Talking with Your Kids about Racism, Injustice, and the Need for Change

What happened to George Floyd is horrific.

As my family and I watched the aftermath and the juxtaposition between peace and unrest it forced us, as a family, to talk in a deeper way than we might have otherwise.

As a parent it is important to me to help my children be better people than I am. I’d like to think that I’m a good person, but know there is always room for growth. And while I’d like to think I’ve always been open-minded and self-aware, the truth is that came with time. I’m trying to help ensure my kids are open-minded and self-aware from the get go.

Based on this, it is why we’ve talked about racism, inequality, and injustice (for those of different color, religions, gender identity, sexual orientation, gun violence, etc.) as a family, and why our recent opportunity to read together has helped us have these conversations.

It can be incredibly frustrating when the injustices are so blatant, and you raise your voice (participating in peaceful protests, write to your govt officials, and vote) and nothing seems to change.

I’m reminded that change being made is often met with resistance. It’s hard. It isn’t easy. And if you really want change, you have to keep raising your voice, and demanding it. Even if it seems exhausting and infuriating and disappointing in how long it can take.

As parents, we play a role in this change. In how we make our kids aware of the injustices that still exist today, how we have empathy for others, appreciate diversity, and how we have to use the tools that we have (voice, and actions) to be the change.

How are you talking to your child about what’s going on? How are you helping your child be the change?

Easy Come Easy Go

When was the last time your child did something that surprised you?

This last happened to me a few days after Christmas. My oldest has been asking for an iPad for a while. We have never invested in a gaming system for our kids, and my son likes to use my iPad (which is very old) to play Madden. My iPad is so old, it no longer can support any of the latest versions of Madden so, as far as my son is concerned, it’s useless. 😊 My husband and my response is always the same when our son tells us he wants this, “Do you understand how expensive iPads are?” Communicating that we understand he wants it, but it’s not going to happen. We said if he wanted an iPad so badly, he should ask for money from his grandparents, and other family for Christmas.

I was in need of a new smartphone earlier in the year after the screen on my previous phone shattered. When buying the phone they had a buy one get one free offer so I decided to pick up an iPhone for my son. My husband and I had been talking about upgrading him from his flip phone to an iPhone but still had concerns over him having such a device (particularly with all the content that’s available). Thank goodness for parental controls. Being able to restrict his usage as night, limiting what sites he can access made us feel more comfortable giving it to him as his Christmas gift. It was one of the few times I’ve seen my son get a gift and be almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

A few days after the holidays my son came to me and said, “Mom, you know that money I was saving for the iPad? Well, I no longer need it since I have my iPhone. I want to give it to #TeamTrees.” My son learned of this organization (teamtrees.org) while watching YouTube. They were getting a lot of press and buy-in from other YouTube and non-YouTube celebrities helping them achieve their goal of planting 20 million trees. My son was caught up in the hype and wanted to contribute his savings that day. While I loved that my son wanted to donate his money I wanted to make sure he was really thinking through where his money was going, and taking the steps to educate himself on the cause, charity, and feeling good about where his money went (e.g., what about the cause speaks to, or resonates with you?). My husband and I asked him to do some research, sleep on it and we could figure it out in the following days. Once we learned #TeamTrees had exceeded their goal, my son was more willing to look into other charities. We had him look up charity ratings, and after doing some research he decided to donate his savings to the ArborDay Foundation. I was proud and surprised at how easily my son was letting go of the money he’d been saving up for almost a year. He could have easily bought something for himself, but felt compelled (maybe influenced by the YouTube community?) to give his money away.

I’ll take this kind of surprise from one of my children any day.

When was the last time your child surprised you in a good way?

Confession of a Mom who Meddled

Have you ever meddled in your child’s life?

The definition of meddling per the Cambridge dictionary: the act of trying to change or have an influence on things that are not your responsibility.

Tried to help them build friendships? Talked to the coach about your child playing in the game or in a better position, or asking a teacher about how you can help your child get a better grade on an assignment?

While our hearts my be in the right place (trying to help our child), they often have unwanted consequences.

