Thursday, July 2, 2020

How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids


For Christmas this year, I got Dr. Crystal Fleming’s 2018 book How to be Less Stupid about Race. In it, Fleming writes “living in a racist society socializes us to be stupid about race”.  The main premise of her book, is that the current broader culture, in her words “exposes us all to absurd and harmful ideas that, in turn, help maintain the status quo” p3. When something is part of the mainstream culture, it becomes our normal. Good-hearted people, can then contribute to the pain and suffering of others, without realizing it. With the proliferation of thoughts and ideas, of opinions and emotions, ignorance to the issues of race can no longer be an excuse for perpetuating racism.

Addressing issues of racism from a parenting approach, can be a way to address the culture in our own home- how we look at situations, how and when we discuss things on the news, with whom we socialize and how we interact with others, how we answer difficult questions. In and through our conversations, we can work to change the culture in our homes, and can continue to change our culture as a whole. Change happens on a micro-system level in the 1:1 interactions we have with our children and our friends.

Development of Racism

Racism is a way of thinking about something – it is a thought process that begins with stereotypes, biases, and prejudices based on an oversimplification or a generalization of groups or people.  This starts as soon as we notice differences, because our brains strive for simplification – our brains are going to try to classify, generalize, and oversimplify. We have to combat this because racism, biases and prejudices are inherently evil.

By age two, children recognize physical differences and by age 3 and 4 children start classifying things, including people. Children may start questioning why people have different hair or skin tones, and just like with gender they don’t necessarily see race as salient.  By age 4 children show age preferences – then by age 8, children come to understand racial constancy. And this is really a ripe time to talk about cultural awareness and racial identity.  Obviously as questions come up, we can and should talk about it with younger children as well. We should not shy away from dialogue. There is nothing shameful about talking about race.

From Color Blindness to Color Consciousness

I was raised to think that color blindness was a good thing. Like many children of the 80s, I thought I was progressive in thinking that avoiding the mention of color, (or thinking of myself as not noticing color) was a good thing.

I remember going to hear Cornell West speak maybe 25 ago, and my take away from that talk, was that it was pretty dumb to say you don’t see color – I later read some of his work and remember him writing that we have a “refusal to see a people whose epidermis is most visible”.  We choose not to see the struggle of those around us, and we deny the diversity of experience in an attempt to perpetuate a myth of sameness. We should be judged by the content of the heart and not the color of the skin, but our diversity is one of the things exceptional about our humanity.

I was denying the truth that people of color have a different American experience by very virtue of the color of their skin and patting myself on the back for doing so.

Recent events and conversations with black friends have reminded me of the importance of raising our kids to have color consciousness. Color consciousness is a mindset that recognizes that race is a part of who we are – not all we are and not insignificant either. Because we are not all clones of one another, we need to recognize that different people, and different groups of people, experience life differently.  I want to point out children, and some of us adults too, are naturally egotistical. We have a natural egoism early on because we lack the ability to really take another’s perspective. Our reality is based on that which touches us.

Therefore, we need to raise our children to recognize and respect, and listen to the struggles of others, not just placate or say “well I don’t see it”. Our vision of the world is developed based on our own experiences. It is narrow-minded and egotistical to say that just because you do not experience something, the rest of the world also must be free from those experiences as well.

Maturity should teach us to identify Our Self as an individual that operates within a context.  Two people do not interpret an event or context in exactly the same way. If you have two children, you know this. You can say the same thing to them both, and they will interpret it differently. They can have a fight or experience some event and they will recount that same event differently.

Therefore, just because you don’t experience racism or interpret a situation as racist, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t racist.

If we are going to really help move this country towards both systematic and systemic change in the way people treat one another, and I think that we all agree that people need to be nicer, and kinder, and more loving, we need to recognize that our personal experience may not even be relevant in terms of someone else’s personal experience.

As such we should raise our children to listen to others.

Just because we don’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means you aren’t the target of racism directly, but you could still be perpetuating it. And yes, good-hearted people perpetuate bad things sometimes without realizing it.

The Anti-racist Approach

Which leads me to the second part of the solution – we should raise up our children to be both race conscious, but also anti-racist. Raise them up with the virtue to recognize and stop injustice when they see it, and to listen and seek to understand when it occurs.

