Written by Renee Martin; Originally published at Womanist Musings
Every time I write about my kids, a few people will show up to tell me that I am reading too much into things, or that I am destroying their childhood. They tell me that childhood is a time of innocence, and that kids shouldn’t be burdened by having to think about social justice issues. The problem with this approach is that childhood is not nearly as innocent as we have constructed it to be. From the moment a newborn babe opens their eyes, they are sent various messages, which tell them where they rank on the scale of social hierarchy, and who they are to actively oppress. Because we are immersed in this culture, it appears naturally occurring, rather than the systematic effort to dismantle innocence that it is.
Some have repeatedly told me that the project to raise critical children is in and of itself another form of indoctrination, and to some degree they have a point. There is however a line between telling your children your moral positions, and asking them what they think and why. Asking why, is one of the greatest tools a parent possesses, because it causes the child to interrogate the world around them, and when we consider that so much time is invested into teaching them to be automatons, this is a revolutionary act.
Why encourages them to engage with ideas and to decide for themselves if they are being sold a line of nonsense. There should be nothing in their childhood that is above question, with the exception of rules for the purposes of safety and health. Many parents see questions as threats to their authority, when what it really is, is a desire to understand the way the world is ordered. Sometimes the questions will be painful because to answer, because a parent must confront their own unacknowledged privilege. The temptation to say, you’ll understand when you are older is great, because it gives us an easy exist from a subject matter that makes us uncomfortable. I have learned however, that with patience and speaking at their age level, there is little that they do not understand.
I talk to my kids about social justice issues because I love them, and because I view it as my responsibility as their mother to help them see the world as it really is, rather than the utopian post racial, post feminist, post sexuality, post gender identity universe that we are told that we live in.
When we talk about the rights of a child, much of the conversation centers around the right to food, shelter, education (limited to school) and of course, to be free of violence. The right that we most often ignore is the right to be taught to think critically. Children are born into a world where everything around them is already coded, and to burden them with our own prejudices, is to place undue hardship upon them. This childhood innocence that we supposedly seek to maintain is selfish, because it is simply a reflection of our own desire not to change the status quo, or at least not alter that which benefits us directly. The moment children begin to actively interact with the world around them, they are no longer innocent.
It is an act of love to deconstruct that which has been normalized, because it empowers children. When we ask them why, not only do we encourage them to think about the world around them, we send them the message that they think matters. This centers the child in a way that passively or actively teaching them to respect and respond to isms does not. Asking why lets them know that they are valued and everyone, regardless of their size or age needs to know that they important to someone. Why also opens the door to dialogue in a way that driving them to soccer games most certainly does not. When they grow, kids will not remember the endless times you acted as a chauffeur, but they will remember that you took the time to listen when others were quick discard their speech and ideas as valuables. I ask why because to me, my children matter.