I am, and have always been, mindful of the downside to meddling and worked to minimize any interference unless I’ve believed it to be absolutely necessary (and it is almost never is). I thought I was doing a pretty good job of ‘staying out’ of my kids lives–letting them make decisions, mistakes included, and learning from them. My eyes were opened to my unknowing meddling when my youngest son’s girlfriend was at our house with her mother.

My son and this girl’s relationship has been purely innocent–more about two people liking each other than what one would deem a mature relationship that includes strong communication, time together and intimacy. Their relationship is appropriate for their age. Relationship is italicized because my son and this girl rarely see each other (maybe a half dozen times a year), exchange gifts at the holidays, and that’s about it. Her mother and I have been the ones really keeping the relationship going. She’s invited us over for parties and movie nights, I’ve promoted my son to buy the girl gifts, give her cards on Valentine’s Day, etc. If we had let the relationship grow on its own (left it to the kids) it would have likely fizzled out a long time ago. They have gone to separate schools for years.

The girl and her mom were at our house (my son was out with his dad and brother and were on their way home) and while we were waiting I relayed an insight my son had shared about how glad he was that he, and this girl had a healthy relationship (they had learned in my son’s school about healthy vs. toxic relationships). I thought it was cute, but as I shared this piece of information, the girl shrank (like she wanted to disappear). I could tell the use of the word relationship made her uncomfortable. Maybe too big? Had to much weight and responsibility attached to it? I quickly changed the subject, but couldn’t shake the feeling I’d really screwed up.

Of course, I’m not in control of anyone’s feelings, and of course, as people grow, feelings can change. I felt my actions were accelerating a breakup, that wouldn’t have happened if I just kept my mouth closed. My sharing was potentially going to hurt my son. I was devastated.

Sure enough my fears were confirmed a few days later, when her parents, and my husband and I went out. The mother shared that her daughter cared for my son, but no longer wanted a relationship. I felt like I’d been punched and slapped at the same time. Not for what the mother said, but for my fears being realized. My husband was wonderful trying to remind me that this was a long time coming, but I couldn’t forgive myself. I sat my son down and we talked about the situation. I admitted my fault. He was crushed, but let me console him, which I was grateful for. We talked about it over the next few days. He had a present to give her for the holidays and we role-played various scenarios so he would be prepared for what might happen. Thankfully it was pretty non-eventful. They exchanged gifts (my son hit the ball-out-of-the-park with what he gave her). As parents, we offered them space to talk but nerves got the better of them, and nothing was said.

Maybe it’s better this way? I don’t know. My son knows his girlfriend now just wants to be friends, and he is okay with this. I committed to him that I would not meddle in the future (and keep my mouth shut). He forgave me, which was a blessing, and asked if he could still come to me for advice. He helped mend my heart when he asked me that.

Have you meddled? How did you gain your child’s trust back?

Aww Man

Do you have a brother or sister? If so, have you always gotten along?

My boys generally get along pretty well. They are opposites, for the most part, one like sports, and gaming. The other is interested in the arts, and geography. But, they have their moments. My oldest is a thinker, he’s not a big talker (communicator), and has been known to have a quick temper from time to time. My younger is easy-going, generally in good spirits, and can talk your ear off if he’s interested in the topic. Like any siblings, with their age difference, the older one can think the youngest is annoying or acting “like a baby.” The younger can be confused sometimes when he’s unclear what he’s done to upset or annoy his brother (and there are other times when he knows exactly what he did). 😊

Being in middle school, my youngest has shown an interest in learning Minecraft. My oldest first got into Minecraft in elementary school, grew bored with it but has recently experienced a renewed interest. [If you’re not familiar with Minecraft it’s a video game where you can build worlds, explore, gather, and do combat. There is somewhat of a cult following–with many enthusiasts, songs (parodies), blogs, videos, memes, etc.] Since my youngest is just starting to learn the game, he asked his brother for help. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw his big brother step in to help and show him what to do. My oldest is at the age where he ‘couldn’t be bothered’ by his younger brother, but thankfully that hasn’t been the case. They are bonding over it. This is one of the first times my oldest has had a chance to teach his brother (be a mentor). He’s enjoying this role, and he’s good at it. Aww (Man) — you’ll get this reference if you’re a fan of Minecraft. 😊 I hope this is just the first on many bonding experiences they’ll have that will help their relationship grow.