It isn’t about politics. It is about being a person of virtue. It is a heart issue. It is a love issue. It is a spiritual issue. It is all about how we see and appreciate and love the diversity in God’s creation of humanity.

The development of race consciousness provides the opportunity to teach that different families do things a little differently, and different communities do things differently, and different groups may interpret events differently based on their history and experience, both now and in the past.  When we can help our children, and maybe really learn ourselves as well, about our history, and the history of various groups in our larger community, it helps us to recognize and interpret current events. How we respond to events, is based on our experience prior to the event, both individually and generationally.

How to do we raise up our kids to be both more aware and more courageous?  How we do help them to see the world through someone else’s eyes and experiences? It really comes down to helping them to grow in awareness, empathy, and perspective taking. But being aware is only good if we can also then let that awareness inform our actions; they must grow in virtue to that they can act when they witness injustice.

Here are five ways you can help them to grow in virtue in such as way as to be help end the evils of racism in our culture.  

1) Teach them to put others first. It is a basic Christian principle. This means putting side our own wants, needs, desires, and interpretations, in order to listen to the needs, wants, desires, and interpretations of others.

2) Don’t sit on your hands because it isn’t your problem. If you aren’t part of the solution you ARE part of the problem. Teach your children to stand up when injustice of any form occurs. If they can’t stand up for the little injustices in the world, how can they stand up to the big ones? There are mini-injustices experienced throughout their day. Help them to be solution oriented in solving these little inequities. If you can’t find your own voice in the little things, you won't be able to stand up for the big things.

We want to raise our children to have the courage to stand up for injustice, and equip them with the words, the inner script, to stand up for the dignity of others. This takes practice. So teach them to stand up for themselves and others. Show them the right way to do this in the little things, and help them develop the courage to handle the big things.

3) Be developmentally aware. We cannot expect too much too early, because perspective taking really doesn’t emerge until early grade school. If you are expecting your 3 year old to know that what they did or said was hurtful, that isn’t really realistic. You need to intentionally teach them. You can begin teaching them at an early age by explaining your feelings clearly “It hurt my feelings when you said that” or “It makes me sad when you and your sister fight”. This seems simple, but it is beginning.

4) Help them to appreciate diversity in our church.  Have images of black saints in your home. Many don’t realize that St. Augustine and his mother St. Monica were born in what is now present day Algeria – and likely were therefore Black African. Sts Perpetua and Felicita were Black, as was St. Maurice, and St Patapios of Thebes, St. Benedict the Black, and more recent saints such as St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Martin de Porres.

Furthermore, we have images of Mary appearing all over the world, and in the likeness of the people to whom she is appearing.  I have a beautiful little statue of Our Lady of Aparecida from Brazil. Marian apparitions are a great way to explore and appreciate diversity.

We are not all the same, but we are all created in the likeness and image of God for a unique purpose. Uniqueness is brilliant. We are different in beautiful ways and each of us is created for a wonderful purpose. Each of us is created in the likeness and image of God, with inherent dignity – and we should celebrate the differences in our creation as well. You wouldn’t tell your two daughters that they are just the same, why tell your daughter she is just the same as her friend.

Which leads me to Number 5

5) Encourage your children to get to know, and have friendships with people who don’t look like them.

This is really important because it can help breakdown the in-group and out-group biases that often lead to racist behavior. In group Out group research shows that when we identify someone as different than us, part of the out-group rather than our in-group, we judge their behavior differently and more harshly, and may even tolerate or take pleasure in those of the out-group being harmed. This is the phenomenon behind social cliques and clique culture.

In-group bias is a real thing that we have to teach our children to fight. It is the tendency to go towards what is comfortable, known, or similar. Some of us (introverts especially) may experience this and we need to be especially aware of it and fight it. I know I need to work to be more welcoming. We are asked by Christ to do the hard thing, not the easy thing.

Encourage your kids to seek friendships with people who are different than they are. Children with different cultures and experiences can be wonderful friends.

Some of you are thinking “well there aren’t any or many black families at our church or school…” If that is the case then seek out new experiences.

·      Join in activities outside that which your social group is doing.  

·      Go to book talks or to hear a speaker. Seek out more diverse experiences yourself.

·      Read books by black authors.

·      Get books with diverse characters to read to your children.

·      Follow more diverse social media accounts, podcasts, or blogs.

·      Pray, and the act according to how you are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and act boldly with courage, because you can have confidence that the Spirit of Truth is directing you.

