I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. There are always things I’m working on, especially as a mother – less yelling, more cuddling; less rushing, more patience; less rigidity, more flexibility – but these feel ongoing and the work of a lifetime, rather than something I can suddenly begin to do (or not do) on a specific day. I also don’t love New Year’s Resolutions (though I know some folks find them very helpful) because I worry that they play into the mindset that we’re meant to be constantly on the self-improvement train. Always smarter, faster, better, thinner, stronger, richer, etc. If we’re not careful we can find ourselves dissatisfied with current circumstances, always grasping for the next thing.
Of course, the world is in a precarious place, by many standards. It seems that we are all going to be asked to show up in the absolute best way we can. As I think about how I’m having conversations with my kids about what that means to show up, what it means to be our absolute best, I struggle to communicate two truths:
- Who and how you are right now is good enough.
- We all need to listen and pay attention and be willing to change when needed.
It’s been my experience that I am most willing and ready to change when I feel seen and heard and understood exactly as I am. And so I know my work for my children is to really pay attention to who they are, to see them and hear them and understand them, trusting that if they feel safe and secure and loved, they will be willing to do the hard work of change and transformation for themselves and for the world.
This is what I hope to do, not only for my children, but for my entire community. To contribute to each of us feeling safe and secure enough to show up in the best possible way: strong, fierce, and humble.
The last day of 2016 this poem was shared with me. I share it now with you:
“Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones.
Open your heart to who you are, right now,
Not who you would like to be.
Not the saint you’re striving to become.
But the being right here before you, inside you, around you.
All of you is holy.
You’re already more and less
Than whatever you can know.
Breathe out, touch in, let go.”
– John Welwood
May we all remember –and remind our children – that all of each of us is holy.
Here’s to 2017! Did you stick to your resolution if you made one?
This is an original blog written for World Moms Network by Ms. V.
My 5-year old son has a new and urgent interest in Star Wars. It’s fascinating to listen to the connections he is making between the current political climate in the United States and these iconic films that explore themes of power, justice, friendship, love, transcendence, and redemption. Indeed, all very relevant themes for these times.
It’s been only a few months of protest marches, phone calls to representatives, standing up and speaking out, and I’m already aware of impending exhaustion. The question of how to leverage all of my unearned and undeserved advantages to resist ongoing oppression and exploitation while also caring for myself, my family, and my work has loomed large in my heart and mind.
Looming large, too, is a desire to model for my children a sustainable way to use my gifts and talents in service of justice, peace, and love. And, as often happens when I am worrying about how to teach or model something to or for my children, I am humbly reminded that the opposite is happening. As the wise Yoda says: “Truly wonderful the mind of a child is.”
As my son talks to me about Star Wars and how it relates to the world as he sees it, he’s not focused on the battles, but rather on the stories of transformation. He’s interested in how The Force works within people, moving them towards the light or the darkness. In short, he’s curious about and open to the ever-present potential for change – in individuals, systems, and galaxies far, far away.
In our galaxy, many Christians have just celebrated Easter and are now in the 50-day period of Eastertide, a time to celebrate new beginnings, second chances, and the power that love has over destruction. Every year around this time the following quote pops up somewhere: “We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining – they just shine.” (Dwight L. Moody)
This Eastertide I’m thinking about what it looks like to “just shine.” And I already know that it looks a lot like how my son approaches the world: with curiosity, joy, hope, and faith in the possibility of transformation and the power of love. And it’s this orientation towards both the challenges of these times and life in general that can be a guiding principle in knowing how to move forward – what to do, how to show up, and when to rest. As the gospel of Star Wars reminds us: “The light…it’s always been there. It will guide you.”
The election of the next President of the United States is drawing near with just two weeks to go. Many Americans (and I suspect many non-Americans as well) have been counting down the days to the end of what has been a brutal campaign. Like many parents I’ve struggled with just how, exactly, to talk to my kids about this election.