How do your children get along? What do they bond over?

Catch and Release

Does your family have a pet? Does your pet ever bring something into the house you wish it hadn’t?

We love our cat. He brings us all kinds of joy, but lately he’s been bringing us a bit more. Mice and birds to be exact. When our cat first joined our family, he was an indoor cat. After several months, we found a pet door that would let him leave and re-enter by detecting the chip he has. We figured this would give him freedom and would keep other animals from entering. What we didn’t account for was that our cat would hunt for prey (mouse or small bird), catch it, and then carry it in. Our cat doesn’t realize it prey wasn’t dead, but playing dead in order to survive. Our cat brings in the critter, lays it on the floor, looks at us with pride (see what I did?) and when we approach, it never fails, the prey suddenly comes back to life and scampers off. Ugh!

One day, he brought a finch in in the morning and a mouse that night, my oldest son, who tends to go to bed the latest and was met with the mouse this particular evening, put his foot down. “We’re locking the cat door at night! I can’t take another animal getting in here.” My husband and I were becoming pros are catching and releasing the prey, and we too were getting tired of our cat bringing small animals in. So we did. Of course, our poor cat is thoroughly confused. The door that let him in and out at will, now doesn’t–it’s open during the day and gets locked at night (prime hunting time). His pride in catching the prey is now viewed as did I do something good or wrong? We’re working with our cat to teach him this new boundary (can you teach cats this?). It’s interesting to see us, as a family, all being on the same page with how best to address the situation. The parental power dynamic is removed and instead it’s how do we solve this together?

Raising kids reminds me of what we’re working on with our cat. You sometimes give them some freedom, and then have to reign it back in when you see either they aren’t ready for it, or it’s being abused. It helps when everyone agrees there is an issue and decides how to best address it together.

How are you giving your child more freedom? Have you ever had to reign it back in?

Your Parental Rating

How would you rate yourself as a parent?

It’s not as straightforward as you’d think, right? There are so many different categories that could go into the rating — loving, nurturing, ability to teach/educate your child, how well you handle emotions (your child and your own), your cooking skills, organization skills, ability to provide, ability to get yourself and your child safe, and so much more. If you got a rating for each category what would be your average?

A few days before my youngest graduated from elementary school my husband and I were in the main office and ran into the principal (who is retiring) and the resource teacher. We thanked them for being so good to both of our boys. They clearly cared about helping our boys be successful in school and helping them thrive. “You’re boys are great, ” both commented, “You all are great parents.” I immediately chimed in, “TBD.” Meaning, while it’s always nice to hear others think you are doing well, my husband and I have further to go with our boys before we can fully accept that rating. I think instead my husband and I work to not be complacent, or take for granted the precious time we’ve got with our kids, and our need to stay open and aware of our shortcomings and where we can improve. No parent is perfect, but striving to be the best you can for your kids is as good a goal as any.

How would you rate yourself as a parent? Where do you see opportunity to grow and do better by your child?

I’m Curious

What is your child curious about?

It was one of those days where work was running long, and I needed to pick up my son from an after school activity. I was on a conference call that required I listen into, not actively participate. When my son and his friend jumped in the car, I told them I was on a work call. My son knows this means I need you to be quiet so I can hear what’s being said, but his friend didn’t know this and began to ask questions.

“Who is on the call?”

“Can they hear me?”

“Why are you only listening?”

“Are you listening so you can see if the people on the phone are doing their job right?”

Thankfully the call was in full swing by the time I had gotten the kids and I had a good handle on where the conversation was going and hearing everything that was being said was not quite as important as it had been earlier in the call. At first, when my son’s friend started asking questions I was trying to answer and still listen to the call. It was tough. Work can often feel like the priority, but his genuine interest in better understanding what was happening made me focus less on what was being said on the phone and more on him and what he was asking. It was clear to me he’d never heard someone on a conference call before (I was intrigued), and while I may see them as a necessity to get things done more quickly, he saw this as something new that he wanted to better understand. His curiosity was contagious. He was interested in learning and I was interested in sharing. Here’s how I answered his rapid fire questions. 😊

“People that I work with”

“No, the phone is muted”

“Because I just need to hear what’s going on, I don’t need to say anything”

“I’m listening because it will help my team and I better understand what we need to do next. The people on the phone know how to do their jobs, I’ll just be better able to do mine if I know what needs to happen next.”