It is our obligation as parents to help our child to grow morally.  To raise them up in such as way as to cultivate a heart of virtue that will not tolerate injustice, and to see those of a different race as part of our in-group in humanity. Some of you may not want to act because you don’t want to be criticized. You don’t want to be uncomfortable. You don’t want to offend even more. Start with prayer and get direction from the Holy Spirit.  Don’t ignore the issue. We all have our gifts to share and use for His glory. If you want to hear more on this topic,  tune in to my podcast Parenting Smarts Episode 37. The introduction is much of what I covered above, and is followed by a discussion with a friend. You won't want to miss it!

You will be in my prayers and I ask you to pray for me as well.

Thanks for stopping by the blog today and sharing your time with me - now come say hi to me on Instagram @drmaryruthhackett or Twitter @maryruthhackett

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Lasting Lessons for Your New Graduate

Is your graduate suddenly someone you WANT to see leave the house? Doors slamming, eye rolling, sarcastic remarks, insults that cut to the core? Or maybe they have just checked out and are escaping for as long as possible to spend time with friends.

No worries. It is all normal. Don't take it personally. Actually, take it as a compliment. Because it means two things.

1- Leaving you is going to be hard.

2- Your Child is ready to leave.

Separating themselves physically and emotionally is part of the Senior year process. Your graduates should feel ready to leave. They should be excited and a little wound up about leaving. They should be just a little worried about how they are going to get by without their safety net. Trying to cut that net now is okay.

How it manifests is different in every family, but many graduates who are leaving in the fall, turn a little vicious, or become apathetic towards those in their normally close knit family. They spend as much time away from the home, with friends (or acquaintances),  or  working. They want to start to create space between themselves and you. They become distant.

It is hard. It is terrible. It can be heartbreaking. But it is normal. And they probably don't even realize they are doing it.

As I said to a friend recently, it is much easier for a young adult to leave, if they constantly remind themselves of how irritating or annoying everyone is at home. The graduate reminds himself of all the unpleasant stuff, and keeps it at the surface, ready to pick a fight with everyone, so that he can happily look forward to a time when he will be on his own. Reveling in the good stuff only makes it harder to leave, so they strive to look for the negative.

Does that mean you have to tolerate the rudeness and inappropriateness? Nope. Your house, your rules.  But in communicating the expectations, that for instance they still abide by curfews, get chores completed, treat others with respect etc., remember that they do need to have space right now. Some of the recent grads need physical and emotional space both. Very shortly, you, the parent, will know nothing about how they spend their day, or with whom they spend their time. If they want a little more privacy now, give it to them. Give them some independence. But know what your hard lines are for behavior, and don't let them cross those lines.

It is not okay to be cruel. It is not okay to lie. It is not okay to break trust. Families are built on more than just the time we spend together. Remind them of the essentials - when they are home they need to be really present and they need to communicate respectfully.

With some graduates it may help to give them a simple reminder that they have just a short time left, and it will pass more pleasantly if everyone is nicer. Strive to make the best of the time remaining, and create some good memories to take, rather than leaving with fractured relationships in their wake. It may be the last lesson they remember you giving them before they set off for their next life adventure.

I will be in your all situation next year so come March 2021 someone remind me to read this again and take my own advice!

God Bless you all and thanks for stopping by!



Monday, June 1, 2020

But Everybody Else is Doing It: Addressing FOMO as a Family

But Everybody else gets go, 

Everybody else gets to play, 

Everybody else gets to watch it, 

Everybody else has one...


The tears, the drama, the frustration. Kids struggle with it, but adults do as well. As parents, we have not only a responsibility, but also an obligation to help our children process these feelings. The simple words we use give our children a framework for looking at the self in relation to others. Responding in the wrong way, handicaps their reasoning, and can set them up for future trouble. 

Most of us have fallen prey to the temptation of comparison and the resulting imprudence. We see the experiences of others and we want them for ourselves. It is normal to want the best for ourselves - to desire the stuff, the experiences, and the relationships we see in or of others.

There are typically three areas where we struggle: How we spend our time, our money, or how we actually behave. The struggle we face is often grounded in either feelings of entitlement or a fear of missing out (FOMO). Both are made worse when we live our lives by comparison.

Comparison, Entitlement and FOMO

Comparison is a wicked weed in our interior life. Once planted it takes root and twists and turns causing unrest and distress, both above and deep below in the soil of our soul.

