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Are We There Yet?

Archive for May 2010

More conversations about race

One of the things that I love about the elementary school that my son attends is the diversity. As we checked out his kindergarten class photo this year, I was surprised – and also relieved – to see that one out of every four children in his class is a student of color. His school isn’t just racially diverse; every day he’s in the classroom with kids whose families speak other languages besides English and who come from all socio-economic backgrounds.

As a parent, this means a lot to me. Throughout all my years in school, including my years as a college undergraduate, I never had a teacher of color. Until recently, I never gave it a second thought, nor have I considered its implications. I was often the only student of color (or one of two or three) in predominantly white classrooms. We did have at least one thing in common: We were all comfortably middle-class. Fortunately, I often had teachers and professors who welcomed diversity and who did their best to be inclusive of all students, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or how much their parents made for a living.

I thought of the ethnic and socio-economic make-up of my son’s class while watching CNN’s special report, “Black or White: Kids on Race.” In the first report, a mom watches a video of her 5-year-old daughter who is asked to look at five cartoons of girls. They all look the same except the color of their skin.

When asked which girl was the smart child, the 5-year-old points to the light-skinned girl. The good child, she said, is also the white girl because “I think she looks like me.” From the girl’s perspective, the black child is the one who is mean and ugly because “she’s a lot darker.”

“Shocking to you?” CNN reporter Soledad O’Brien asked the child’s mom, who started to cry as she watched the video.

“I just think it’s because she’s not exposed,” said the mom, who lives in Georgia.

I felt so sad for this mom, but I bet she’s also grateful for such an eye-opening experience. According to CNN, white parents do not talk to their kids about race as much as black parents. The CNN report also quoted Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock, who noted that white parents “want to give their kids this sort of post-racial future when they’re very young and they’re under the wrong conclusion that their kids are colorblind. … It’s in the absence of messages of tolerance that they will naturally … develop these skin preferences.”

As a parent, I think we need to do more than just talk about race. I think our children need to be exposed to diversity as much as possible. But how do we do that? If I have to be honest with myself, our friends are just like us — families who are middle class and who often share the same values, experiences and even political preferences. That’s why I value the ethnic and socio-economic diversity of my son’s school — it’s a place to learn about life and the different people with whom we must coexist.

I know this is a hard topic to talk about, but what are your thoughts on all this? Does your family talk about race? How important is diversity when choosing a school or extracurricular program for your child?

Gearing up for summer

Brace yourselves, parents, grandparents and guardians. In roughly two weeks, your children will be out of school.

Are you ready for summer?

In the past, summer often caught us by surprise. We always had a list of things to do – from tending the vegetable garden, going camping, fixing up our century-old house, catching up with relatives and friends. But we often went about things in kind of a haphazard, last-minute way. I thought we were being spontaneous and carefree, but clearly, we suffered from procrastination and lack of organization.

 

For many families, summer often means precious time together. So to make the most of the vacation season, I’m beginning to think it pays to have some plans.

 

Here are some tips from several websites to help families stay organized while having fun:

 

-          Keep a family calendar posted in the kitchen or another high-traffic area to keep track of kids’ summer camps, activities and everyone’s schedules

-          Involve the whole family in making plans

-          Maintain a routine, even if it’s tempting to let the kids stay up late and sleep in

-          Have balls, bats and other sports gear ready in a convenient spot so that kids can easily head out the door to play

-          Pack a bag with snacks, water, sunscreen and other necessities so that you’re always ready to go for a hike, a bike ride or some kind of adventure

-          Collect rocks, shells and other items and get the craft supplies ready for rainy days

-          Make a list of all the activities and classes that you would like to do this summer – individually and also as a family

-          Make plans now with other families to go on a day or field trip, camping, share a meal and other activities instead of just talking about it all summer.

-          Create a “Fun Things to Do” jar by writing down activity ideas (ride the Carrousel downtown, go on a picnic, bake cookies, etc.) on pieces of paper and pulling one out each day or whenever someone gets bored

-          Make a list of all the books you and your children want to read this summer

 

What do you do to prepare your family for summer vacation?


Playing favorites and sibling rivalry

“I love you all equally.” At least, that’s what most parents tell their kids. But at some point in their life, children who have grown up with siblings will probably question whether or not that’s true.

As the black sheep in my family, I was definitely not the favorite. But now that I have children of my own, I really don’t want to create an environment in which my children feel like they have to compete for my time and affection.

It’s natural for mothers and fathers to have different relationships with each child, according to psychologists. But when a parent — especially the mother — prefers one child over the rest, it can be detrimental to the less-favored kids. It might even lead to low self-esteem and behavioral problems that affect them well into adulthood, acccording to this recent USA Today story, “Mom’s favoritism can affect kids, sibling rivalry as adults.”

 

The article noted that this was more often the case among American families since our culture is focused on the individual instead of being “communally oriented.” Favoritism also isn’t as prevalent in large families. Brenda O’Shea, a mother of 10 from Munster, Ind., told USA Today: “We try very consciously not to compare grades, abilities, talents, any of that sort of thing. We don’t encourage competition between the kids. We find they encourage each other.”

One way to prevent sibling rivalry is by explaining to children why some siblings might be treated differently and to talk to kids about their understanding of fairness, clinical psychologist Laurie Kramer of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggested in the article.

“Families don’t tend to talk about these issues. They don’t explain it and kids are left to their own imagination.”

Which then leads to: “I’m not as good as my sister,” or  “She likes my brother better than me.”

 

Another expert interviewed in the story also suggested that families need to mix it up a little bit so that one parent isn’t always with the same child.

What do you do at home to prevent sibling rivalry? Some children have more needs than others. It’s also natural to want to spend time with people who share your hobbies or whose temperament matches your own. So what do you do to show your children that you love them all equally?

Multigenerational households

During my childhood in the Philippines and then later in Seattle, I was lucky enough to live in the same house as other relatives. At one time or another, we had an aunt or uncle living with us. For a few years, we also lived in the same house as my grandparents. They helped my parents — who both worked full-time — by preparing meals and taking care of us. I have memories of my grandmother sewing the buttons and mending the hems of my school uniform. She was also constantly cooking in the kitchen and making sure all of us were well fed.

When I was in high school, I was a little embarrassed by the fact that we all lived together. I figured only recent immigrants like my family lived this way and that most Americans lived independently of their families and in-laws. Now that I have children of my own, I can fully understand the benefits of a multigenerational household.

According to this recent Parade Magazine story, “Happiness is a Full House,” more families are moving in together — for reasons that include love, convenience and the economy. The story uses statistics from a recent an AARP study: About 6.6 million U.S. households had at least three generations of family members in 2009 — an increase of 30 percent since the 2000 Census. Realtors are also recognizing a demand for homes that accommodate multiple generations.

The story also quotes Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. “Parents and grandparents are like the National Guard—they’re called up to active duty when there’s a crisis,” he says. “But while families may be moving in together to save money, they’re discovering the advantages of shared child- and elder-care and an enriched family life.”

I’m really interested in pursuing a local story about this. Do you have other family members living in your house? What’s the key to finding harmony in these extended-family living arrangements?

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This blog is intended to provide a forum for parents to share knowledge and resources. It's a place for parents young and old to combine their experiences raising families into a collective whole to help others.

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