We have seen the news story and disturbing video that came out recently involving one of our universities, and I know that it has saddened our hearts and has brought shame to our state. Bottom line, that behavior is taught whether we want to accept and believe that or not. It may start as a joke here and there, or a comment here and there, but these little things are still what children hear and learn, and those small seeds grow into rotten fruit, but fruit none the less.
Are we doing enough? Are we as parents breaking out of our own comfort zone and addressing the issues at hand? I had to make a conscious decision to do just that with my kids. We are a diverse family dynamic. Our kids are mixed; they are African American and Caucasian. My husband is Caucasian, their biological mother is African American, and I am Mexican. I became mom to my kids when they were 4 and 6 years old and they are now 19 and 21 years old. We were living in Austin, TX and I made a conscious decision to break out of my own comfort zone in order for my kids to truly learn what diversity was and to fully embrace it without any reservations. I wanted our children to be free of judgment when they came into contact with people that may be different from them. It became my mission. I made a very conscious effort to expose them to a lot of people, atmospheres, events, and situations that most parents shy away from simply because they are uncomfortable.
Before I share the top 3 things that I did to guide my kids into fully embracing diversity, I want for you to understand the reason. I knew that my kids would struggle at different points in their life for being mixed. I knew that my daughter would come into contact with certain situations simply because her skin was darker, and that my son would also deal with judgment simply because his skin was lighter in tone. I dealt with more hate from my own people simply because I didn’t fit the “stereotype” of what a Mexican girl should be. An incident that has always stuck with me was in high school. A girl who was also Mexican came up to me in the hallway with a group of 8 other Mexican girls, and she confronted me and said that I was worthless because I had sold out on my own people. She said that my “voCAGulary” was so big that I’d never be good enough to be a real Mexican. I remember crying and calling my mom to come get me from school because I didn’t understand why I was hated by my own people. Another incident that happened in my 20’s was when I was dating a guy who wanted to take me to his family’s house for New Year’s Eve. I was excited to go with him but he failed to tell me that his family was extremely racist, and it was the most uncomfortable moment in my life. I ended up having to sleep on a recliner with my jacket as a blanket because his mother refused to let me sleep on her sheets and I called a friend of mine to come get me ASAP. Needless to say, I broke up with the guy.
It was moments like that in which I knew my kids would experience some challenges in their life simply because of their race. I didn’t want them to have a chip on their shoulder, I didn’t want them to be hateful, I didn’t want them to be scared of people who weren’t like them, and I wanted them to be taught that we live in a human race not a race of color. So these are the three things I did to get out of my own comfort zone in order to teach my kids what was right.
I made it a point to expose my kids to a variety of individuals that looked completely different from us. Living in Austin, TX helped a lot. We had guys and girls with mohawk’s, long dreads and arm pit hair, guys with turbans, girls with saris, etc. I would stop these individuals on the street, or go up to them at the restaurant. I would tell them exactly what my mission was with my kids. I’d ask if we could sit with them for 10 minutes or so to get to know them – their life, culture, what they were like as a kid, etc. 100% of the time they’d smile and say, “Wow! Well … sure. I’m not sure what to do or say, but I think this is very cool and admirable of you.” I’d then motion for my my kids to come over, and I would lead and facilitate our conversation. We’d shake hands and I’d ask something that was obvious, like “Why do you have a Mohawk and how long does it take you to fix it?” or “What does that dot on your forehead mean and what is it called?” or “Why do your clothes look different from most people?” or “How come you have so many tattoos?” or “Why is your hair green?” I would ask questions that normally would make a child feel like someone was “weird” and I’d get that question out of the way. Then, it would naturally happen where people would start talking. I’d had to remind them to talk at a child’s level in order for my kids to understand, and they would do their best and I’d assist if I needed to. I’d always end our conversation with their favorite flavor of ice cream to end on a light note and I would thank them for their time – sometimes with a hug, depending on how our time went, or a simple handshake. We have to teach our children that just because someone looks different it doesn’t make them weird or unapproachable. My children met some very amazing people. We met an elderly man who once played with Elvis Presley when they were both kids, we met a woman who looked like the stereotype of a real hippie and she was … but she was also a millionaire. We met a Harvard graduate who had a blue Mohawk and was always at the top of his class with honors and he decided that he wanted to use his gifts to help tutor and give back to kids who were “misfits” just because they dressed and looked differently. He wanted them to know that they can be smart and “weird” looking and to not water down their own gifts. We met an elderly man who sang gospel music and loved Jesus, but was homeless and still found joy in the world. EXPOSE YOUR KIDS TO PEOPLE FROM ALL WALKS OF LIFE AND TALK TO THEM WITH YOUR CHILDREN. GET OUT OF YOUR OWN COMFORT ZONE!
I would look up what was going on or what new places were opening up that weren’t typically considered “kid friendly” places. I didn’t take my kids to Chick-fil-a or McD’s. We went to actual places where they would have to learn how to act properly and be exposed to people and places and atmospheres that were real world experiences. They had plenty of exposure with “kid” places though, too. I am a big local coffee shop kinda gal – I prefer local mom and pop coffee shops over Starbuck’s any day and I would take the kids with me to different places, teach them how to order and then we’d play Jenga and checkers, read, people watch, or we would just sit and enjoy what was going on outside. I would take them to art exhibit openings and sometimes the art installations were interactive and considered what society says is “weird” and “not normal”, but I wanted my kids to experience places that would make them be aware that it was okay to think differently, and that it’s not scary to experience a new atmosphere. It was important that they learned to give it a chance before even passing judgment and making a decision on if they really like a place or not. Sometimes I had no idea what I would be experiencing but I set the example of having a good attitude about it and opening my mind up to something that was different from what I had known all my life. TAKE YOUR KIDS TO PLACES OTHER THAN THE NORM SO WHEN THEY ARE OLDER THEY CAN GRASP THAT EXPLORING SPACES AND PLACES IS A GOOD THING!
I would talk to my kids about people having a story, and that not every person was good, but that not every person in our world was bad either. I talked to them about prayer and how important it was to pray for the good and the bad. I would talk about not passing up opportunities to pray with people, whether that was right then and there, or if they took that person with them in their heart and remembered them in their prayers later on. As their mother, I prayed that they would see our world as a place of diversity that doesn’t need to frighten them, but rather it would be a world of opportunity and a place that they could embrace. We are each part of the human race and our cultures are something to be proud of, learned about, embraced, and accepted by each other. I prayed that the challenges they would face would be where they were filled with strength to get through it, but that they would stand up for what they knew was right. I prayed that they would set an example to other people in their lives that it was okay that people were different and there was no reason to be judgmental. Pray 2 Timothy 1:7 over your kids. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” PRAY THAT THEY CAN BE AN EXAMPLE FOR OTHERS, BUT MOST OF ALL TEACH THEM TO PRAY FOR OTHERS WITHOUT JUDGMENT.
I understand that these three things may be completely out of your comfort zone, but you can start small and create moments that matter and will stay with your kids forever. Actions speak louder than words. Showing our children what is right makes a bigger impact than just telling our children what is right. I also made sure my kids were at an age that they could grasp what I was doing. I started around age 6 and 8 and I kept it up until they were 10 and 12. At this point, they were used to these outings and were completely comfortable no matter where we went that it became the norm. They are now young adults who I’ve seen fruit from in regards to these three things in their life. It took me as the parent to get out of my own comfort zone and out of my own way in order to really make a difference.
What are you doing to show your kids what is right, rather than telling them what is right?
How will you make the steps to make sure that your kids produce fruit that is of love and a sound mind?