Poverty: 3-5 Minute Child Chats about Social Justice

20170820_111007.jpgParents and guardians should be brave and create space for conversations with their children about the important topics of our society. We can no longer live in silos nor can we live in silence.

Last month I wrote that I would be sharing ways in which I have conversations with our 7-year-old son about topics related to social justice (and equity, acceptance, helping others, advocacy, etc.). My 1st disclaimer is that we live in a multicultural city in a neighborhood that is multiethnic and multi-income. We have many opportunities for us to engage with our community and have experiences that lend themselves well to discussing social justice. We also travel by car to other states and ask him to observe and ask questions. I am, after all, a social worker with a sociological imagination! My 2nd disclaimer is that we have enough resources to do what we need to do in life and a little bit more. Finally, my 3rd disclaimer is that our son is naturally curious and asks many questions, so it makes these conversations easier to initiate, but him being 7, the conversations end quickly because his attention span is short!

It is difficult for many children to understand poverty. Many parents & guardians do not discuss money with their children. So understanding that not having enough resources is connected to so many institutional and societal factors is complicated. To just say “Well…their parents do not have a job…” is such an insufficient explanation. Such a complicated issue (and the same goes for racism, sexism, disability, homophobia, etc., etc., etc.) require exposure that is consistent and wrapped in age-appropriate conversations that earnestly display your values of equity and justice.

So here are some examples of what we have done so far. What we do is very simple and we hope that as he gets older our experiences and conversations will become more complex and meaningful. I welcome your experiences and questions:

  1. We start with us & him and our & his money:
    1. We tell him how much he has, how much grandpa sent him, etc. We tell him that he has to save, give, and then he can spend a small portion of it.
    2. When it comes to giving, we make suggestions and then let him choose. We do not give online because we want him to have the experience of going somewhere to make the donation in person. It is usually at church, but he has also chosen to give to someone standing on the street corner or give to a jar at the store counter.
      1. “We believe that helping others is important.” “What do you think?” “Do you like it when someone helps you? Do you have an example of a time someone helped you?” “Why is it important to you?” “How do you feel when you help someone else?”
    3. When it comes to spending, we have taught him how to read prices. We talk about not buying more than what you need. We use the word greed (Eric Carle’s Greedy Python can be used in many ways!)
  2. We have served meals through a program that operates out of our church for people with not enough resources. We have done this on a weekend and on Thanksgiving (not as consistently as I would like). We tell our son what we are going to do and explain to him who comes to eat a meal
    1. “Do you know what we are going to do today?” “Do you know why we are going?” “What questions do you have?”
  3. We donate books, clothing, toys, etc. to a local organization and to the school when they collect coats, toys, etc.
    1. “Let’s look at what you have…what can we share with someone who doesn’t have any of this or enough of any of this?” “Can you imagine not having coat/gloves in winter?” “How do you think the child who gets this coat will feel?”
  4. We have conversations about the people we see on the streets holding signs.
    1. He has initiated these conversations. He asks why people stand on the street with signs asking for money. Our responses have varied, but the answer to his questions usually starts something like: “Sometimes people are unable to work and if you are unable to work you probably do not have enough money to pay rent or buy groceries.”  “Sometimes people cannot work because they are disabled…”
  5. Finally, we admit our privilege. We cannot have an honest chat about poverty if we do not talk about our own privilege. It is often uncomfortable, but it is part of what needs to happen.

Remember: 

  1. Keep it simple and short.
  2. Use words, language, and experiences you know your child can understand and handle. Try to relate it back to what they may already know (being helpful, being kind, being fair). AND use a book (some suggestions below).
  3. Do not overwhelm them by trying to do too much or have too many experiences in a short period.
  4. Do not force it. It should happen with the natural context of what you already do. The New Year is a good time to start new habits of justice.
  5. Be consistent and nurture their curiosity and their desire to engage in acts of social justice.

