My daughter is three (and-a-half, she'd want me to add) and my son is fifteen months. Like any mom, I hope someday they grow up to change the world, the same world I long to shelter them from right now.
But the truth is that, in order to make this world a better place, we need our children to feel burdened for a person or a cause beyond our borders of comfort. Feeling comes first from knowing. I cannot teach my children compassion for someone without giving some explanation for the suffering that person is experiencing.
Perhaps three is too young to be talking about and death and drugs and racism. Heck, if I sheltered my kids as much as I would like, they would both be home-schooled, get “Mom” tattoos, obtain degrees online, and work for me (doing what, I’m not sure, but I have a few years to figure this phantom-future-business-thing out).
But really, is three too young? I have no worries about my three-year-old planning her first drug deal. I do have worries about someone else shaping her worldview before I’ve had a chance to get started.
Friends, I hope you know that I’m not suggesting anyone start with graphic details about heavy topics like the ones aforementioned. What I am suggesting is that we consider ways to introduce our kids to the real lives of people around us.
When my husband’s grandfather was dying of cancer, it was important to us to include our daughter in loving him, even when his appearance was startlingly gaunt and we had to be completely dressed in scrubs to be around him.
When a family member, who was once addicted to drugs, got clean and stayed clean for six months and counting, I wanted my three-year-old to know that giving up that harmful medicine was a very difficult and brave thing to do.
And when I heard that my little community has its own secret KKK chapter, I knew without a doubt that my children must be aware of both the history and the current state of racism in this country. We’ve come a long way, but that doesn’t mean discrimination and cruelty are beyond touching the people around us.
My daughter and I had one such conversation just this afternoon. It started while reading a book from the library, "Freedom Summer" by Deborah Wiles. It’s about two friends – one white and one black – in the 1960’s. The white boy loves to include his black friend and would visit the candy store to buy treats for them both. But even after segregation is banned, the community’s refusal to accept the ban stuns him. I could barely get the words out when I read the angry cry of injustice the African American boy tells his white friend, “I want to do everything you can do.”
It was thoughtful of his friend to buy popsicles for them to share, but he shouldn't have needed to do it in the first place.
Unlike our little family clichés, these conversations seem to penetrate her heart. They evoke questions and reflection that shift her attention from self-gratification to concern for others.
Oh, by the way, did I mention that my son is adopted? That he is black and the rest of us are white? It explains why race is such an important conversation to me, right?
Soon after he was born, I had several friends recommend that I not talk to my daughter about the differences between her and my son. That way she could be innocently “color blind.”
So I didn’t for a little while. But it didn’t feel right.
I don’t want her to be “color-blind” and assume everyone is treated the same. I want her eyes to be open and her heart to be ready to defend anyone that is being picked on for being different, whether it’s for the color of their skin, the way they walk, what they wear, or how they speak.
These are the conversations that get their wheels turning, that ignite passion, and mobilize compassion into action.
Set those shelters on fire, friends. Whatever issues are in your community or family, it’s impossible to keep these things from your kids. Let’s start talking, let’s start stirring compassion in their hearts.