Entitlement comes from an arrogance and pride-fullness. We feel entitled to rewards when we work hard and similarly expect recognition for our achievements.  We glimpse what others have, and rather than celebrate their fortune, we question why they have what we still desire. We put our worthiness above that of someone else.

Entitlement and Comparison can lead us (and or our children), to make poor decisions when it comes to time, money, or general behavior. We justify our irrational decisions by reminding ourselves that we deserve it because we worked hard, or we should have it because others do, and we are more deserving that others. Entitlement permeates our thoughts and gives us an excuse to act against our better judgement. It is prideful.

On the other hand, Fear of Missing Out is a form or social anxiety.  Unlike entitlement it can be grounded in a lack of confidence or autonomy. Our children fear that their friendships won't survive if they don't go to an event, or they worry will be left out of things socially if they don't have social media, or play a certain online game. We sometimes too worry that when others get together without us, we must have been purposely excluded because we aren't liked. It is hard to convince children that they should not need to play a certain game, have a phone, use a particular app, or watch a certain show in order to fit in.

How do we help our children to see that they should never need to make bad decision in a effort to fit in?

When children are excluded, for what ever reason, they struggle with even greater frustration that we do as adults, because they lack the larger perspective.  They don't yet have the life experience necessary to use as context for the evaluations of the situation. Why does my friend have a phone when I can't have one? As a parent, we can look beyond the simple response "every family is different", and see that perhaps this child spends a lot of time away from home, maybe her parents are divorced with joint custody, maybe she spends a lot of time alone - what ever. We don't know the circumstances. Frankly, it isn't our business. But inherently, we know that families are going to make different decisions based on that families needs and values.

And that is our first lesson to teach our children with respect to the Everybody Else is Doing It complaint.

We don't know everything about the situation or circumstances.

Our natural egocentrism causes us to interpret what we see in others as though it were happening (or in this case not happening) to ourself. Help your children to understand that there may be a multitude of reasons why another family chooses to do something. It may be a good fit for that family, but it is not a good fit for our own. I am not suggesting that you get into speculating about the lives of others, but remind them that different families have different needs, just as individuals in our own families have different needs. Help them to see that there may be multiple reasons why a situation is occurring, and it isn't our business to be in other peoples' business.

This leads us to the next lesson.

We are all on our own journey, and will be equipped for the journey God intends for us. 

Sometimes that process of becoming equipped for the journey means we endure hardships. We may have to go without certain items or experiences, because we are being asked to grow in some virtue. Maybe we miss out because ultimately there is something else in store for us. Maybe it is just not our time yet. And we have to grow in patience, and perseverance. We have to keep making the right decisions for ourselves and our families, even when it is unpopular.

Not having the right shoes, or the right video game, or the phone, or whatever leaves children feeling left out. It is a reality. But we all experience loneliness and feelings of being on the outside at some point in our life. We want to help our children grow through the experience, not keep them from dealing with disappointment. We emotionally handicap our children when we don't allow them experience normal disappointment or pain. 

When we consistently respond "Yes", in an attempt to curb negative feelings, we take away children's' opportunities to learn to deal with disappointment.

Albert Einstein is attributed with the quote "Adversity introduces a man to himself".  We learn a great deal about who we are when our virtue is tested through discouraging events. Are we someone who is going to show resilience or are we going to crumble in frustration. Are we going to persist in our perusal or do we give up? And when we are finally met with certain disappointment, can we move on? How do cope with the real fear or frustration of being left out?

Without such disappointment, we come to believe that we have it all together, our success is because we are brilliant or hard working - it is all about ME. We tend to rely more and more on ourselves, and less and less on the Lord. This leads to self centeredness and the general attitude associated with being spoilt. And this is how we come to the foundation of what we need to continue to teach our children.

We are sons and daughters of Christ.

Our identity and our place in the world as Christians, is not grounded or founded in what we have, or how successful we are in comparison to others. It is grounded in Whose we are. Help your children to find their identity as a son or daughter of God, rather than as a sibling of the masses, striving to fit in, desiring to have and experience the same things that everyone else is. Help them to look inward at the gifts, talents, and experiences that God is putting before them everyday to help shape their very being. Help them to appreciate what they have. Help them to understand more deeply what it is that they seek. Do they really care about the next best thing, or are they seeking and searching for greater opportunities for connection?