Children’s books related to this topic:

  1. Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt
  2. The family under the bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson
  3. Poverty and Hunger by Hanane Kai
  4. On our street: Our first talk about poverty by Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap
  5. Everybody can help somebody by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

 

 

 

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Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Social Responsibility

familyOur Pastor has been preaching on the “Great Ends of the Church.”  I am embarrassed to say that I missed what all the great ends are.  Last week’s sermon (which was awesome) was about telling our truth. We had a great Black History Month litany honoring truth tellers in a variety of fields (art, music, science, education, etc.).  This week Pastor Heather is leading a group in Israel so Rev. Cindy came to preach. I LOVE Cindy, really I do. You know you meet someone and you instantly feel like “I could hang out with her often.” Yep. That’s how I feel about Rev. Cindy Kohlman.  Today she ROCKED the message on Justice and Social Responsibility.  As a social worker I was “Yea. Right on! We are about justice and helping others, and spreading the good news, and social responsibility.”

I wish the sermon had been tapped so y’all could see because I am not able to do her justice! She asked if some folks were uncomfortable. I ask this in my diversity courses all the time, with the premise that my space is safe and there will be discomfort because diversity…justice…social responsibility is challenging, controversial to some, and uncomfortable to many. The question for today’s sermon was “What Shall We (You) Do?” Justice and Social Responsibility is ACTIVE work! (Ephesians 4:25-29, 5:8-7 and Luke 3:1-14).

Our son, who has no enemy that he knows of and everyone he meets is a friend knows how worldto do justice and social responsibility in a very nice 5 year old way.

  1. On the playground or in a play setting he may notice that a child is different in some way and that does not stop him form playing with that child or inviting that child to play if the child was not already playing.
  2. Three times now at school I have received an email from his teacher saying that our son shared his costume with someone who forgot to wear their costume for that day (Whakcy Dr. Seuss Wednesday, or some other day…)
  3. Whenever we go out – to a friend’s house, to church, to a meeting, wherever…he insists that I pack enough snacks for him to be able to share with others. Sometimes he doesn’t get a snack he’s so busy sharing!
  4. While he likes to consider himself a BIG boy at age 5 and tends to gravitate to the older children (ages 10 and up), he always first looks out for those younger than him – giving them his toys to play with, a snack, a hug, before running off to be a big boy!
  5. When he is tired of a book or toy he always says “Mommy, you should give this to so-and-so.” We then discuss making a bag of toys and clothes to give away either to friend or to an organization.

His heart is so BIG and sensitive.  I am heartened that even though he has faced not being included because of his age or gender or race, he still takes the time to make sure to include and give to others.  (He by the way is often oblivious to being excluded…that’s a blog for another time). The scripture that come to mind is Matthew 25:45 “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.

We, of course have done some prompting on giving, being generous, being aware of others and their situation. But our son has done a lot of 5 year old social responsibility work on his own.  Our job now is to continue to nurture that and make sure he continues to become more aware, ask bigger questions, and continue to actively work for justice. Because even those who have been oppressed or fee vulnerable or discriminated against have MUCH to give!

If your child has the tendency to ask questions, be generous, include others, give of him or herself – ENCOURAGE it and engage him or her in age appropriate discussions about justice and social responsibility.  One of the things I see missing in the larger society is justice being enacted across cultures, ethnicities, ages, genders, religions, political affiliations, religions – it’s OUR world and we ALL have a responsibility to do GOOD and RIGHT!

 

Thoughtful Tuesday

familyOur son was not yet 2 years old when Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Florida. That night we held him tightly and I prayed that I would find the words as he grew up to talk to him about vulnerability, oppression, being a person of color, racism. My parents who were born in the south but grew up in the North and the West did a poor job of preparing me for the harsh realities of the isms. I was sheltered and protected. I believe my parents thought that because we moved out of Inglewood into Pasadena, enrolled me in private schools, exposed me to those upper-class activities that they did not participate in, I would be spared or safe from racism, sexism, etc. Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People wrote a column about how privileged status does not protect our children from being called a N—- https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Since February 2012, so may incidents of racial injustice and violence have occurred that I have honestly lost track. All I know is that I am trying to remain calm, not panic, and talk to our son in ways that make sense. My husband and I have different approaches, which is o.k. I think. There are different ways to expose our children, talk to them, and prepare them as best we can for their futures. Our differing approaches collided when our nephew was elected president of his high school student body and social media erupted in racial slurs and threats of death. For the first time since our son had been born I was called to action. I participated in a rally, but our son did not go. Our nephew was on the front page of the paper and on the nightly local news almost daily. Our son is learning to read and pictures speak volumes. I felt we could not hide or sugar-coat the truth. We have responded simply or used religion or sports analogies to help.

