[i needed something for this post — this toothy grin is perfect]
There are lots of parts of being a mom that I’m not good at. I yell too often and I pretend like I’m watching cartwheels for the 30th time when I’m really not. I make cereal for dinner some nights and when I’m really tired I just let the kids sleep with us and don’t even try to teach them to sleep in their own beds.
But one thing I know I do a good job at is teaching my children to be kind and accepting and to look at others and situations without judgement. It’s also the one thing I am most proud of in my life, the one thing that makes all the hard work I’ve put into it worth it.
Here’s the thing: if you keep your children in a bubble, they’ll leave your home and be shocked at what they see. If you pretend that really hard things don’t happen in the world (in the neighborhood, in your family) and everything is unicorns and lollipops, you aren’t protecting your children, you’re making their world and all of ours much smaller. You’re making their lives harder down the road.
My really great friend died because of addiction. My grandfather had mental health issues and was an alcoholic. I have severe anxiety and see a psychologist weekly to help me. Jamie has autism. We have many friends with disabilities both visible and invisible. I’ve had friends die by suicide and there are people we know who get their meals not in their kitchens but at Salvation Army.
These are hard things to talk about, but my kids know all about them. And I’d rather them know all about the world and know that they can make it better and easier for people than be able to master multiplication facts and ace every history test. I’d rather them want to find the good in all hard things than be too scared to try.
Don’t read this wrong. I don’t use all these people and stories as lessons for my kids. Not at all. I teach them that these are our stories. All of this, all of these struggles and hard parts of life, they are us.
Kids, you know that horrible word you heard a kid say to someone else who happens to be black or gay? It’s awful and horrible and we have friends and family members who are called that horrible name for no reason at all and that’s really hurtful to them and to us and we can’t stand for that. You have to speak up when you hear things like that. What would you do if you heard that at school?
Kids, do you know that some people don’t think that our friends _______ and _______ shouldn’t marry because they are both boys? And that people think it’s gross and wrong for a boy to love a boy and a girl to love a girl? How do you think it would feel to be told that you shouldn’t love someone even if you really, really love that person? When our friends are hurting, we are hurting.
There are kids at your school who sometimes can’t eat dinner because there isn’t enough food in the house. What do you think about that and how can you help?
Kids, do you know what suicide is? Let’s talk about it.
That man is holding a sign that says he’s hungry. I have a dollar that he can have — and even if he’s not hungry, he just wants money, that’s okay too. Because that dollar will help him more than it will help me. What do you think?
Here’s my hope, here’s where I’m going with this. When my kids are older, teens and young adults, I want them to understand the world. I don’t want them to hear words like addict and alcoholic, homeless and bi-polar and to then be afraid. I don’t want them to think that anyone associated with those words are so different from them, I want them to know that these things are a part of all of us. As corny as it sounds, I want them to know we are all connected, we are all together in this. Your struggles are mine and mine are yours and together we can make life easier. I want them to understand things like depression and suicide and know that they can be helpers — or that they can ask for help. I want them to advocate for their family and for their friends and maybe for themselves if it’s needed. Homophobia and racism and sexism have no place in our world. It never, ever does good or spreads love. It just makes life a lot harder.
I don’t want them to see someone with a disability and immediately turn away. I think you’d be surprised at how many kids do this and how many parents do nothing. Kids are curious and kids say what’s on their minds. If parents don’t step in when they should, no one wins. And by step in, I mean talk about it later in the car. “Why do you think that man had a hook instead of a hand?….Do you know why that boy was bouncing up and down and yelling?…” Kids are understanding and accepting and tolerant unless you teach them not to be.
My kids are happy. They know the hard parts of the world and the struggles but they are really happy. They are smart and they can do big things. And sometimes big doesn’t mean getting into an amazing college and becoming a neurosurgeon or becoming a famous actor and living in a multi-million dollar home. Doing big things can mean sticking with a friend who is having a particularly hard time. Asking the boy with autism if he wants to sit at your table for lunch. Giving a dollar to the guy on the street, even if your friend tells you he’s “probably just going to buy beer with it.” Supporting a friend going through NA or AA and talking to them with understanding when the relapse comes — without judgement. It’s not letting bullies say horrific things to people just because they can.
Teach your kids to do big things.