It is hard to parent this week.
It’s hard to focus. Difficult to not check my phone for updates and news conferences. Tricky to keep from crying and being otherwise emotionally snarled. It is so hard to stay relaxed about our world and what the future may look like for our children when the news looks like this. This crazy election cycle, the Stanford rapist horror, and now, the deadliest civilian mass shooting in U.S. history.
It’s hard to take. Really hard. I’m tired, and very sad.
I often feel powerless in these situations, but I also I don’t want to do nothing. So I’m going to give blood this week, send money to my local LGBTQ rights organization, write this article, and vote in November no matter how bad things look.
Because I’m also angry. So angry.
But instead of ranting, I’m going to look through my parent education lens and I wonder, “How can parenting differently help?” Well, it seems it always can. It seems no matter what problem sits before me, I can find a way to help through parenting. I try to think of a way to “love first” when it comes to raising children. With that positive action in mind, here are five ways you can parent against misogyny and hate:
- Watch for your own prejudices. Talk to your children about privilege and power imbalances. Don’t assume a heteronormative or ethnocentric stance. Talk about race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. When you speak about whiteness, the gender binary, and heterosexuality as if they exist in a vacuum and are “the norm,” (or ignore them completely which sends the exact same message), you perpetuate dichotomy and implicit bias. This leads to seeing differences as “other,” which diminishes people’s value and humanity.
- Parent against gender bias. This is still much more socially acceptable for girls than boys. That’s why I wrote about changing the culture of masculinity, and can’t wait to watch this important documentary: The Mask We Live In. Our culture’s gender norms hurt children. In her important book, The Mama’s Boy Myth, Kate Stone Lombardi notes that a growing tide of modern mothers are helping their sons to be stronger by keeping them close and helping them gain important EQ (Emotional Intelligence) skills. These are skills we ALL need to get along with each other.
- Model good boundaries. When we set firm limits with children, we’re demonstrating what boundaries should look like. When we respect small growing people, we lay the foundation for consent. When we are clear about where we end and they begin, and allow emotional expression, we help them understand that their strong, messy feelings are A-OK with us. Closeness and intimacy does not necessitate emotional merging and they are not responsible for our feelings.
- Stop using punishment as your go-to discipline method.There are so many reasons why empathy, connection, and guidance work better. Punitive ways of trying to “teach” kids, always make them miserable. And while we are conditioned to believe that this will help them learn from the experience, feeling badly always brings one’s own miserysharply into focus. Punishment actually fuels a self-centered outlook and reduces empathy.
- Teach your children about sex and sexuality. These are fundamental parts of who we are as humans. Banish the shame from them. Shame breeds disconnection, and disconnection feeds hate and violence. Get the support you need and find someone to talk to about what makes it hard to discuss (neuroscience tell us: “What’s shareable is bearable”). There are legitimate reasons we don’t feel comfortable with these topics. Our culture sends terribly mixed messages, and avoids the reality that sex is actually pleasurable, something Peggy Orenstein tackles in her new book, Girls & Sex. Start by naming body parts with anatomical words as early as possible. If you need encouragment or scripts, there are many good websites and blogs.
Because we are always modeling for our children.
We model with what we say, and what we don’t say. Who we shy away from, and what makes us uncomfortable. Where we’re relaxed, and what gets us heated. Who we love and, yes, who we hate. It is adding gasoline to the fire to hate certain people (even hateful people!). If we reduce their humanity with our actions or words, our kids pick up on that. They know.
“Children are not cruel. Children are mirrors. They want to be “grownup,” so they act how grown-ups act when we think they’re not looking. They do not act how we tell them to act at school assemblies. They act how we really act. They believe what we believe. They say what we say. And we have taught them that gay people are not okay. That overweight people are not okay. That Muslim people are not okay. That they are not equal. That they are to be feared. And people hurt the things they fear. We know that. What they are doing in the schools, what we are doing in the media—it’s all the same. The only difference is that children bully in the hallways and the cafeterias while we bully from behind pulpits and legislative benches and sitcom one-liners.”
We are our child’s first teacher, it’s true.
But soon other teachers send messages from all directions—their peers, our culture, the media—and they are all mighty instructors. We can counteract these influences. But in order to do so, we have to pay attention, stay engaged, and do what often feels uncomfortable. Small shifts in the way we do things have big impact.
Love first. Everything else; second.
- For more on setting peaceful limits read Setting Limits Without Fear and Shame,
- You can also download our booklet Healing Children’s Fears
Sarah MacLaughlin has worked with families for over 20 years as a nanny, preschool teacher, social worker, and coach for moms and dads. she is certified to teach many parenting curricula, including Hand in Hand’s Parenting by Connection. You can read more from Sarah on her blog http://sarahmaclaughlin.com/blog/ and connect with her through Facebook.