Earlier this year, I started to see articles popping up about how to talk to children about Donald Trump, specifically. But I wonder, too, about how to talk to children about the extraordinary thing they are witnessing in this election cycle: the breakdown of mutual agreements – spoken and unspoken – about how political discourse happens in an open and free democracy with peaceful transitions of power.
To be sure, American politics have always been contentious. Heated debates and party divisions are not new. What feels new to me, though, is the unwillingness on all sides to truly listen with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.
It is this type of listening that I try to model and teach my children. It is this type of listening that helps me to experience being seen and understood. And I think it is this type of listening that can and will ultimately create healing if we are willing to step into it.
Listening is one of my greatest challenges as a parent. In the hustle of day-to-day life – school, work, meals, nap, laundry, dishes – I can sometimes become so focused on what needs to happen (according to me) that I don’t always stop and listen with a willingness to be changed when my kids try to express something to me. I might stop and look at them and pay attention as they speak. I may even silently congratulate myself for being so patient.
But if I’m just trying to make them feel heard rather than actually listening and taking in what they are saying, willing to adjust course based on what they express, am I really modeling how I hope they will show up in the world?
As adults, whether we mean to or not, we are constantly setting an example for the children of the world. They see and pay attention and learn from us, for better or for worse. It is for this reason that conversations about Donald Trump are essential. And it is also for this reason that I think we would all do well to consider whether we are confusing polite waiting for true listening. Are we sitting quietly while our fellow citizens express their frustrations and fears, congratulating ourselves on being so cool-headed, while we simply wait for them to finish so we can respond with whatever preloaded retort applies? Or are we truly listening with a willingness to be changed, to consider the other side, and to wonder, together, how we can address and ensure our common well-being?
How open are you to changing your position after listening to someone’s point of view? Has this ever happened to you?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Ms. V of South Korea. Photo credit: Jay Phagan. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.
The beginning, middle, and end of all conversations about race in my family of origin were that racism was bad and skin color didn’t matter. There’s a story my mother loved to tell: She was reading a children’s book to one of my brothers that asked the question, “Do you know anybody who has a skin color that is different from your own?” and my brother confidently replied that he did not, much to the amazement of my mother. One of her closest friends, a woman my brother saw nearly every day, was black. When my mother pointed this out he said she was silly, but the next day when mom’s friend came over, my brother grabbed her arm, stared at it, and then announced very seriously, “You’re black!”. This story was always told as a punctuation to an argument or conversation about how we’re all born colorblind.
Until I was in my 20s, I believed that this story proved, not only that we’re born colorblind, but that my family and I were not racist. After all, we didn’t even see color! And my mom’s best friend was black! Of course, now I know that a young white male child not seeing color only proves the existence of white privilege. If he’d been walking around this world in black skin, he wouldn’t have the luxury of not noticing skin color as his skin color would have had a profound effect on his experience of the world. (Also, the idea that children do not see color has been completely debunked.)
We do a great disservice to our children when we explain away racism as something that is simply “bad”. If racism is bad, then people who are racists are bad people, so if you’re a good person, then you can’t be racist. We cannot frame racism as an individual choice rather than a systemic reality. Racism – specifically white supremacy – is the water in which we all swim.
In the wake of yet another police shooting of an unarmed black man here in the United States, I find myself discussing race a lot with my two children.
They are 5 and 2, and the challenge of having these uncomfortable and complex conversations-and answering the myriad of questions that come from them- make me understand why so many white parents stick to explanations that sound an awful lot like the ones I got.
As white folks, we like for things to be tidy. We like for things to be easy. We have benefitted a long time from binary thought. Wading into the discomfort of naming and facing systemic racist oppression feels hard. There is a term for that: “White Fragility”.
I’ve seen a lot of white parents posting on social media, asking how to discuss racism with their children. I’m not an expert, but I can share what I tell my children.
- We are white, which means we have benefited from many unearned and undeserved advantages.
