everything. My husband and I want our girls to know that adults can be wrong and everyone make mistakes. By teaching children that someone bigger or older (or just plain white!) is more deserving of human respect and that someone smaller, younger, or has dark skin deserves less respect, it causes an inability to speak up or defend themselves. This also teaches children to comply only to avoid punishment. My husband and I want our children to know that they can come to us for our learned experiences but we want them to understand that we are not always right. We need to teach them that it’s okay to be wrong and what to do when we are wrong, whether it’s apologize, change our future actions, or fix things immediately.
Recently, I watched my preschool daughter stand up to another child much older than her. The bully was telling a few younger girls that they couldn’t play on a toy car at the library. My tiny daughter informed the older child how many kids would fit on the car and how they could all play together. The other girls joined in after my daughter stood up to the bully. The bully backed off immediately. My daughter saw how she could become a positive leader for others as well as inspire others to gain their own strength. My husband and I want our children to know that hurting others does not make them a better person, it will not make them feel better, and no one deserves to be treated superior to someone else.
I want my girls to continue to be open-minded as they grow. I hope they never stop asking questions to find who they are and what they believe. I want them to disagree with me and not to give up and take a ‘no’ when it means something to them. I want them to have strong wills because this means that they will accomplish powerful things. I want them to be brave, even when it’s challenging, and stand up for things they believe in. I want them to say no with confidence. Their words matter and should always be respected. If someone doesn’t respect them, that person is not worthy of them. I want them to step in when someone needs their strength. This is not only for the victim but because it’s the right thing to do. By standing up for those treated unfairly, the girls show an example of a better society.