What I’m saying to my kids

My mom asked me the other day what I’ve said to my kids about the state of the world these days. It made me  pause, because I’m at a point in time where I don’t have to say anything. We don’t actually watch the news in our house, I turn down NPR when the kids are in the car, and the only TV we do watch are Netflix kid shows or silly YouTube videos. (Just so you know this is the kind of nonsense my kids have been watching lately.)

It’s different than the world I grew up in where even watching Punky Brewster, I ran the risk of seeing war, terrorism, and murder. Now even though in reality there is more media and more stimulation, my little family can be insulated from it. And while I appreciate that, I also feel like I am not living up to my responsibility as a parent to help my children react to and deal with the realities of human suffering and injustice.

For instance, we just celebrated Thanksgiving and each year I am more aware of the lies I was taught as a child about the way white settlers treated the Native people they encountered. It makes me want to simultaneously scream, “Everything is terrible!” and hold my children close and wonder at the beauty of a world that has them in it.

And so, I realize that I must talk with my children about the state of the world. Talk with them about the real history of Thanksgiving and a new way forward. Talk with them about our responsibility to stand up for refugees in need. Talk with them about striving for kindness and gratitude, and about forgiveness and accountability when we fail. Talk with them about flowers and small acts of rebellion in a world that seems filled with violence.

So here is what I commit to saying to my children. In the midst of the violence, know that I love you and that I want a just world for us all, so let’s try to bring about peace together.

“Mama, what’s a prostitute?”

Listening to the news while parenting is hard. (OK, let’s be honest, doing anything while parenting is hard!) Typically I avoid listening to the NPR headlines when my kids are in the car because I want to filter out the murder, mayhem, and messiness. For instance, when I realized they were about to talk about the secret service agents in Colombia, I looked 30 seconds into the future and decided I didn’t really want to answer the question, “Mama, what’s a prostitute?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having the tough conversations with my son, but how do you explain prostitution to a 5 year old? Not just the sex part, but the buying another person part. It’s more than a 5 year old needs to think about or worry about right now. (Actually, I don’t really want to think about that either.) It does make me wonder, what if I never had to explain prostitution at all? What if women weren’t treated as commodities to be bought and sold?

Ted Bunch recently asked a very important question: “What if instead of framing our work…as ‘ending violence against women’ we…had the goal of ‘valuing and respecting women and girls’?” Great question and I look forward to answering it alongside all of you. After all, if we valued and respected girls, I wouldn’t have to answer this question for my son and I could spend more time answering his other difficult questions like, “Mama, how do they get the juice in juiceboxes?” (Now you wanna know too? Look here.)

Rush – you’re really making my job as a mom hard!

Photo by Gage Skidmore

It’s 6:45 am and the morning hilarity is on. My back is to my teenage daughters as I scramble eggs, yell out reminders about packing up homework, and try to listen to the morning news on NPR. Wait a minute, what are they talking about? Who is a prostitute, who is a slut? My girls are both talking at once, reacting to a snippet of the morning news roundup. They want to know why Rush Limbaugh is apologizing for calling a college student names and wanting to watch her have sex. They’re confused. Isn’t contraception a good thing? Isn’t it smart to prevent a pregnancy that you’re not ready for?

Thanks Rush, really. I spend lots of time with my daughters trying to untangle the double messages they receive. Like, what is considered beautiful and sexy; when is having sex appropriate; who controls their body; and what is a healthy and respectful relationship. And now this.

If Sandra Fluke, a smart, thoughtful, law student advocating for women’s access to contraception is publically called hateful names historically used to silence women’s voices, what does it mean for my girls? What will they think about the next time they want to speak up for themselves? What will they think about the role of women in the public discourse? I don’t want them to believe or even think for a minute that because they are female their opinions, experiences, and actions are in any way diminished.

Come on, can’t we have a discussion about access to health care and contraception without vilifying women and girls’ choices? After all, last I heard, the use of Viagra was a legitimate medical option for people without ovaries.