By Kiersten Tomson
I started this blog post differently a few weeks ago. It was supposed to focus on raising kids in this political environment, but then a few things happened: the massacre in
Vegas, Harvey Weinstein and #metoo, wildfires and hurricanes ravaging different corners of this country.
It made me realize, it’s not just about raising kids in this political environment, but it is about raising kids in this world.
Are we preparing them for the best? The worst? The pain and the rejection they will ultimately feel? Are we doing too much? Are we doing too little?
As in most cases, I turn to my tribe of mothers. Usually it is about potty training or sleep habits, but lately we’ve been discussing the bigger picture. How do we raise our children to be the best humans possible on this chaotic planet?
I reached out to three mothers who are all raising boys under the age of five.
They shield them from the harsh headlines and name-calling on the evening news, but they still are empowering them with knowledge to help them navigate life.
Here is a brief excerpt of our conversations:
Question: In today’s political environment, as a mom, what concerns you the most? What uplifts you the most?
My friend Katie: I have two top concerns. The first is the increasing sense that ideas that were previously accepted as facts are now up for grabs. The sense that there is no sure way to discern what is the truth. The “gas lighting” of our citizenry (to borrow a commonly used term these days), is extremely troublesome. Without an agreement on basic facts, we are moving into the future unmoored. People might disagree on how to best combat climate change, but denying it exists is an entirely different problem. My sons will grow up in a digital age with a gluttony of information, and they will need to be able to critically separate facts from opinion, top-notch reporting and propaganda, and the motivation behind any sources in the news and print media. This abundance of information can be as dangerous as it is empowering.
The second concern is the colossal lack of empathy we are seeing. I was taught from a young age to always think about what it would look like to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes; this is an essential lesson for navigating the world with empathy, and I think it’s severely lacking now.
What’s uplifting me the most is that I, personally, have never been more engaged in our political process. If there is a positive byproduct of our current climate, it’s that it’s inspired well-meaning and concerned individuals to step forward and become more active in our political process. Although very young, I have seen the impact of this engagement on my sons. My three-year-old helped me make signs for the Women’s March in D.C. and I could see him absorbing everything. He was impacted by the energy, the tone, and the excitement of watching his mother, aunt, grandmother and cousins prepare for the march.
Question: How are you navigating the tricky waters when it comes to raising a child among the ugly rhetoric and intolerance dividing our nation? What do you share with them?
My friend Heather: The grown-ups I see who are embracing the ugly rhetoric are the ones most fearful of people unlike them. They live in homogeneous environments and do not get exposed to people of different backgrounds. To combat this, I try to make sure my boys are exposed to as much diversity as possible. During Pride, I took my older son to drag queen story time at the public library, and we read books that include lots of different people in them. I try to get him to think about having empathy for people, and I make sure he respects everyone from his teachers to the bus driver to me (a mom can dream on the last one).
Above all, I want my sons to know how lucky they are to simply be born into a family with the means to send them to the best schools, spend stupid money on organic food from Whole Foods, and take them on fun vacations. So much of life's success depends on just that – luck. With this luck comes the duty to help the more vulnerable. Everyone's starting line in life is different; I want them to both recognize and appreciate that, and to rectify systemic injustices that prevent others from enjoying the same resources they do.
Question: They say it takes a village, so where do you turn?
My friend Meghan: I’m afraid of random riots breaking out, people dying over their beliefs, and lifelong friends being torn apart by one or both becoming so miserable over political differences. Seeing my son and his very diverse group of friends smiling and playing together every day without seeing color, gender, faith or political beliefs gives me hope in this young generation.
I've been a practicing Catholic my entire life and have raised Noah in the church as well. I'm fortunate enough to have found a great church in our town that focuses homilies on political and other difficult topics, as well as how to deal with these issues at home and with family and friends. Outside of the church, I have a professional mentor who is a mother of four. Over the last few years, she has been a wonderful resource – especially as a single mom, giving me advice on how to raise Noah when I seek it.
A big thanks to these ladies for speaking their truth on how to raise boys in today’s world. And as Katie added so eloquently, “To all the boy moms who are doing the important work of raising our next generation of men, it is not easy and we do worry about them – keep up the great work!”
Kiersten Tomson is a media relations strategist based in Chicago and a member of the Vision 2020 Communications Committee, a growing network of communications experts who are passionate about raising awareness on the importance of women’s equality. Follow her on Twitter at @KierstenTomson.