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Parenting is Not Black and White

Some of the best parenting advice I’ve ever received came from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People* by Steven Covey.  I’m not sure he wrote the book with parents in mind, but habit number one (Be proactive) and habit number two (Begin with the end in mind) are highly effective habits of good parenting.

When it comes to parenting intentionally, I’ve always said that I am raising future adults.  I am not raising future children. As a result, I always filter my children’s behavior through the lens of “will this behavior be acceptable as an adult?”

When you ask it that way, it usually becomes very clear.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t make allowances for the fact that they are children.  Of course you do.  But I’m always training the children toward proper adult behaviors.

The problem, of course, is that sometimes there can be some adult behaviors that are completely unacceptable. Such is the case with the issue of prejudice.  Prejudice has no place in adult (or child) behavior.

It is very important to me that the children recognize that skin color plays no role in how people should be valued or treated.  And so I am intentional in teaching the children not to judge people based on the color of their skin.

This was very easy to instill in my children when we were living in New Jersey (1997 – 2004).  Jim was teaching at an inner-city school in Trenton, New Jersey.  We lived in Trenton and were surrounded by people of all skin colors. The church that we attended was also very diverse.

My children played with our neighbors and friends at the church.  It didn’t matter whether their families were from Liberia, Ireland, Cuba, Haiti, or Italy. Being surrounded by such diversity, it was simple to teach the children that people are people and you don’t judge people based on their skin color.

In 2004 we moved to Indiana.  We love it here.  We love the people and the culture. But it is not a diverse culture.  In fact, it is overwhelmingly Caucasian.

As a result, I’ve had to be more intentional about teaching my children not to notice skin color and certainly not to judge people by it.

There are many ways we make this happen.

Our attitudes.  Jim and I do not model prejudice to our children.  We treat all those we come in contact with as equal in value before God.

Our words.  We talk about skin color and culture.  We don’t pretend that everyone looks the same or has the same traditions.  We talk about the differences and what it means and more importantly what it doesn’t mean.

Science. We teach the children what causes the different skin tones.  They understand that skin tone is affected primarily by the amount of melanin in the skin and has nothing to do with how worthy or unworthy a person is.

History.  We talk about how African Americans and Native Americans have been treated in our country. We talk about the good and bad aspects of our history concerning different races.  We talk about European history and how the Jews were treated during the Holocaust.

Bible. We teach the children that the Bible states that all mankind shares one blood* and God does not prefer one race over any other.  “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings.” Acts 17:26

Bad guys.  Because our children interact with the public, we are careful to keep them physically and emotionally safe.  Our children know that bad guys often don’t look like bad guys.  A bad guy doesn’t have a certain skin color or dress a certain way.

Intentional interactions.  While living in Indiana (before we started Goat Milk Stuff), the children didn’t have a lot of opportunities to talk to people of different ethnicities.  So I always made sure that if there were people of different skin tones that the children had an opportunity to interact.

I didn’t make it obvious and point out the skin color.   But for example, if there was a Caucasian police officer and an African American police officer, I would have the children ask a question of the African American police officer.  I didn’t identify the person by the color of their skin.  Instead I would say, “Hey, go ask that tall police officer how long he has been a police officer.”  Simple things like that.  Now that we have Goat Milk Stuff, the children are exposed to a lot more people and it’s a lot easier to make skin color a non-issue because the children know how to treat customers.

Movies.  Other than modeling appropriate behaviors when it comes to skin color, the most intentional thing I do is to have the children watch movies that provide talking points and positively represent different races and cultures.  This has been easier the older they get because there are more options for them.  Some of the movies that come to mind are:

I would always recommend previewing these movies before watching them with younger children as there may be inappropriate language and themes.  If I think the movie is worth it, I let the younger children watch and just skip the scenes I don’t want them to see.

Often, movies can be great starting points with your children and teenagers about why people should never be judged based on their skin color.

I’ve been working on this blog post in my head for a while.  Sometimes I plan my blog posts days or weeks in advance.  Sometimes I write them a few hours after before they’re scheduled to go live. I was planning to write this blog post yesterday, but I’m on vacation and didn’t get around to it.

When I got up this morning, I posted to my instagram page and the post below it had a saying that said:

“It is not enough to be quietly non-racist, now is the time to be vocally anti-racist.”

I’m not sure who to give credit to for those words (if anybody knows who said them, please let me know.)

But recent news headlines about racially motivated violence in Charlottesville (Charlottesville is dear to our hearts) and that instagram post were confirmation that I needed to get this post written today.

As Nelson Mandela famously said,

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

As parents, we have tremendous influence over how the next generation judges people based on their skin-tone.  It’s important that we do our part in making sure that our children aren’t finding people inferior (or superior) because they happened to be born looking a particular way.

It’s up to each and every one of us.  And it’s important.

What are your thoughts?  Do you have any other suggestions or movie recommendations?




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