The simplest response possible: “He won and some people were not happy, they are sore losers, and they said mean things.” And our son would say “Are they going to get in trouble? Did they apologize?” The truth was that no, those kids did not truly get into trouble and we were not sure they had apologized. So another type of conversation was had. We turned to religion: “Sometimes people do or say mean things and they do not apologize. God knows our hearts and will always protect us.” God is still a vague being/concept to our son, but he kind of got it.  IN other situations, we have turned to sports (his favorite activity): “You know how in a game there is a referee that monitors the players and when a player creates a super bad foul the player gets kicked out of the game and then later he has to pay a fee?” “Yes.” “In life there are referees who patrol our world and kick people out and make them pay fees.”

But then the news images of police, protestors, shot boys that look like him become too much to ignore. Even if we were not watching the news in his presence, he sees the front page of the newspaper as we bring it into the house, the news has a preview on t.v. as we are turning to his kid’s channel, our gatherings are a mix of adults and children and he over-hears our conversations. We cannot and will not live in a bubble under the guise of shielding him. So the real challenge is how to navigate this harsh reality without burdening his 5 year old mind, soul, and heart.

He is obsessed with playing “jail.” He also loves soccer, football, play dough, and coloring. But inevitably whatever he is building with Legos turns into a jail. His soccer players end up in jail because they cause d a foul or his play dough creation is a jail. Even his beloved TMNT are in jail! My social worker antenna is buzzing!!!! So I ask “Why is everyone always in jail?” “Because they’re bad.” “What did they do?” “They were fighting.” “Oh” I say weakly, wondering if I should continue the questioning, which I do not but instead say “I think you’ve played jail long enough, let’s read….”

Our son is very intuitive, he is smart and savvy. He listens to everything people say. He is not naïve. At the same time, we do not want to give him more information than he needs at this age. We also do not want him to be shocked (which he will be) when a classmate or a classmate’s parent says something racially cruel or he doesn’t get invited to the party because the parent doesn’t like black people, etc., etc. I also do not want to be a helicopter parent, but I can easily see how trying to protect your child from injustice based on his race or biological sex or religion or ability…could lead a parent to helicopter…patrolling the books in the library, the holidays celebrated at school, etc.

I am too often overwhelmed by that state of our country and our world. I feel paralyzed and fearful. Then I remember that I need to model what our son should be (my husband does too) and I just make sure our son hears and sees me engaged in social justice. I also remember that I have gotten through it with minimal protection and I have grown stronger, more passionate, braver.

I also just hope and pray that there are parents of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and orientation out there who are just as concerned as I am and are having age-appropriate conversations with their children about the same issues and about how to be an ally. I just hope and pray that there is better police academy screening and training. I just hope that the post-modernists, whom I do not always understand or agree with, are right and we reach a post-label-identity society…where we are all equal and treated as such.

Do you talk to your child about difference? Vulnerablitiy? Racism? Sexism? Current events? How do you do it?

Some of my favorite articles on related topics:

  1. To The White Parent of My Black Son’s Friends – http://www.amusingmaralee.com/2015/12/to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/#sthash.mZuLFa7R.dpuf
  2. Respect what black America is feeling – http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/
  3. Five recovery steps from a form helicopter parent http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/01/05/overparenting-5-recovery-steps-from-a-former-stanford-dean/
  4. What it’s like to be the only black kid in class http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-the-only-black-kid-in-class_568a847be4b014efe0dae77d

 

