There are so many things I want my raise my son to be. I want to raise a feminist and I want to raise a confident man and I want to raise a man who isn't bound by dangerous ideologies concerning masculinity and I want to raise a man who isn't afraid to express his emotions. Above all, my goal to raise a man who is tolerant, which means I am actively trying to do all the things parents who are raising tolerant kids, do.
I've had a leg-up on this particular parenting goal, given my mixed-race and my diverse neighborhood and the way I was raised as a child, which has molded me into an inclusive and accepting individual that not only acknowledges but celebrates those that live outside the boundaries our society has arbitrarily established. However, just because I have grown up in multiple cultures and have been surrounded by diverse people, doesn't mean I'm not constantly and continually evaluating my decisions (as a person and as a parent) and making sure that I am teaching a son who will be tolerant. I know what is at risk if I fail. I know that my son has many privileges (if he continues to identify as a man) and those privileges can end up hurting others if he takes advantage of them and/or believes that he is better than others, because of them.
So, with that in mind and in the hopes that raising a tolerant generation is the goal of every parent, here are 15 things parents who want to raise tolerant kids do. It takes work and it takes practice (like anything else associated with parenting) but it is a fight worth fighting. Each. And. Every. Day.
They Practice Tolerance Themselves
You can't raise tolerant children if you aren't tolerant yourself. I mean, it's that simple. If you aren't inclusive and understanding and if you don't try to accept people for exactly who and what they are, your children won't either. They learn from us, not because we tell them what to do, but because they're constantly observing us and mimicking us and using our actions and words as guidelines for how they should speak and act.
Listen To Marginalized Voices
In order to be tolerant of others, you must listen to others. You can't be tolerant of something you don't know, so in order to raise tolerant children, you (and your kids) need to learn that, sometimes (read: most of the time) being an ally means quieting your own voice so that marginalized voices can be heard. Sometimes (read: most of the time) it means drawing attention to voices that have been stifled.
Celebrate Diversity In The Home...
Teaching tolerance can be as easy as celebrating diversity. Whether it's highlighting and enjoying differences in people and cultures; Whether it's expanding your horizons; Whether it's simply raising your fist in a moment of triumph, like the legalization of same-sex marriage.
...By Introducing Their Kids To Diverse Books...
You can also introduce your children to a list of diverse books, that give them the opportunity to become familiar with people who are different than they are.
...And Diverse Movies...
And, of course, you can do the same with movies. Now that diversity and inclusion have essentially become social "buzzwords," media executives have become more comfortable diversifying casts. Of course, there is a long way to go, but you can make the choice to pick movies and/or television shows for your kid to enjoy, that highlight diversity.
...And Diverse Foods
Trying different foods (both in and outside of the home) is a great way to celebrate diversity and introduce your son or daughter to different cultures. I will never forget the moment I took my son to a butcher shop down the street from our new apartment in New York City, and picked out portions of a pig to make a Puerto Rican meal that many of my friends would have turned their noses at. I know that my son is learning that food primarily used in other cultures isn't "gross" or "disgusting," it's different and worth a try. Who knows, you may actually like it.
They Celebrate Different Cultures (Without Appropriating Them)
There is a big difference between celebrating and appreciating different cultures, and appropriating them. It's worth knowing that difference, and making sure you're not appropriating a culture you know nothing about and/or do not fight for.
They Don't Make Decisions Based On Stereotypes/Sexism/Social Expetations
A big part about raising tolerant children is breaking down the sexist, racist and/or gender stereotypes that breed intolerance. What so many people end up being intolerant about are what those people consider to be "different" or outside of the norms our society has arbitrarily considered "normal." (Because, honestly, what is normal?)
They Encourage Their Children To Learn For Themselves...
One of my first parenting decisions, before my son was even born, was deciding that I would always encourage him to find answers and research and make his own decisions. I would encourage him to ask questions and work his way through the answers until he reached his own conclusions, not conclusions that were formulated for him. I think when children are given the freedom to make their own decisions when it comes to people or the world at large, they gravitate to love and tolerance and acceptance and inclusion. Hate is learned.
...And Don't Raise Them To Believe Just One Ideology Or One "Thing"
Which is why I can't make the decision to indoctrinate my child into one specific way of thinking. Whether it's a specific religion, or just one, narrow-minded way in which to view the world, I cannot force my son to think one specific way by refusing to give him the option to expand his mind. I want him to try new things (whether it be different religions, different cultures, exploring his sexuality, etc) so that he can find his place in the world; a place that makes him feel supported and cared for and loved.
They Acknowledge The Privileges That They Have...
If you're going to raise tolerant children, you have to come to terms with the privilege you have, then make that privilege known to your children. Acknowledging privilege doesn't mean downplaying the difficulties you may or may not have experienced, or undermining the hard work you may or may not have done to get to the place you are in your life; it's about realizing that those difficulties could, still, be even more difficult for others who are discriminated against. It's about realizing that there are certain privileges that makes simply existing easier for some people, and not others.
...And Set Examples Of Using That Privilege To Benefit Others
Acknowledging privilege doesn't mean sitting and sulking and constantly apologizing for the deck of cards you were cosmically dealt. It means using that privilege to help marginalized, discriminated against and otherwise attacked people. You can set an example by donating money to meaningful organizations or volunteering in your community or donating clothes and toys during the holidays (or on any day).
They Remind Their Children That Differences Should Be Celebrated
It's great to remind your children that the world would be boring if we were all the same. In fact, it's very safe to assume that children wouldn't exist, if every single person on the planet were the same. Hell, we wouldn't exist. We need diversity in gender, in race, in sexuality, in everything, in order to maintain our humanity because, well, humanity has always been different.
Teach Their Children That They're Loved For Exactly Who They Are Or Choose To Be
I will never tell my son that there are certain milestones he has to hit or choices he has to make, in order to be unconditionally loved. I will love my son regardless of the gender he identifies with, the sex he decides he likes having, the person or people he ends up loving, the career he ends up choosing, if he wants to be married or not, and, well, the list goes on. Letting our children know that we love them, whoever "them" ends up being, will help them realize that they need to love others in the same way.
...And All People Are Worthy Of Unconditional Love
It's sad that such a simple concept has to be constantly re-established and regurgitated and re-taught, but it does and so, well, it should.