As I get more and more vocal in activism circles, so does my daughter by default.
Most of the time, as a single mom, where I go, she goes. She’s made more march posters and campaign signs in her six years than I have in my 28. She is challenging gender norms and homophobia at an age where I consciously knew nothing of these things. I was always very sensitive and empathetic, which she has inherited, but I was never as brave about anything as she is. Where my empathy kept me withdrawn, hers has her proud of “Standing up!” I’m growing into that person now; kid is 22 years ahead of me. She knows that both actions and words are important. She reminds children at school that “gay” is not to be used as a put down and will calmly remind the dentist’s assistant that she doesn’t need to put the boys toy back in the prize box, because there is no such thing as boy and girl stuff.
This isn’t a ra ra I’m the best parent post. Though I should write more of those. All parents should, the self-deprecating lot that we are. This is a post about how easy it is to teach our babies about the world, to teach them to care about all life.
In my experience, for what it is worth, environment has been everything. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was a pre-teen; I let Patience ask questions about it. I let her challenge me with what she is told elsewhere, “Well, where do you get your protein?” I’m a feminist – not sure if you picked up on that – so she is exposed to a lot of feminist media and discussion. She never had the chance to question sexual preferences among people because two of her/my favourite friends are married men. When she met my sister-in-law’s (I’m not married, but for the sake of simplicity) girlfriend she didn’t need anything explained she just pointed out, before anything as obvious as a kiss happened, that the two were in love. She even picks up on my own bi-sexuality – which I rarely talk about because I’m still confused myself (at 28!) Homosexuality is so normal to her; two of her stuffed animals are a gay couple.
She has a huge respect for nature – thank you Grandma – and animal rights (Having pets and fostering kittens has really helped!) Racism has never been an issue, especially now that we are two white girls living in Little India. She knows about class levels because – well, because I am pretty vocal about it – but also because she notices some of her friends have more than us; she doesn’t care. She says she never wants us to be rich because she doesn’t want to be greedy.
Outside environments help too. One of her first pre-school friends was autistic. Since we live in low-income neighbourhoods, we encounter a lot of people living with extreme mental illness but cannot afford the care. She has been yelled at, she has been scared, but she always reminds herself that mental illness is just that: the mind is sick.
School can be good and bad, bad like she learned to be a picky eater (I put an end to that. We can’t afford to be picky eaters!) but worse, she hears names like “fatty.” She isn’t immune; she told me I was a fatty for eating every morsel on my plate. But when I asked her what she thought it meant she admitted she didn’t know, “Something about eating?” A short discussion later, with an invitation to go in further when she wants – she is six – and she hasn’t said it again, nor would she knowing the harm it can do.
Gah! This sounds so high and mighty. I promise I don’t want it to. There are so many more posts about my shitty grasp of parenting to even this out! I am using her as an anecdote about how easy it is to help nurture a social conscience. As a response to, “My kids are too young” “How will I explain this?”
When we attended a park event about gay teens who committed suicide as a result of bullying – P was a three year old running around with the other kids. I wasn’t making her sit and listen and absorb it all. When we marched for Sammy Yatim she knew she was joining in the mourning and anger of a murdered teenager, she didn’t understand every detail. When she drew sunshine on paper as SlutWalk participants made posters, I couldn’t even find the words to explain rape culture, so I just let her colour and chat with everyone as she always does. What she does learn that people can stick together, and that we are all capable of changing what is wrong: That we have each other’s backs. Props to her friends too- they are obsessed with standing up for each other. I love volunteering at school and daycare, these youngins rock!
I don’t think you need to bring your kid to a rally or protest, but you can make sure to have extra change to help the homeless when walking through the city, or making a day of handing out sandwiches that you’ve made together. You can make sure to do those acts of kindness maybe you were too shy to do before. The other day an older woman’s pants fell down while walking. I’d like to think I broke through the gawking crowd and pulled the pants up, and tightened her belt, because I would anyway. But it could be, I would have been just another person saying, shy away and think, “Someone else will do it,” if it weren’t for my daughter’s eyes watching me: Absorbing it all, and learning from my actions. She knows we have certain privileges others don’t, and she knows her responsibility as a global citizen is to manipulate these privileges to help others. Maybe it is because she grew up with superhero loving people?
I’m fucking proud of my kid, OK? I am. And I’m happy I’ve had a role in her continuing development. Thing is, people are not inherently evil. She, like other children, is naturally good and wants happiness. It is so much harder to teach our children to hate than it is to teach them to be decent human beings.
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