- Our experience of the world is greatly influenced by the fact that all of our systems are set up to uphold white supremacy. Our worldview is shaped by our experience of being white. We do not and cannot know what it is to be a person of color.
- Since we do not and cannot know the experience of being a person of color, we must listen, pay attention, and believe. We cannot make excuses or sweep things under the rug of good intentions.
- We are witnessing with our own eyes and, thanks to the internet and social media, hearing more and more stories that confirm what people of color have been expressing about their experience of the world.
- Black lives are in danger (as they have always been). Nobody is questioning or wondering if white lives matter. There does, however, seem to be some disagreement about whether or not black lives matter. So, we need to say, loud and clear, that yes, #blacklivesmatter.
- When #blacklivesmatter, (and brown lives, and queer lives, and the lives of all folks who are on the margins due to systemic oppression) then, and only then, will all lives matter.
- It is the job of white folks, not people of color, to end white supremacy. It is the job of white folks to educate themselves, and not the job of people of color to educate us.
- We are all complicit in racism, systemic oppression, and white supremacy. No amount of good intentions or meaning well will change that. There are a lot of good people who do not realize, or do not want to believe that they are racist. But does a fish know it’s in water? Or is water all it knows, so it can’t even comprehend or imagine any other reality? Racism is the water in which we all swim. We have to choose to see the water. #blacklives depend on it.
This is an original post by Ms. V., in the USA.
Picture Credit: Fibonacci Blue
I know a lot of people – women and mothers especially – doing really amazing things in the world. It is this that comforts me when I start to get depressed about the news. There are people all over the world who are using their unique gifts to creatively tackle the difficulties of our time – income inequality, racism, sexism, xenophobia, war, gun violence, climate change – name a problem and you’ll find a person or group of people devoting time, energy, and talent to both the causes and effects of these problems. My faith in humanity lies in its willingness to figure out the messes we keep creating.
Now that my oldest is nearing 5 years old, his questions about the world are becoming more complex. He is beginning to see the interconnectedness of the world and I am of course trying to make sure that my answers both satisfy his curiosity and invite him further into critical thinking.
To me, this feels like an essential part of raising a socially conscious child; I don’t want to teach him what to think about the world, I want to teach him how to think about the world, and then how to translate this critical analysis into meaningful action.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to one of the authors of the book This is an Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the 21st Century speak about social movement ecology at the nonprofit I co-founded. Paul Engler spoke directly to something I’ve struggled with as a person committed to social change. What should I be doing? Do we fight the system? Do we “be the change”? Do we scrap everything and start over?
Paul’s answer was that for real social change to happen, we need a healthy ecosystem of efforts. For some of us this will mean a focus on personal transformation and healing, for others it will mean modeling a different way of operating outside of existing institutions, and for some it will mean taking a stand against existing structures in an effort to change or influence them. For most of us, we will move between and among all three, depending on where we are in our own lives. All approaches are necessary and all lead to meaningful social change. Like all other ecosystems, diversity is key!
So how do we, as parents, model this?
How do we empower our children to take meaningful action in the world in the way that makes the most sense for them at each point in their life?
And how do we model the necessary cooperation and collaboration that has to happen between all people working for social change so that the ecosystem can be healthy and productive?
Well, like all things we want to teach our children, we do these things ourselves! The work for us then, as parents, is to identify what we have to offer the world, and to commit to using these gifts and talents in a way that makes the most sense for where we are in our lives. I think the mistake I’ve made in the past has been feeling like whatever I did to address social woes had to be big and bold. Since having children I’ve learned the impact of small things. Each choice, every day, can be a socially conscious one.
This, perhaps, is what I want to make sure I teach my children: when it comes to social change, every choice matters and our choices must be informed by a commitment to personal transformation, a willingness to approach the existing institutions with a critical eye, and the courage to create new ways of doing and being outside of what already exists.
Do you have a way that you try to teach your children to give back in the world?
This is an original post written for World moms blog by Ms. V.
Photo Source: the National Archives and Records Administration