How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity?

Welcome to the March 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Tough Conversations

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have spoken up about how they discuss complex topics with their children. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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diversity quiltPointing out different colors – red, black, blue, yellow.

Talking about different people – grandma, postman, doctor, stranger.

Explaining about different cultures – Eskimos, Southerners, Europeans, Baptists.

These are the activities that fill my day and sometimes, many times, I wonder if I am doing a good enough job. How do you best teach your child to identify and appreciate differences without teaching them to judge based on those differences?

Last year, my family and I went out to lunch with a dear friend who was born and raised in Kenya. He moved to the United States for college and was my husband’s roommate for a short while. He has since returned to work in Africa, building educational opportunities for young people in Ghana, and we were thrilled to catch him on a visit to our old stomping grounds. Our daughter, who was 13 months at the time, took to him immediately. She let him hold her, stared into his eyes, and listened intently to his accent.

When we parted, our friend commented that he was surprised she wasn’t scared of him. This baffled me, why would she be “scared” of him? And then he explained that he had met another little girl days before who had been quite wary around him – he was the first African American she had ever met, and, frankly, she didn’t know what to think of him and his outward differences.

His statement resonated with me. I wondered for days about at what age or what circumstance children begin to identify differences like skin color, accents, backgrounds, jobs, social statuses, religion and other extrinsic and intrinsic traits. I thought back onto my own childhood and when I became aware of each of these, why, and how it shaped my beliefs and awareness of others. As much as I wish differences didn’t separate us, I’ve become more aware that it is unavoidable. I’ve realized it is impossible to ensure color blindness or remove all opportunities for judgment – it’s part of being human. It’s something we must evaluate within ourselves and assist our children in processing as they explore these topics.

It isn’t often my family and I find ourselves in a diverse community. We have a very small world throughout our weekly routine. Regardless, I’m left wondering how to better open up the world and all of its differences to my daughter. How do I best introduce her to people who are different from our family? And by placing an emphasis on this, am I further separating “us” and “them”?

I’m curious how you and your family have approached diversity:

  • Do you openly discuss different races, cultures, or social statuses?
  • Do you bring it up or do you allow your child to lead?
  • Do you purposefully surround yourselves with families who are different?
  • How does this impact your family’s personal values – for example, do you associate with others whose beliefs (religious, social, political, etc.) are different from yours?

I hope to hear from you as I am still learning and growing in this avenue of parenthood! Thank you for sharing your two cents.

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 12 with all the carnival links.)

