The world is changing (thankfully) and parents are trying to raise kids who can function in it and benefit from it. Actually, not just function, but thrive. Moms who want their children to be able to respectfully and lovingly navigate an increasingly diverse society have their work cut out for them. There's a good deal of education that needs to take place at home. However, there are also a lot of things moms who are raising tolerant kids just don't worry about.
As a bilingual, multiracial, feminist, LGBT ally; cultivating a generation that is compassionate and accepting is a priority for me. When I taught elementary school, I focused a great deal of energy on preventing bias-based bullying, exposing students to diverse perspectives, and speaking the absolute truth about historical events like the Holocaust and slavery and Thanksgiving. Now that I'm a mom, this work has taken on even more significance. I want my daughter to grow up in a world where she is free to be her authentic self, and I want her to be the kind of person who celebrates difference instead of fears it.
So how do inclusive, progressive moms do it? They take a heaping batch of modeling desired behavior, mix it with a lot of honest conversation, and top it off with a healthy dose of IDGAF. They have to ignore the haters, but they know that bringing up a little person who is not just a decent human being but a caring, compassionate individual is worth it.
Questions About Race
I get it. It's embarrassing when your kid points out a stranger's race, especially when they're within earshot. Moms who are raising tolerant kids resist the urge to shush them because they know that silence breeds prejudice. Pretending to be colorblind (or trying to get children to be) isn't doing anyone any favors. Children (adults too, for that matter) are biologically programmed to see difference and that's a good thing. When we feign colorblindness, we deny part of a person's identity.
So how do progressive parents respond instead? Parents who want to nurture tolerance in their children engage them in conversation and answer in an age-appropriate and matter-of-fact way. So, if a kid makes a comment about someone's "dirty skin," Mom replies, "Her skin is just as clean as yours. It's just a different color." She proceeds to explain that skin comes in all different shades (and isn't that just the coolest thing ever?!).
When my sister was little, she saw a Black man on the bus and asked my mom, "What color do you think his penis is?" Mom gamely replied, "The same color as the rest of him." I'm pretty sure that's as mortifying as any potential situation gets. If my mom can handle it, the rest of us have no excuse.
Questions About Gender
As children encounter people who are transgender, genderfluid, agender, or any number of gender identities beyond male and female, they're going to be curious. Although it may make parents cringe when their kid asks a stranger, "Are you a boy or a girl?" it's an OK conversation to have.
A transgender waitress in Minneapolis responded to a child's question by explaining that she was a boy when she was little and lives as a girl as an adult. It's as simple as that. The most important messages here are that everyone gets to be who they are on the inside and, of course, that what's truly important is being a good person.
There's no such thing as a "normal" family composition, and progressive moms embrace this undeniable fact for their own families as well as the families of others. Families can be made up of a mom and dad, single parents, same-sex parents, extended family, step-family, adoptive parents, foster parents; pretty much every iteration you can think of.
Moms raising compassionate kids know that there's only one element required in defining a family: love. Commitment and responsibility make a marriage, and love makes a family.
Moms raising open-minded kids serve up cinnamon rolls, not gender roles. The damsel in distress narrative is oh-so-passe. I mean, I've killed a tarantula. For real.
When it comes to household tasks, mom and dad don't "stay in their lanes" because there are no lanes. They honestly don't exist. Everybody does what they're good at. Maybe that means that dads French braid their daughter's hair and moms change the oil, or perhaps they take turns. Kids' chores aren't assigned based on traditional gender norms. Everyone can benefit from learning to cook and mow the lawn.
What Their Kids Read
Moms who want to foster empathy in their children expose them to a variety of perspectives via quality children's literature.
You won't see a bookshelf full of stories about boys and dogs. A good collection of children's books provides both windows into the lives of those who are different and mirrors that reflect that child's reality. Parents raising tolerant kids don't subscribe to books that are marketed specifically to one gender. They let books be books.
What Their Kids Play With
That's right, folks. Playing with a doll will probably make your son a great father. Turns out toys don't have a gender. Target recently figured it out, so the rest of us should be able to. Parents raising free-thinkers don't give a second thought to what toys their kids pick up. They're letting them explore their interests, which is what they're supposed to do as kids. They also don't stress about dressing up. Girls can pretend to be superheroes, and boys can be princesses. Y'all, even Elmo knows this sh*t.
Who Their Kids Play With
It's less important that kids are part of the popular group and more important that they play with the lonely kid. If it's compassion we're trying to teach, parents need to let children select their own friends, even if they don't meet their expectations about what a friend should be. Ambivalence is actually beneficial. When moms project a preference for certain friends, it can be reflective of their own biases, and passing those on is something that should be avoided.
However, parents who want children to embrace diversity do encourage their kids' cross-racial friendships, which have been shown to improve school motivation as well as reduce prejudice.
What Their Kids Wear
It's easy enough to dress your infant in gender neutral clothing, but it can get trickier as kids get older. Gender inclusive parenting means listening to your child and allowing them to dress in a way that reflects who they are on the inside.
It can be tough when your son wants to wear a dress or your daughter refuses said dress (you worry about teasing), but don't be afraid to cross the aisle in the department style. Moms know that kids are happiest when they are free to express who they are, and outward appearance (and more broadly, gender expression) is a huge part of that.
First of all, f*ck labels. Moms of badass daughters don't worry about them being called "tomboys." If they're into football or gaming or martial arts, more power to them. It doesn't make them less of a woman. These mamas know that doing something "like a girl" means with bravery and competence.
Seriously. F*ck labels. Boys shouldn't have to deal with being called "mama's boys" simply for expressing their feelings. It's good for them to cry. Emotionally-stunted boys can grow up to be men with depression and violent tendencies. That's bad for everyone. Progressive moms of boys encourage them to communicate and to get involved in music, drama, dance, or whatever else piques their interest.
What Other People Think
Not everyone is going to agree with your parenting decisions. That is probably abundantly clear if you've made a choice about anything (breastfeeding, co-sleeping, attachment parenting, etc.) as a mom.
When you're raising tolerant kids, you need to be prepared for obnoxious commentary from whoever-the-hell. "You're going to let your son take sewing class?" "I'd never let my daughter out of the house in that." "Who's the real mom in your family?" It's snarky, so rise above it. Because you are raising an awesome little human who loves others and will never say something like that. The world thanks you.