We arrived at his house not long after. His attention had turned back to my son and as they said goodbye I reflected on what had just happened. Having a young person that is curious and looking to you for answers is priceless. And while the work call was important, engaging with my son’s friend, even though briefly, was a better use of my time (and much more rewarding).

How are you encouraging your child’s curiosity?

About to Snap

Do you ever lose your patience with your child?

Most of us do. At least from time to time. My husband needed to work late one night, so I got my boys to various appointments and commitments around town, and once we were finished we went out for dinner. My kids wanted to go to a pizza place followed with a trip to the ice cream store next door.

I got the boys their pizza and turned my focus to my phone. I had some work I needed to get caught up since I’d been running the kids all over the place. My kids were busy eating and watching the TV at the restaurant. I was thinking about how I wanted to respond to a work email. I began to type my response when he oldest asked, “Can we leave now?” I didn’t realize they were already finished. I asked for a minute so I could finish my work. Before I was done, my son said, “Mom, can we go?” I tried to suppress my frustration with the question and instead redirected my son. “Why don’t you and your brother put your plates and trash away.” They did as I asked, and I was able to just get my email off before my son said, “Mom, come on, let’s go.”

I followed my sons to the ice cream shop and had them place their orders while I continued to try to get through my work emails. After they ordered, I decided to get some ice cream too. I paid and we sat down to eat our ice cream. Almost as soon as my backside was in the chair my oldest son said, “Mom, can we go?” I just sat down, and his question made me almost snap. In a stern voice I said, “I just sat down. I’m not going anywhere until I’m done. Stop asking me when we’re going.” I could tell my son wasn’t expecting my reaction to be so strong. I gave myself a minute to calm down. Up to that point I’d been a ball of stress, getting the kids from place to place, making sure everyone was taken care of and fed, trying to get some work done, and, heaven forbid, have a couple minutes to sit down and have a moment with my kids.

My son wasn’t in the mood to talk to me on the way home, and I understood, I had snapped at him and he didn’t think he deserved it. If I had been more mindful What happened wouldn’t have. I should have communicated better with my boys and let them know that I was under stress to get done work done and ask them to give me some room and keep any questions to a minimum. I believe we would have avoided me getting upset and my son feeling like he was blindsided. It was a reminder to me to be more mindful in the future and remember how important teaching good communication skills to my kids is.

Have you ever unexpectedly lost your cool with your child? What did you take from the situation? What did you do differently after?

#SEEHER

Do you have concerns about how your child views them self — now or how they will view them self in the future?

As a young adult, I was asked by a friend what gender child I’d like to have when I had kids. I quickly replied, “Boys.” Not because I had heard boys were easier to raise, but because I know the struggles a female goes through in life — the self-doubt, the body image issues, the messages we get heaped upon us about what we are supposed to be, and the resistance we are met with when we don’t conform. I really feared my ability to navigate this with a daughter and do right by her.

As fate would have it, I have two sons. I see my role now being how do I teach my sons to see women as people, equals, and help them be part of the movement towards change?

I was fortunate enough to be in a conference that talked about the #SEEHER movement. As a woman, I was inspired by the women who are taking the steps to ensure women are represented as we truly are — 50% of the population, of all different backgrounds, makeups, religions, and sizes — in advertising and media. Women with influence and power, leading in a moving way. I think we are reaching a tipping point where women won’t accept the status quo for who we are “supposed” to be any longer. And my responsibility is that my sons understand that.

One of the speakers shared that she stops the TV (or movie) periodically and asks her kids what they see — who’s on the screen, what role are they playing, does this reflect the society they walk through every day? If no, it’s a good opportunity for her and her kids to talk about it. I love this idea. I watch TV with my kids, but had never thought to do this. I will now.

#SEEHER comes from the phrase “If you see it, you can be it.” With advancement opportunities still male-leaning, the statement becomes more empowering for a woman if you change it to “If you see her, you can be her.”