Food and Pre-Schoolers: Parenting Woes

IMG_20150705_141618I think I have posted about our son and his food choices before. When we’re up against a wall and think he’s food deprived (is that really possible) we let him eat Wendy’s kid’s meal because he’s usually always eat chicken nuggets. But we know that is NOT a good choice every day or for the long-term pre-school/kindergarten years.  This, at left is his typical meal. Not too bad really…

Fruit and processed turkey! It’s either this, rice with mixed veggies but only Uncle Ben’s NOT usually West African jolof rice, or pasta with butter sauce. He’s entering pre-K in the fall and I want him to start eating breakfast in the mornings at home because his new school will not serve breakfast, he’ll need to eat at home. So I’m contemplating cereal (which is usually eats just fine) and oatmeal (which he has yet to try).  My real wish is that he eat the food we eat so that I cook one meal (like normal families right? LOL). I’ve read LOTS of blogs and consulted with all my friends on the eating issue.  I understand it is a phase and that eventually (I have teenage nephews as proof) he will eat and eat a lot!

I think we should have started earlier introducing some of our ethnic foods to him , but we are without parents and our in-laws helped as they could but no one thoughtfully guided us in feeding him and introducing foods. I have realized that it takes a village and lots of time and patience and we got on that boat late (we do other things quite well for advanced-age parents)! Specifically, we’d like to introduce more green things such as okra and spinach which we and our friends and family cook and eat often….I’m not going to push the meat and chicken, but would like an alternative such as beans.

Aside from my concern for his nutrition intake, I’d like to make sure he embraces his cultures through food – an important form of socialization right?

Any other parent out there have tips on introducing new foods? I’m interested in all suggestions but am particularly interested in parents: (a) who have recently introduced green veggies and (b) with specific ethnic traditions and foods and how you introduced those foods?

okrabeansspinachtomatoes

 

If not for my son

A simple reflection

if not for my son I’d have less awareness of my body & the beauty of being a woman

if not for my son I would not have explored my community and all it has to offer

if not for my son I’d have less to little appreciation for the outdoors (snow included)

if not for my son “self-care” would be an empty mantra

if nother for my son I’d have less meaningful friendships

if not for my son….I cannot imagine…

Updating My Summer List of Fun

Inspired by a blogger who just started following me (always nice), I thought I’d post an update on my Taking Time off List:

  1. I have had the opportunity to sleep in only once. In fact, the toddler has had insomnia most of the summer and wakes up frequently during the night AND then has the audacity to wake up on time in the morning! Oh well…
  2. We have been eating lots of ice cream and Popsicles and taking walks by the Merrimack River AND playing in the park and at the playground often!
  3. We have not yet made it to the farms, but I’m hoping we’ll go later this month OR that while we’re in Atlanta we’ll get to the aquarium.
  4. No public spray parks, but plenty of time in the kiddie pool with friends!
  5. LOTS of mommy-time with friends and then plenty of mommy and kids time with friends also.
  6. Train ride on hold until October…
  7. WGBH Fun Fest and Lowell Folk Fest were a HUGE hit with the toddler. Now he thinks every weekend is a festival!
  8. Have yet to go see the ducks in Boston…
  9. Read a couple of new books with the toddler (no new books for mom or dad) and have piles of stuff to make our summer book…just piles right now…
  10. Sister will not be able to visit cuz like me, she’s sandwiched and taking care of grandma…but she is going to send me some tamales, which is a good 2nd place replacement.
  11. Unplanned:  Heading to Atlanta to check in on ailing mom, which is an adventure for the toddler to be on the plane and an opportunity for us to share that experience with him and for him to see grandpa whom he LOVES and granny who he thinks is his peer!
  12. Not necessarily fun but necessary: Potty-training…anyone have good tips?

Sandiwhced

(you know things are rough when you can come up with 2 “poems” in 24 hours):

Image

In between a 2 year and a 73 year old

A husband

A job

Friends

 

 

The lonely only

Attempting to care-take

Miles away from one

Too close to the other

 

Focus is blurry

Concentration gone

Priorities scattered

Rationality and sanity illusive

 

Love for both & all

Want to heal the sick

Comfort the sadness

Make it all go away

 

Praying

PacingImage

Praying

Crying

Praying