  • A Difficult Conversation — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is keeping her mouth shut about a difficult topic.
  • Discussing Sexuality and Objectification With Your Child — At Authentic Parenting, Laura is puzzled at how to discuss sexuality and objectification with her 4-year-old.
  • Tough Conversations — Kadiera at Our Little Acorn knows there are difficult topics to work through with her children in the future, but right now, every conversation is a challenge with a nonverbal child.
  • Real Talk — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama explains why there are no conversation topics that are off limits with her daughter, and how she ensures that tough conversations are approached in a developmentally appropriate manner.
  • From blow jobs to boob jobs and lots of sex inbetweenMrs Green talks candidly about boob jobs and blow jobs…
  • When Together Doesn’t Work — Ashley at Domestic Chaos discusses the various conversations her family has had in the early stages of separation.
  • Talking To Children About Death — Luschka at Diary of a First Child is currently dealing with the terminal illness of her mother. In this post she shares how she’s explained it to her toddler, and some of the things she’s learned along the way.
  • Teaching 9-1-1 To Kids — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling talks about the importance of using practical, age-appropriate emergency scenarios as a springboard for 9-1-1 conversations.
  • Preschool Peer PressureLactating Girl struggles to explain to her preschooler why friends sometimes aren’t so friendly.
  • Frank Talk — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis unpacks a few conversations about sexuality that she’s had with her 2-year-old daughter, and her motivation for having so many frank discussions.
  • When simple becomes tough — A natural mum manages oppositional defiance in a toddler at Ursula Ciller’s Blog.
  • How Babies are Born: a conversation with my daughter — Justine at The Lone Home Ranger tries to expand her daughter’s horizons while treading lightly through the waters of pre-K social order.
  • Difficult Questions & Lies: 4 Reasons to Tell The Truth — Ariadne of Positive Parenting Connection shares the potential impact that telling lies instead of taking the time to answer difficult questions can have on the parent-child relationship.
  • Parenting Challenges–when someone dies — Survivor at Surviving Mexico writes about talking to her child about death and the cultural challenges involved in living in a predominantly Catholic nation.
  • Daddy Died — Breaking the news to your children that their father passed away is tough. Erica at ChildOrganics shares her story.
  • Opennesssustainablemum prepares herself for the day when she has to tell her children that a close relative has died.
  • Embracing Individuality — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy addressed a difficult question in public with directness and honesty.
  • Making the scary or different okay — Although she tries to listen more than she talks about tough topics, Jessica Claire of Crunchy-Chewy Mama also values discussing them with her children to soften the blow they might cause when they hit closer to home.
  • Talking to My Child About Going Gluten Free — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama concluded that her family would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet, she came up with a plan to persuade her gluten-loving son to find peace with the change. This is how they turned the transition to a gluten-free lifestyle into an adventure rather than a hardship.
  • How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity? — How do you and your family approach diversity? Gretchen of That Mama Gretchen shares her thoughts at Natural Parents Network and would like to hear from readers.
  • Discussing Difficult Topics with Kids: What’s Worked for Me — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares parenting practices that enabled discussions of difficult topics with her (now-adult) children to be positive experiences.
  • Tough Conversations — Get some pointers from Jorje of Momma Jorje on important factors to keep in mind when broaching tough topics with kids.
  • Protect your kids from sneaky people — Lauren at Hobo Mama has cautioned her son against trusting people who’d want to hurt him — and hopes the lessons have sunk in.
  • Mommy, What Does the Bible Say? — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work works through how to answer a question from her 4-year-old that doesn’t have a simple answer.
  • When All You Want for Them is Love: Adoption, Abandonment, and Honoring the Truth — Melissa at White Noise talks about balancing truth and love when telling her son his adoption story.

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Photo Credit: OregonDOT

About The Author: Gretchen

ThatMamaG My NPN Posts

I am a WAHM mama of two from the Pacific Northwest. I began my career in corporate sales and marketing and am now a freelance writer exploring the joys of attachment parenting while trying to find a reason to wear something other than yoga pants on a daily basis :)

15 Responses to How Does Your Family Explain Differences and Approach Diversity?

  1. Dionna  

    We do not ordinarily find ourselves in a diverse environment, either, so I’ve really tried to get books/DVDs/etc. that show Kieran different cultures, etc. We’ve also explored different homeschooling groups in an effort to expand our community!

    • Gretchen  

      I’ve been focusing on this at the library too. I hope that as Jemma and Max grow up we’ll be able to incorporate some travel – both near and far – to further explore and expand our communities. The Pacific Northwest only offers so much!

  2. Michelle

    This is a good insight about talking to your kids about race when they are very young. Ignoring it isn’t the answer. http://thirtythreadbaremercies.wordpress.com/tag/nurtureshock-new-thinking-about-children/

  3. Lauren  

    I try to be quite intentional about talking over differences and diversity. Here’s my post on talking about race with (white) kids if you’re interested in some further reading about my whys and hows: http://www.hobomama.com/2012/01/talking-about-race-with-white-kids.html

    Basically, through my research and my own experience, I’ve discovered that children really cannot be raised “colorblind” (and shouldn’t be) — and that applies to other differences besides race. Secondly, people who are in a majority position tend to think they “don’t have to” think about the minority experience or their effect on people’s wellbeing on a personal or systemic level, and that bums me out.

    It can be hard to keep thinking of ways to talk about differences. Fortunately, kids like to point them out a lot, so there are plenty of opportunities. :) One thing I try to do is remind my child of people we know personally who have whatever trait is being discussed — it humanizes something abstract and makes it less of an us vs. them sort of thing, since these people we know are also “us.”