And that is all I have!  If you haven't yet checked out my podcast Parenting Smarts now is a great time. All the episode have a PG rating so you can listen to them with children in the background. They are a great way to help pass the time and gain a little wisdom along the way. Take care and Thanks for stopping by!




Sunday, May 17, 2020

How to Parent in a Pandemic



Parenting in the current climate is hard.  For many of us it is harder than we would have thought it would be. Having our own children around and spending time at home with our spouse aren’t traditionally seen as hardships. However, fear of illness, employment uncertainty, frustration, with new learning processes, and a loss of our own social support are new trials we are struggling to endure.

For those fortunate to still have gainful employment, there are stresses of working at home with children to parent during the day. For families experiencing job loss, unemployed or underemployed, uncertainty regarding meeting their families basic needs exists, and this breeds fear and anxiety.

Fear and anxiety love to grow in uncertain times. When we lack a mental schema, or a mental representation for how to proceed, our creative instincts can get the best of us.  We have so few answers, and no real understanding of how or when this will end, what our culture will look like, when can we return to regular mass, what will happen with the schooling in the fall.

If we were “just” and I use just in air quotes, experiencing an economic recession, we would sort of know what to expect. We have been through some of those. If we were just experiencing (again with air quotes) a big flu season, we may know better what to expect, when it will go away. 

The fact we aren’t able to plan for the future makes this so much harder.

We need to balance the reality of the day-to-day difficulty with the truth that parenting is our vocation.  Just as God can bring good from suffering, as parents we can invite Him to bring increased goodness into our homes now.

We parent in the present, we love in the present, we live in the present. So we can take this time to learn to be more present. Don’t worry about the future – Saint Padre Pio said “Pray hope, and don’t worry.”

That doesn’t mean being less intentional about your parenting.

We should all take some time to think about how we want our kids to remember this time (read more about thathere). We have a beautiful opportunity to spend time with, and connect with our kids in such a unique way right now, but we need to be intentional about it. The intensity with which we parent now has changed as has and the opportunity to play a bigger role in our children’s lives.  

Being present and living more in the moment is the answer to more fully embracing the opportunities we have at home now.

The research on stress tells us that if we are under stress, we either need to remove the stressor, or we need to change our reaction to the stress. We can’t remove our children, or spouse, or the threat of illness, so we have to change our reaction to the stress. 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Pandemic Parenting: The reality of limits to screen time and what really matters

I reached for my bible. while balancing the cup of coffee and journal and pen, and reached for the door nob. As the door creaked open and the fresh morning air greeted me I heard the dramatic opening notes of Star Wars thunder from the other room. These are the moments of motherhood - when we have to decide to go to battle, or choose to ignore the less than perfect choices made by those little ones in our care.

I stepped into the sunshine and let the door latch behind me.

As a mother of two teen sons and two younger daughters, I live the reality of how tough it is to place screen limitations on my household members. When a child is a 30lb - 3 year old and would just as soon be playing with her dolls or coloring, limit the screen time is pretty easy. But it is not so easy when the child is a 120 lb - 12 year old or a 165 lb.- 17 year old who just wants to veg out or talk with his friends (on the headset) as they play a game online together.  The social world of teens is now largely online. Texting, social media, and online gaming is how they communicate. Covid has made it a time of almost exclusively remote-relationships for our children.

The difficulty of the situation is compounded by the reality that we can't escape one another. Many parents are working at home, squirreled away in little corners or reclaimed desks. My husband is living a self-imposed life of exile in our bedroom as he tunes in remotely to accomplish his tasks. I bounce between children as does my computer. On rare occasion neither myself or my laptop is required, I admit want to be left alone for a little while to write, edit, catch up on emails or just scroll. Letting my kids zone out to screens for short bursts of time has alway been my go to when I need a breather, but many families are experiencing huge amounts of guilt now as their children's viewing or video game play has increased.

We worry as they exceed the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation of 2 hours a day. But some of our children are spending 2 hours a day on screens with their teachers in distance learning. Does that mean everything over that is detrimental? 

Do what is best for the family at the time

Much of the research on screen time is based on what we call a deficit model. If the children are viewing excessively, that means they are being deprived of other activities or other stimulation. But what the children are doing on line makes a difference, and what they would be doing otherwise makes a difference too.
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