Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

More violence. More racism. More hatred. Legalized discrimination.

That’s the world my children are inheriting.

Our oldest sons are insulated, for now. They are both special needs, living in carefully structured worlds that are safe for the moment but won’t be if this administration has its way and strips people (military vets like my oldest son, and mentally disabled kids like my middle son) of the few supports they have to help them survive. Our oldest daughter has her escape plan: she is married to a Brit, her kids will be dual citizens, and imperfect healthcare system or not, they’ll be choosing the country that had no school shootings since 1996 instead of the one that’s had more than 150 mass shootings in the first half of 2018.

Our 15-year old daughter and 18-year old son are another matter. Our daughter has another year of high school left – 180 days of Russian Roulette worrying that this time, the shooter will not be reported in time (we had three viable threats last year after Parkland; all three were reported to the district in time to thwart their attacks). My son is headed off to college, and the only thing that keeps me from going insane is that we live in New York, where gun violence is far less likely.

The likelihood of either of them being able to leave the country is low. So how do I tell them it’s going to be ok? How do I help them survive adulthood in a country that says

  • We don’t value you if you are female?
  • We don’t value you if you are LGBT?
  • We don’t value you if you are brown-skinned?
  • We don’t value you if you are progressive?
  • We don’t value you if you are not Christian?
  • We don’t value you?

Be Straight with Them

We talk to our kids about everything. And we let them have their own opinions. They don’t always agree with us, and that’s ok. Part of what we want to do is empower them to think for themselves and question everyone – even us – so that they don’t just blindly follow any leader. We also remind them that even though we are always inundated with news of atrocities, that it’s technology that has changed, not human behavior. We just know every little thing that happens now because it’s all caught on someone’s cell phone video. It’s ok to step away from it. And we teach them to take action about the things that matter most. If our daughter had her way, we would be in DC tomorrow marching to keep families together.

Put them in Control

Their lives, their bodies, their minds are theirs to control, not ours. By teaching them to respect themselves, they learn to respect others, too. Sure, we’re there to provide guidance and support, to set boundaries, and to help them learn doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be independent from us. We’re not raising mini-mes. We’re raising unique individuals with passions and powers of their own.¬†Our kids are independent human beings with their own ideas, motivations, and goals that evolve over time. Our role as parents is not to force them down the path we envision but to help them open the doors on the paths they choose.

Introduce them to Other Cultures

We have traveled extensively with our kids inside and outside of this country. We’ve lived in four different states with them. They’ve been exposed to different languages, foods, cultures, and customs from a very early age. We’ve raising them to see that they are part of a global community more than part of territory defined by imaginary lines drawn on a map. We have helped them develop empathy for people who aren’t in the same privileged position they are in. They know that any success they achieve happens not only because of their own hard work but about how they have been supported and cheered along, and we’ve taught them to pay it forward and help others.

Love Is a Superpower

No matter what is going wrong in the world, there is more going right. We encourage our kids to lift people up, to give from their hearts, to bring more love into a world that seems filled with hate. We encourage them to try to understand why and how people are who they are. We encourage empathy and tolerance and kindness. But we counter that with empowerment: Stand up to the bullies. Speak up if something is wrong. Speak out against injustice. Be a light in the world, but be unwavering.

I don’t like where are country is today. Three years ago, we were celebrating legalized gay marriage in all 50 states and the final demise of the threat to the Affordable Care Act, which brought health care and health coverage to so many more people in need. Now, fueled by hatred, bigotry, and a lack of respect, the current administration is trying to undo every bit of progress this country has made toward being a beacon of light in the dark. It’s not a good place we are in, but the future will be brighter because our kids won’t have it any other way.