The task of parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. There are many privileges and responsibilities that come with the task making it truly impossible to say we all know what we are doing from day one.
If you are a parent or an expecting parent, you have done your share of research about feeding routines, activities and quality family time. Some of us are raising our children vegan, others avid outdoors fans! While different approaches exist, we all have the same goal: to raise healthy individuals who will one day contribute to the world we live in while being happy at the same time.
So why is it that even though we put so much interest and effort into teaching our children we still fall short when it comes to talking about diversity and race? Could it be because it’s uncomfortable? Most likely yes. It certainly is not something you just start talking about over breakfast—but then again, maybe it should be!
To try to pinpoint the specific reasons as to why we avoid discussing race and diversity would take a lot more space than I am able to take in this piece. With that said, instead of trying to find the reasons as to why we avoid the topic, I am going to share some ways we can open up the conversation in the one place we all have influence and for the most part control.
While our instinct is to wait for the right time to have this conversation, I have to say there is probably not one. I personally believe that waiting for the right time when it comes to important decisions or conversations in a way is our tactic to delay things.
I understand we want to be comfortable and ready to handle what could come out of a discussion like this, but when it comes to conversations as important as diversity and race, I have to say I am not sure that taking your time is best.
So when should we start talking about it then? The answer is: As soon as you can! “How?” you may ask. Well, it is as simple as taking into account the things you expose them to the minute they are born and as they go through the usual milestones of growing up.
I believe that this topic for me was much more natural per say. I am a Mexican immigrant, but my children are half white. This makes them a lighter shade of brown, but not brown enough to be immediately spotted as Mexican and for sure not white enough to be considered full white.
Did you cringe at that line but are still reading? Then you are on the right track! The truth is that words such as “brown”, “black” and “white” make us uncomfortable by default! Why? Well, I am pretty sure it is because of the history we have had and certainly the current events in our country right now.
It is for that reason that I felt it was important we talk about this; so allow me to continue sharing my own story and my experience raising children and talking to them about race and diversity.
While I did not sit the kids on their high chairs and gave them a speech about black, brown or white, I did seek out opportunities for them to experience and made it a natural part of their upbringing every chance I had.
What kind of opportunities you may ask? Well for starters, we started with bilingual story time! I often sought out story books that touched on gender roles, race and, of course, culture as a whole.
However, it is important to note that teaching children about race or cultural competence shouldn’t be something you do as a task in a to-do list, but a way of life. You have to remember that when children are born they have no notion of what color, languages, borders or race is about. Those things are learned as they grow up.
I understand the topic can be intimidating, but again, parenting is a big responsibility and making sure we are raising children aware of the diversity in the world is one of the most important and valuable things you can teach them from day one. Especially as they sit home right now and watch the chaos unfolding here in our country before our eyes.
Having conversations with them at home will work better as soon as possible rather than waiting for the right time. As children get older—depending on how diverse their community is—they will start noticing the “differences” themselves. But if given the proper guidance and knowledge, they will grow up with a greater sense of respect and love for others around them.
Should we fail to meet this need in a natural and comfortable environment, we will soon find that they will start collecting negative information and perceptions through unfriendly playground talk, television, social media or music they may be exposed to.
As children get older and start learning about history they will also start to realize that sometimes our country hasn’t been the good guy or fair and just for all. It is important that we take the time to discuss those uncomfortable moments in our history as much as we discuss the ones we are very proud of.. Dismissing them can give children the impression that they are not a big deal, when in fact they are.
Depending on the children’s age, this will require some accommodations to make sure we are indeed teaching instead of confusing them. Helping children understand that some races and cultures have been treated unfairly is of the essence and it does not mean you are ruining their life experience, but instead you are giving them knowledge so that the same mistakes do not repeat. If you want to go even further, this is also a chance to highlight the opportunities and privileges they may have that others lack.
I am sure you are asking yourself once more, “But how?” Let me share this story with you. My best friend is the mother of two handsome young boys. And yes they are white. Not long ago we were discussing the many things that are happening in our country especially the hardships black Americans experience day after day.
I was very touched when she shared the following with me: “It came up on a show that I had to explain to them (the boys are of grade school age) why parents would worry about their child of color. They have no idea as white boys.”
This is without a doubt how perfect this topic can be handled if we have our hearts in the right spot. The importance of teaching cultural competence and properly addressing it head on don’t necessarily mean you have case references by your side, just your heart in the right place and an open mind.
The reality is that trying to dismiss cultural competence or race in our daily lives is a big mistake. We must equip children not only to “accept” but love every person we come across. I was certainly impressed with how proactive she was with such a sensitive topic as this, especially because she could have brushed it off and justified it by taking a “they don’t need to worry about that” stance.
By having open and natural conversations or experiences with our children about diversity and race at an early age, we are setting the foundation to what future adults will be like. We will be teaching them basic principles of positive human behavior such as equality, compassion, love and inclusion for everyone regardless of color or race.
Lucky for us, our children get older, therefore these types of conversations get easier with time. Easier in the sense that you won’t have to answer the multiple “But why?” that usually come up. Do keep in mind that as children get older these conversations may get much more intense and emotional from time to time.
If your “big kid” or teen is exhibiting an interest to better understand the world they live in and want to experience different cultures through their food or languages, make sure you support those desires. Our country has an amazing tapestry of culture and diversity. Search the web to connect with culturally competent minds. Sometimes all it takes is saying hi to your neighbor next door. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone and believe me you wont regret one bit of it if you try.
The important thing is that we as parents navigate the conversation in an open and clear way. We must be honest with our children and acknowledge that as a community and even as a country have sometimes failed at being honest and fair. Statements such as “that’s the way it was back then” only make matters worse in a kid’s head. Instead pointing out the reasons it was wrong will help the child sort through the ups and downs we as a country have had.
Last but not least, the most important thing we can do to enforce the teachings of equality and cultural competence when it comes to race is to be an example of how it is done. We must be mindful of the things we say, the shows we watch, the people we admire, the way we interact with others at all times.
It is important to note that we are all learning how to do better each day. Some of us may have been raised with some negative perceptions about diversity and let’s be honest habits are hard to break!
Therefore making a conscious effort to not fall back into mundane things such as racial jokes, stereotypes or even condescending terminology that seems harmless since we turned out alright will carry on for future generations and hopefully one day they won’t be as prominent as they are now.
I simply can’t say this enough: It is of the essence to have the conversation about race today, right now. If we want to create a world where our children will reject racism and inequality, we must act now.
Should you feel inspired or empowered after reading this, I want to challenge you to take it a step further if you can. Consider connecting with an organization that works against racism, bigotry and stereotypes.
There is nothing more powerful than hearing the stories first hand. Imagine you and your child working side by side for a better world for them and for those to come. Having the opportunity to hear and be part of stories of progression based on respect can and will make a difference no doubt.
This, of course, Is easier said than done, but at the same time, it is something we cannot just let go by. As parents we are responsible for the type of adults our children will become. True, they will ultimately make their own decisions, but we as parents have a significant influence upon them as they grow up.
The time to teach our children about race and cultural competence isn’t when they are 18 or 21 years old. It is the day they are born. Should we take the initiative to do so, we will be passing onto them the most important principles of human life: love and respect for all.
Miriam is a mother of three. She considers herself a bi-decade mom having a sophomore in college and a second grader in grade school she has experienced how the parenting experience evolves as you “grow” as a parent and as the times we live in change. Having been raised by two hands on and loving parents she understands the impact parenting has upon an individual, communities and the world as a whole. She does not know all the ins and outs of parenting, but she does know one thing: Whatever you do, if you do it with love, you are on the right track!