    I was raised quite conservatively, so it’s true that what I tell my children now about certain differences (mostly related to sexuality) is not how I was raised. But I do believe what I say now. When I do have reservations about somebody’s choices (like, if I’m explaining how some people are criminals or whatever), then I’m just honest about what I think about that, too, without trying to be virulent against the people themselves.

  4. sustainablemum

    Your post has made me think. Think about the fact that I have given this little thought and why that is. I have never seen anyone as ‘different’ and was always amazed as a young child when I heard people mention others differences. I had not noticed them and was surprised when others had. They were the same as me as far as I was concerned. I hope that I am able to nourish this in my own children, as my parents so beautifully did for me.

  5. kadiera  

    We live in a very diverse area – the school where my son will attend kindergarten this fall actually doesn’t have a majority race or ethnicity; the small city we live in has something like 50 different racial and ethnic groups living within its boundaries.

    Still…we specifically say things about it. We talk about race and skin tone in the same way we talk about disabilities and family structure and other differences – that we’re all different, and that’s ok.

    “Color Blindness” isn’t something we strive for here – each of us experiences the world differently because of our differences, and ignoring those differences means that we ignore things that are important to others.

    • Gretchen  

      I love your statement, “We’re all different, and that’s ok”. In furthering this discussion, I was recently chatting with a friend and we came to the conclusion that the word “unique” is a both beautiful and appropriate term when talking about differences as it highlights things in a very positive light. Most everyone appreciates being unique as it denotes that your special.

  6. jaqbuncad

    Actually, one of the things you can also do as a start? Is to own your own whiteness. It’s really obvious that when you say “diversity” you mean “people of color” (see: references to color blindness) and getting comfortable with the language is a huge step in the process. Talking about your whiteness makes it visible; not talking about it makes y’all “normal” and other people “different” (or “diverse”). Kids pick up on that real fast.

    • Gretchen  

      I appreciate your feedback and am truly thankful you jumped into the dialogue. I had a chance to read your full response in regard to this post on your blog and it gave me a lot to think about and further reflect on.

      By “diversity” I was trying to define ALL differences whether skin color, language, job, religion, etc. Although, I agree that skin color, white or otherwise, is usually one of the first things we see and address since it is most obvious.

      • jaqbuncad

        I feel like starting where you’re at is as good a place as any for all of those other markers, too. Of the privileges we have as a family – being able to pass for straight, being US citizens, having a roof over our heads, having two college-educated parents, being able-bodied, to name a few – all of those are things we can and do talk to our kids about too. Our congregation is very active in the fight for marriage equality and immigrant justice, so those are all great conversational points we can use to talk to our kids to name those pieces of us that have greater social value. We live in an area that is very low-income and there are many homeless folk who panhandle, and so we talk about what economic justice is and what food justice is and how lucky we are to have a roof over our heads and regular meals in our bellies.

        For me, it’s all about naming things for what they are, and being able to speak to them – like someone said upthread, we’re all different, and that’s okay; but the world we live in does not always agree, and so they’ll need to learn how to stand strong against those people who would devalue them for who they are.

  7. Emili Butrin

    Difference was never really addressed with me as a child – my parents took more of the “color blind” approach, if you will. I am quite intentional now about talking openly with my children concerning difference in race, religion, etc. That difference is good, beautiful, something to discuss and embrace.

    Thank you for this article.

  8. Charlene  

    I think it’s very important to teach your children that there are many differences in people from an early age. Teach them that even though we may have different beliefs, underneath were all the same. We have the same feelings about our families, our children. We need to learn to love one another instead of killing each other.

  9. A

    I hear some people talk to children about disability with a lot of “but they’re great in other ways to make up for what they can’t do! They’re just as good as you are!” From my perspective, as a parent of a child with a disability: Skip this. Kids read the “deficiency” subtext in it. State the facts when they’re relevant–some people have trouble walking, some people can’t see or hear, some people’s brains work differently–and yes, those things can be challenging for those people, and no, you shouldn’t be a jerk to them.

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