"Mommy, why is daddy's skin darker than mine? Can I erase it with my pencil?" I know what you're thinking right now, and just like you, the minute I heard those words come out of Mr. President #1's mouth, the first thing that came to mind was, "Where the heck did I go wrong?" Mr. President #1 is notorious for asking me the what, why, and how of just about everything he doesn't understand, and that is perfectly okay with me. In light of the tragedy that occured in Orlando, Florida today, I thought this would be a good time for me to share why I believe acceptance and tolerance in general is so important for our children and the next generation. I expose my children to just about every facet of life. America is like a melting pot of all things different, and by living here, we have the luxury of experiencing and participating in celebrations and events for different cultures, countries, traditions, and other ways of life. With that being said, being "different" is just part of life for us, and that is exactly what I teach my children. Yes, I teach them the difference between right and wrong, but I also teach them that the world is full of people who live their lives differently than us, and that we should just embrace and accept them the way we accept the people who are like us.
Whether it's our Indian neighbor next door, our Asian buddy down the street, our friend from school who has two moms, or our buddy from pre-k whose dad is a double-amputee, we love and embrace them all because that is what life is all about; loving and accepting everyone. Our differences are what make life so colorful and beautiful, and I truly believe children who are more open and tolerant will ultimately get more out of life. But I will admit that I went wrong somewhere along the way. Hindsight is 20/20, right? But when I look back on the conversations I've had with Mr. President #1, I think I waited a little too long to have the tolerance, acceptance, and race talk with my son. We have since had many conversations about loving YOURSELF just the way you are, and accepting other people for who they are, but I kind of wanted to avoid being asked those grueling questions like why his father's skin is darker than his. Maybe these demonstrations of intuition are inevitable, but whatever the case, I have learned a few things from my experiences with Mr. President #1, and have a few tips I think will be very useful and life-changing for you.
What is tolerance?
Webster's defines tolerance as the ability and willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own. Tolerance is having respect for and learning from others, valuing differences, bridging cultural gaps, rejecting unfair stereotypes, discovering common ground, and creating new bonds with others. Tolerance, in my opinion, is the complete opposite of prejudice. Tolerance is accepting all people for who they are, not judging them, and embracing them. Tolerance is treating others the way you want to be treated, regardless of what they look like, or where they come from. Let me also remind you that tolerance does not mean accepting things that are wrong. There is a clear distinction between accepting others for who they are, and accepting bad behavior. Just like I have taught Mr. President #1 (and am teaching Mr. President #2), tolerance is playing with your buddies on the playground who are a different color than you, or playing with your buddy at recess who speaks a different language than you. Being different is a beautiful thing, and tolerance is what brings all of us together.
How do we teach tolerance?
Our parents are our first teachers. Has anyone ever said to you, "You act just like your father?" If so, that's probably because your temperament and demeanor is an imitation of what you observed as a child. Of course we genetically inherit things from our parents, but children also examine their parents very carefully, and eventually begin to imitate them as they grow older. We all exhibit many learned behavior from our parents, [some of them a little better or more beneficial than others] and children, in great part, learn their attitudes and perspectives on things from their parents and guardians. In other words, tolerance is something that is taught, and as parents, it is our responsibility to teach our children to be tolerant of others, and not prejudiced. This does not mean you neglect teaching your children your own cultural vaules and traditions, but it simply means that you learn to respect and accept the differences of others. Besides, who are we to judge? In my opinion, God is the final judge, and not one of us is at liberty to judge someone else because of their differences. No more lives need to be taken becauase of the lack of tolerance instilled in children. Enough is enough, and the change that needs to take place in the next generation depends on us.
Why do we need to teach tolerance?
The ability to love and accept others in spite of their differences is an attribute that will take your children very far in life. In today's society, the workplace is filled with people from many different backgrounds, cultures, races, and with many different values, traditions, and sexual orientations who all have something to contribute to society. Being able to accept, understand, and work with people from different walks of life opens up a world of endless possiblities. Tolerance is so important becuase your child's future success literally depends on it. You also want to teach tolerance to avoid the inevitable misconceptions and misunderstandings of differences. First of all...as you already know, I am a minitority female with two minority children, whose oldest son once asked me why Daddy's skin was darker than his and if he could erase it with his pencil, and why his buddy has two moms. It's never too early to sit your children down and teach them that people are all born differently--different colors, different types of hair, different voices, etc., and that we cannot change who we are, but we can accept each other and just love one another anyway. Children might begin to notice race or gravitate toward children who "look like them," and they might even begin to notice preference as they grow older, but this is where our lessons and modeled behavior about tolerance come into play.
Parents, please remember to mind your own attitudes, be mindful of the things you say and do, expose your children to cultural differences, and allow them to choose and read books that teach about all different kinds of people. Teach your children the importance of your own values and traditions, and teach them the importance of accepting differences and not accepting bad bahavior. Children learn by example, so BE THE EXAMPLE! Our little ones are depending on us.
In honor of the many lives take at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida June 12, 2016, I stand with you in solidarity. Know that you did not die in vain, and all lives of all people from all different walks of life MATTER.