Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about how shitty our world is. How terrifying it is to raise tiny humans among the ignorance and hate. How little progress has actually been made and how divided our country stands on issues of equality and social justice. I constantly think about my tiny humans and the enormous responsibility I have to raise them into decent adults. It is terrifying and gut-wrenching. The most terrifying part for me is the unknown. How do you know for sure that you’ve done it all “right” and made choices that are in fact not going to make your child grow into an asshole?
I’m not sure I’ll ever have that clarity. No matter how many lessons I teach or how much compassion and love I demonstrate, my children will still be influenced by our culture and unfortunately, the culture we live in is rabid with mixed messages and ignorant dialogues. Even more, my husband and I both come from backgrounds where racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc. are present in our heritage and those beliefs have been passed from one generation to the next. Thankfully my husband and I have escaped those successions and built a life together where we are committed to ending that cycle with our own children, but again we can’t completely shield them from the messages other family members might communicate. Parenthood is all about trusting the process and for me, that means doing my best each day and hoping and praying my best leads to better humans for our future.
So what is my best? Well, it starts with being a decent human myself. This means leading by example in everything I do. I can’t just tell them how to use empathy or give kindness, I have to show them. Every single day. And when I mess up (cause Lord knows I will) I won’t shield them from it. I will let it be a lesson for all of us, creating more growth and teaching the importance of humility. Above all this means I will love. Fiercely. And I will give myself the ultimate grace throughout the process, reminding myself that we are all flawed, but with the right amount of awareness, change and progress are possible.
It’s been hard to articulate all the fear and heartache I feel surrounding this issue, especially with so many of the more recent headlines filling up my newsfeed, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a lot of how I parent has come from the things I’ve learned as a social worker and domestic violence counselor. I used to work in the school system teaching youth about healthy relationships and equality. It was some of the toughest work I’ve ever done. There were various layers to the difficulty inherent in my job, but mostly it was hard because I was starting work with children already knee-deep in a failed system. Children who had already learned and lived life as the oppressed. So basically I was given the task to “re-teach” them and challenge them to look at life and relationships through a totally different lens. The work wasn’t impossible, but now that I’m a parent myself it’s made me realize even more how important it is to start the work with our own children the moment they enter this world.
If you haven’t caught on by now, I am a firm believer in equality. As in all humans deserve equal rights. As in we are all human and no matter your gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, and so on, we all should have the same access and opportunity as the other. Period. End of story. If you deny someone their basic human rights, then I think you’re an asshole. Period. End of story. With all that said, I’ve pulled some of the nuggets from my brain that I believe to be critical when trying to raise tiny humans that won’t turn into giant assholes. Take all of this as you will, but ultimately I think no matter where you stand on these issues, these lessons can be beneficial for all.
Don’t be a bystander
From a DV (domestic violence) standpoint, this point is emphasized regarding bullying and relationship violence. If you see or hear about someone in danger, don’t just stand by, have the courage to stand up and help them in some way. I think this holds true with all aspects of injustice. Silence is participation. When we witness injustice and stand by idly, we only give more power to the oppressor. I want my children to feel empowered to use their voice to speak out against inequality and I plan to teach them the value of helping others in need.
Don’t blame the victim
Again from a DV standpoint, this means exactly what it sounds like. Blame is placed on the victim for the abuse they have survived. Victims of violence are typically questioned relentlessly, “why don’t they leave”, “why did they dress that way”, etc. when instead we should be asking why did someone CHOOSE to control and harm them. Victim blaming attitudes marginalize the victim and make it harder for them to come forward and report the abuse while also reinforcing to the abuser that violence is ok. I think this blaming mentality crosses over into all social justice issues. Too often I hear from those with privilege that those experiencing oppression are to blame for their struggles. Oppression in itself is an exercise in power and denying responsibility for your part in an issue is a great tactic in gaining even more power. The lesson here is teaching my children to take responsibility for their actions and owning their part in the bigger issue. I want to teach them that they never have the right to control or hold power over another human and that they always need to hold awareness on the privilege inherently given to them (more on that below).
