In our home, we value kindness, intelligence, and compassion. We try to guide our children, first and foremost, in treating everyone with dignity and respect.
We also teach, though, that a person can lose your respect and that, should that happen, the person should not regain respect easily, but should have to make amends and take time and effort to earn that respect back.
Now that my kids are six and nine, it is getting more and more difficult to deal with the values of those outside of our immediate family. After all, I want my kids to continue to act with kindness, intelligence, and compassion, but I don't want them to go so far as to believe whatever others tell them. After all, kindness doesn't always mean agreement or saying yes.
But I struggle with teaching that when they are now interacting with so many people while physically separate from mom and dad.
A teacher once made a comment about the president being a "murderer" to my first grader during pro-life week at my kid's Catholic school. (The school took appropriate and swift action, much to my pleasant surprise.) A relative regularly uses the n-word in front of my children. Once, someone who my child is supposed to respect commented that my child better not come home with someone of a different race or of the same gender. They said it in front of my child!
I spoke up each time, but my kids are getting old enough that they need to learn to speak up, too.
I'm teaching the kids to respond by balancing their kindness, intelligence, and compassion for the person that they are speaking to WITH kindness, intelligence, and compassion for those being talked about. In other words, a politician, a person of color, or a gay couple deserve the same respect that the person speaking deserves, even if the speaker is a teacher or grandma.
(Yes, I did just say that politicians deserve human dignity! I'm a softie like that!)
But is that too much to expect from a child? On one hand, I want my child strong enough to say, kindly but firmly, "that language is racist. I'm not going to listen to it." But what happens when the person doesn't respond to my kid with kindness? Can I expect my kid to keep standing up?
I think I have to.
After all, the biggest danger to my child is not television or their peers. Instead, I worry most about the people that they are supposed to respect, who teach them unhealthy values with good intent, but values that we do not hold. My kids can see bad people on T.V. and easily recognize them as bad. But "good" people can fool you.
I don't want a preacher telling my kids that Jesus is the only way to salvation. (Catholics believe that someone who has no religion, or is even an atheist, but follows his/her conscience, is saved.)
Instead, I want kids who say, "good people are good people, regardless of their religion."
I don't want a well-meaning relative to tell my kids that people who are transgender are "weird" or that LGBT folks are "bad."
I want kids who say, "stop judging people for their love for others."
I don't want a great aunt to talk about "black people" deserving to get shot in the streets.I want kids who say, "no one deserves to die."
I don't want a friend to comment on how she does all the housework.
I want kids who say, "here, let me do the dishes" regardless of their gender.
It's the Duggar problem. I love 19 Kids and Counting, but I don't think it's healthy to not date (preferably for a long time) before getting engaged. We don't have their brand of Christianity, and because of that, I sometimes worry more about my kids watching these clearly nice people and learning the wrong lessons from them than I worry about my kids watching Futurama.
At least, with Futurama, my nine year can articulate, "this is NOT appropriate." And, much to my shame, my six year old can question, "we don't say 'kiss my shiny metal ***, do we, Mommy?" No son, we do not. Parenting fail.
With the Duggars, I find myself saying, over and over, "Mom and Dad don't believe that." But they seem so sweet and nice that it's easy to assume they are doing things right and, just maybe, Mom and Dad are doing things wrong. That scares me.
I want to raise kids who value character over race, gender, gender identity, sexual identity, or even religion. But the well meaning people make it a struggle for me.
Character, for us, is about how a person acts, and rarely about what a person believes. (I make an exception for actively hateful beliefs.)
Unless I lock my kids inside of the home, they will keep stumbling upon people with very different values than mine. What is a mom to do?
P.S. See Giftie at: