While pregnant with my first child, I would often imagine how I was going to handle the many parenting situations that were going to arise over the course of the next twenty plus years. I read every parenting book I could get my hands on, and have prided myself on being ready for whatever situation may arise. I am well versed on how to teach my children the values of playing well with others, displaying good manners, and giving to those in need. I am ready to tackle the trials and tribulations of puberty and have braced myself for being considered “the worst Mom ever!”. While other parents cringe at the thought of having the dreaded sex talk, I say bring it on. But there is one subject they don’t cover in the parenting books and that, in all my planning and research, it never occurred to me would ever need to be dealt with in our household, until the day it was placed front and center by words spoken by my six year old daughter.
My sweet red-haired, blue eyed 1st grader has always been friendly and outgoing, the literal life of the party. Every new playmate she meets becomes her new best friend, if only for the day. So the morning I was pulled aside by her teacher and told that my little angel had told another little girl that she couldn’t play with her because she “isn’t supposed to play with brown kids”, was a punch in the gut, to say the least. Mortified doesn’t seem like a strong enough word to describe the way I felt hearing that those words had passed through my sweet and innocent child’s lips. When questioned about who had told her such a thing, she named an extended relative whom she loves, admires, and spends a lot of time with, we’ll call her Ms. X.
I left the school with tears in my eyes and a heavy weight in my heart. I was angry with Ms. X, how dare she tell my daughter something like that. I pictured an evil worm wriggling its way into my daughter’s brain, an evil worm put there by Ms. X. She had introduced my daughter to the fact that there were bad things in the world, something of which she was before unaware. She had, in essence, stripped a part of her innocence away and I struggled with how I was going to put it back. I spent the entire day thinking about how to handle the situation and what to say to my daughter to dispel any warped beliefs she may have. But then I realized that those weren’t my daughter’s words, they were Ms. X’s words. I don’t need to worry about teaching my child about equality, kindness, and respect because I have already done that. The talk about why what she said was wrong would be the easy part. It would be explaining to her why someone whom she adores and idolizes would tell her something that is so very wrong that would be the hard part. I can remember when, hovering between adolescence and adulthood, I began to see the adults in my life less as the idols I had put on a pedestal and more as how they really were, and the bone crushing disappointment that came with the realization that someone wasn’t who I had always held them up to be. The thought of my daughter experiencing that feeling at the tender age of six was heartbreaking.
So how do you explain to a six year old that grown-ups, even the ones that she admires and idolizes the most, are just people and therefore fallible and can be wrong? How do you instill in her that she always holds to her values and does what she knows in her heart is right, even when someone that she sees as an authority figure tries to tell her otherwise? I have no idea, but I’m going to give it my best shot.
Perhaps, instead of simply being careful about what we say around children, we should strive to actually become the people that the children in our life uphold us to be. It may seem like an impossible standard to achieve, but surely no harm could come from trying.