Remember media is hella influential
I’m all for media and technology being used responsibly in our children’s lives, but we need to create constant dialogue with our children about what they are seeing and hearing and help them dissect the stereotypes that are insidious in the majority of mainstream media. Believe it or not, this is already happening now with the TV shows and movies my son enjoys. I’ll use one of his favorite (mine too!) Disney films to illustrate an example of gender stereotypes – The Little Mermaid. In the film, girlfriend epitomizes the typical submissive female role by giving up everything for her man. Ariel trades her ability to communicate or express any inkling of her personality (her voice) for human legs. This essentially makes her a visual object of desire. She literally gives up a part of herself to be with her man in turn becoming the perfect mute for the male gaze. This is just one example of many, but the point I’m trying to make is media has an impact on our children even from a very young age. Even those sweet innocent Disney flicks hold messages about various social issues and can affect the way our children interpret the world around them. I’m not saying these movies should be banned. Trust me, we watch them. A lot. I’m pretty sure I know where to find Nemo for the rest of eternity. The point is conversations surrounding these messages are lacking and I plan to always make these dialogues a priority with my children.
It’s not only important to create meaningful dialogue surrounding various stereotypes, but it’s even more important to challenge them all together. Stereotypes only breed more discrimination and hate and I want my children to learn early on that you can’t make assumptions about someone simply because they are different from you. Categorizing things or people is innate in humans. Our brain starts making judgments about anything and everything before we even realize it. The key is what you do with that information and I hope to teach my children the importance of getting to know an individual as they are, not by the box society has limited them to.
Help them understand privilege
My children are white (No I’m not stating the obvious here, I’m well aware my family is clear). While I fear for them on a constant basis, one fear I never have to face is someone taking their life because of their skin color. That’s white privilege. Despite what many may think, white privilege is still very prevalent today. This is because it’s embedded in our systems and institutions, and it’s largely invisible to those of us who benefit from it. The same goes for all other forms of privilege, it’s not synonymous to race. Privilege is not a result of a concerted effort to oppress. Privilege is based out of the inherent benefits one can gain from a systemic bias that puts someone else at an innate disadvantage. And privilege as a whole is an essential topic I must explore with my children if I hope to teach them anything about equality and social change.
Walk in someone else’s shoes
If there were ever a lesson in empathy, MLK’s words really hit it hard. Think about what he’s saying for one second. This man was pulled the lowest of low. He was hated. He died because someone hated him so much. And despite all that, he still loved. He fought this war on equality with love and of all the lessons I want to teach my children, this is the one that truly embodies all the rest. For me, love is at the heart of equality. Sometimes though (well all the time for me ha!) it is really hard to show love when faced with hate. Our gut reaction is to meet our enemy with that same fire. Make them feel the same pain we felt. But what good does this do anyone? It certainly doesn’t breed progress. Instead, it creates an even greater battle, one where no one ends up victorious. Empathy is a beautiful life lesson. If you can learn to walk in someone else’s shoes and truly try to imagine what their journey might feel like, then you can build the ultimate of relationships. I hope to teach this lesson to my children every single day. Any problem they may face over time can probably use a little empathy. And how many empathic humans would you consider an asshole? That’s right. None.
So there you have it. If you thought you knew me before, you really know me now. I’m a lover, not a fighter, but I will definitely fight for what I love. And what I love is non-asshole humans who love each other despite their differences and a society that is inclusive of everyone. Ultimately, raising decent humans doesn’t solve our world problems, but my hope is that I can at least plant the seeds that will continue the movement that can.
(This post originally ran on Mrs. Mombie)
About the author: I’m Alexis, perpetually tired mama to my fuego babes by day and LCSW/doula-in-training by night. I survive on all the sarcasm and caffeine and ramble about motherhood, life and social justice over at Mrs. Mombie. That’s mom + zombie cause negative sleep y’all. The hubs delusionally believes more babies are in our future, but my body is wrecked and I can’t for the life of me do enough kegels to repair the damage. You can find more of my nonsense on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.