I am grateful for all the women and men who are raising their voices to make this change happen. We all can (and should, in my opinion) all be part of this movement. I am inspired by those — young and old — who recognize we get better as a society, culture and country as we make this change. It’s on me to educate my boys. Not to make them feel less than, but for them to recognize their strengths and where they add value, and where their female peers and counterparts do. And up to you to educate yours.

How are you helping your child #SEEHER?

Model Driver

Are you your best self when you’re driving your child somewhere?

I am not. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes, I can be, but each car ride varies. If there is lite traffic, and we’re not in a hurry, you are probably see a pretty good version of me.  When traffic is heavy, and/or I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, probably less so. While not a model driver, I’ve worked hard to be mindful of what I’m saying while my kids are in the car. I revert to a play-by-play announcer when I encounter, what I deem, a driver who’s not following what I consider the obvious rules of the road — letting people in, waiting your turn at four-way stops, and turning left behind the car going straight through the intersection. “That car should have waited their turn.” “If they would come across, we could go behind them.” “It wasn’t that car’s turn!” My kids have heard it all, and I’d hate to see them doing an impression of me in the car.

My boys and I were coming home through downtown and traffic was heavy. There is a particularly busy interaction where you can wait for the signal to change five to six times before you get through. By the time it’s your turn, you are more than ready to go. A car, who was in the bus lane (a lane it wasn’t supposed to be in) realized they needed to get out of that lane chose to pull in front of me and partially block the intersection. I went into play-by-play mode. “That car shouldn’t be there, what are they doing?” I knew what the car was doing, but really didn’t like that they had just cut in front of me. The kids were frustrated waiting as well, so me commenting on it, only made the situation worse. The light changed and finally it was our turn to go. I thought the car that had pulled out in front of me would proceed forward, but instead they waited and signaled for other cars to go, not allowing me and all the cars waiting behind me to go. As I saw the walk sign counting down and knowing when it hit zero the light would turn yellow and we still hadn’t moved, I lost my cool and did something I never do — I beeped my horn. And not like a tap-tap-tap like my best self would have done, but more what my upset self felt — MOVE IT, I’M TIRED OF WAITING! The car finally started going and I and maybe one car behind me made it through the intersection.

After getting through the intersection, my oldest son said, “Wow, Mom, you used the “F” word.” “I did?,” I said. I didn’t have any recollection of saying it. Then my younger son said, “Yea, Mom, you said it alright.” “Really?” I replied. I still couldn’t believe I’d cursed in front of my kids. Now some people curse, and I have my fair share of moments when I’m alone in my car, and/or don’t have anyone listening to me, and I’m upset. It’s different when I’m around people. I don’t like curse words — they carry such strong emotions, and can change the way others perceive you and what you are saying. I stress with my boys this point often. I always want them to think before they speak, and avoid curse words if at all possible (and it’s always possible, right?).

I have to admit, I was pretty disappointed in myself. I had prided myself on trying to be a model driver, or more a model parent, by being mindful of my speech, yet in a moment of high frustration the word came out without me even realizing it. I know how upsetting it was for me to hear my parents use a curse word when I was growing up, and honestly I can only remember each one of them maybe using a curse word once in my life, but each time it left an impression on me. I didn’t like knowing my parents were…human, and maybe more like everyone else than I was ready to accept. I thought of my parents as role models being wise and caring, and while I knew they weren’t perfect they were as close to perfect as any two people I knew.

My son helped ‘refresh’ my memory on what I said to the woman, but the way he said it gave me hope. You said, “You’ve go to be…well, you know, the f-word, kidding me. You drive in front of us and now you’re not going?” I was grateful he didn’t quote me verbatim. I apologized to my son’s for cursing in front of them. They didn’t seem too phased by it, but I’m concerned they will remember it much like I remember those times when my parents did.

We always strive to be good role models, it can feel terrible when you have proof you haven’t lived up to it. It does give me a chance to discuss my mistakes with my sons, take responsibility, and change my behavior (really watch my words — especially when I’m in that heavy traffic!) going forward. I think my kids like knowing Mom makes mistakes too.

How are you modeling the behavior you want for your child? How are you handling situations where you make mistakes?