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.
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
I don’t imagine it is news to anyone that the US political process is a bit of a mess right now. We may be a divided nation, but we all seem to be in agreement that the circus-like atmosphere of the current presidential election is troubling. I am a very politically engaged person, but I’ve become very selective about when and how I consume any media covering the elections, lest I fall into despair. Fortunately for me, this story made it through my filters. A picture of a mother breastfeeding her infant daughter at a Bernie Sanders rally went viral and birthed the hashtag #boobsforbernie.
Photo Credit: Anton Nossik / Creative Commons
Finally! Something I can get behind! The woman has reportedly received death threats and incredible amounts of vitriolic hate since the photo when viral, but also an incredible outpouring of love and support, even from Bernie Sanders and his wife. The campaign, of course, used it as an opportunity to support and encourage breastfeeding mothers everywhere, no doubt clinching many votes and hearts in the process.
I was pleased to see the picture, pleased to see the Sanders’ response, and pleased to see the hashtag. My hope, though, is that it will spark a conversation much longer and larger than breastfeeding in public. Supporting mothers for breastfeeding in public, which in many places in the US is a radical act, is very important. But so too is supporting all parents of all genders who feed their babies in any way for the incredible amounts of work and dedication it takes to raise a child and the insistence on not doing the work of child-rearing behind closed doors or divorced from a full and integrated life.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why policies in the US – a country big on “family values” – are so unfriendly, particularly to mothers, but generally to parents and caretakers.
There is never one answer to such a complex problem, but one thought I’ve had is that it is related to the way we do parenting here in the US. Compared to other cultures I’ve lived in and experienced, raising a child in the US is very compartmentalized from the rest of life. I know a lot of parents who do not live or parent that way, myself included, but the overarching message from American culture seems to be that children and parenting fall into a very specific category and time in our lives and it all centers around our homes, schools, and parks.
So, when a mother is seen breastfeeding her child at a political rally, or toddlers are at a nice restaurant, or parents find a way to have their children present with them at work, there is a reaction. Often, not a kind one; one that implies that there is a time and a place for children to exist and have their needs met and it is not the same space where adults interact and have their needs met.
This compartmentalization of parenting, then, marginalizes primary caregivers who have to make a choice about whether or not to engage in the world in a full way while they care for children. Because most primary caregivers are women, this affects women disproportionately, specifically minority women who are already marginalized by many other factors. Parenting shouldn’t be about choosing between taking care of children OR having a well-balanced and meaningful life. Children can and should be a part of our work lives, our spiritual lives, our community lives, our political lives – all of it!
So, I say let’s make this #boobsforbernie hashtag into a call to parent in public!
This is an original post written by Mrs. V for World Moms Blog.
Do you agree that we need to more openly parent in public?
The UN recently sent a delegation of human rights experts to the US to report on this country’s overall treatment of women. The result? This is how the preliminary report concluded:
“The United States, which is a leading state in formulating international human rights standards, is allowing its women to lag behind international human rights standards. Although there is a wide diversity in state law and practice, which makes it impossible to give a comprehensive report, we could discern an overall picture of women’s missing rights. While all women are the victims of these missing rights, women who are poor, belong to Native American, Afro-American and Hispanic ethnic minorities, migrant women, LBTQ women, women with disabilities and older women are disparately vulnerable.”
The report touches on these “missing rights” in the realms of reproductive health, wages, politics, and violence- particularly gun violence- against women.
One of the delegates, Frances Raday, told reporters “The lack of accommodation in the workplace to women’s pregnancy, birth and post-natal needs is shocking. Unthinkable in any society, and certainly one of the richest societies in the world.”
As I read their conclusions, which will be further developed in a more comprehensive report in 2016, I felt a familiar sick feeling overcome my being. It’s the same sick feeling I’ve gotten used to since moving back to the US, every time there is yet another mass or accidental shooting. The two questions that come with this feeling are when and why? When will enough be enough? Why not yet?
As a woman and a mother – both to a male child and a female child – the urgency of full and true equality for women and girls is plain as day, not just for me and my daughter, but for the well-being of my son and all boys and men. Everyone is harmed by inequality, and I agree with Ms. Raday, that it is unthinkable in the context of this nation.
After I sit with when and why, I have to move to what. What can be done? What can I do, each and every day in my life, to make a difference? I’ll admit to feeling totally overwhelmed by that question at times, but I’ve found that it can all be boiled down to two things: stand up and speak out. Stand up for what is just and speak out about what needs to change. Or, as Susan B. Anthony said: Organize, agitate, educate.
At times I’ve let my fear of being perceived by others as a downer keep me from standing up and speaking out, but at this point in my life, the stakes are too high to be afraid. The stakes are too high for me and my family and for the millions of families who are affected by the situation of women in this country. So instead I choose to organize (build community) agitate (speak out) and educate (stand up).
I imagine my grandmother at the time of my birth thinking about what a different world I was being born into than the one she had known, and yet she never lived to witness true equality. The dream of full equality has been shared by several generations of women now. Do I dare hope that it will be achieved by the time my daughter comes of age? Will I meet my granddaughter and welcome her into a world where she has no “missing rights”?
Were you surprised to hear the findings of this delegation?
This is an original post written for World Moms Blog by Ms. V.
Image Credit: “We Can Do It!” by J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee – From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved from the website of the Virginia Historical Society.. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons