The Conversation You Need to Have With Your Children Right Now

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ABC’s Hit Show Blackish Tackles Police Brutality

Today our screens overflow with chaos and hate. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed and hopeless. Now more than ever, we need to teach our children about love, unity, compassion, connection, and peace. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the importance of cultivating social connection in children through altruism. We know that we are born into relationship and belonging to a group and forming relationships is as important to our survival as the need for food, shelter and safety. We need each other to survive as a species.

My father is from Iran. He moved to America as a young adult and changed his name from Reza to Matt. Although it was never discussed, I was very aware of the Islamophobia my father faced. My mother was a Louisiana Creole/African American (this is the description her sisters use), although on her birth certificate it read ‘Negro’. She passed away in October 1980 when I was just a six-month-old infant.

My mother was killed in a car accident on her way home from the supermarket by an eighteen-year-old white male, who was driving under the influence of alcohol. This man went to trial with an all white jury and walked away with no jail time. None. My mother’s sisters tell me that at the scene of her accident, a white male drove past my grandfather and yelled out of his window, “Get out of the road, Nigger!” My uncle Curtis Graves served for six years as the first African-American Representative in the Texas State Legislature since the 1870’s. He was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Most people who know me probably don’t know about this. The reason is because I’ve always been afraid to speak up on racism issues. Afraid I would offend African-Americans because I am not dark skinned and therefore, who am I to talk about these issues? Afraid I would offend the Muslim community because I’m not Muslim. My mother was a devout Roman Catholic, therefore my father converted, which was unheard of at that time, so I was raised catholic. Who am I to talk about Islamophobia if I am not a Muslim myself? But today I’ve decided I won’t let fear hold me back. As Amiyrah Martin says, ‘Your silence is killing us.’

We need to teach children to see humanity as one and not of separation. If we want things to be different for the next generation we need to start having these difficult discussions in our homes with our children. And it’s not going to be a one of conversation. It’s going to require ongoing effort.

As I’m currently living in London, I’ve had to recently explain to my children about Brexit. There’s been a rise in acts of hate and racism in the UK from the result of the EU Referendum and I thought it was important not to shield my children from what was happening.

Most of the issues we are seeing in the world right now stem from one thing: separation. We are living in a society based on the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ and here in lies the problem. Parents, let’s take the time and sit down with our children to teach them about who we are. Don’t tell them not to ‘see’ people’s colour or differences. We don’t need to erase our diversity. Instead, teach them to value and appreciate our differences. There’s a story behind every culture, every religion, every human being. Teach them to honour and respect these stories. And most importantly, teach them that who we truly are is what’s inside of us. What’s inside of us is the same. We are all connected.

As Albert Einstein says, “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

Until we start seeing each other for what we truly are, nothing is going to change. There has been deep trauma in our history. We are all involved. In order to free ourselves from the pain and suffering of separation we have to get close. We have to involve our families. We have to teach children to love themselves and each other so we can open our eyes and our hearts to make a better world.

Why Wait for a New Year for a New You

New Year
New Year

One of the most difficult challenges a person can encounter is change.  As each new year approaches people make many promises with the hope of making their lives better.  Whether this is career related, family related, or self related.  “This year I will go for that job I have been wanting”, or “This year I will not get angry when my brother visits and takes over the television”, or how about this one for size “This year I will take better care of myself”.   Now, let’s look at what happens.

A month or so into the new year those promises seem to disintegrate.  Is there something wrong with the promise?  Are you incapable of keeping promises?  Is the promise unattainable?  The answer to these questions is no.  It’s not the promise that prevents us, rather it’s the change that needs to occur within us that interferes with our desire to keep our promise. As helping professionals, don’t we strive to empower individuals to change maladaptive behaviors?  Don’t we support individuals in viewing events from a different perspective? Don’t we rely on the stages of recovery and the changes that move a person from one stage to the next?  Change is the obstacle.  The promise is the goal.  Now, we need to move through the cycle in order to change the very things that are preventing us from fulfilling those promises.

In order to take better care of yourself, you need to look at what behaviors you are engaging in now that prevents you from taking care of yourself. Change is hard and intimidating. Change ushers in the unknown, but change is possible.  This year as you reflect on the ways you took care of yourself, there are questions you may want to ask.  Do I take the time to enjoy social activities?  Do I take the opportunity to treat myself to at least one thing for myself each day?  Do I care enough about myself to allow myself to do nothing if I feel like it?  Why are these questions important when seeking how to take care of yourself?  Firstly, if you don’t take care of yourself who will?  Secondly, if you don’t look at ways to take care of yourself, how can you teach others to take care of themselves?

There are differences in all individuals.  As nurturers, we respect this and appreciate the diversity of all, but a common theme we all share regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, regional location, occupation is the need to engage in self-care.  What better way to help others transform than to practice it ourselves. Helping others can be challenging which may require holding a lot on our plates.  Imagine the old vaudeville performer who ran from stick to stick, turning and balancing the plates on top less they would come cascading down and break. Does this sound familiar to you?  If it does, than you will understand that the new year not only offers you the challenge of taking care of yourself, but presents the opportunity to help others learn how to take care of themselves as well.

Before change can occur, even before we can move through the stages of change, we must make a promise to change.  If we are to be agents of change, than we ourselves need to experience all there is to feel about the change process.  When we can do that, we not only model it for others, but truly believe that change is possible. Why wait for a new year, let’s start now!

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