My daughters have witnessed a lot in their short lives so far. They have seen my experiences with my health. They know what it is like to grow up in a house that has gone through a divorce. Experienced in adoption. That is just what they have been exposed to personally.
Then there are the things that they go through when they are away from either of us parents. School lock downs, bullying, suicide, teen drug and alcohol and tobacco use are constants in their environment.
Both girls are very aware of the world outside of their home as well. The homeless, the poor, the disadvantaged. They know quite easily, it could be them in someone else’s shoes.
And then of course there are the things that they learn in school from science to health, history to politics.
I did my best with them, from the earliest of ages, for them to have empathy and sympathy for others. My older daughter, not even of school age noticed a group of special needs kids, while eating at an ice cream shop. While she may have noticed that some looked different, she only saw them as regular kids.
I have never heard either of my daughters even mention someone’s skin color. Both are aware that they are not Caucasian, have Caucasian parents, yet the question of “why is our skin color different than everyone else’s skin color?”
Years ago, while visiting Philadelphia, my daughters saw their first homeless people, not the purpose of our visit, but led to a long and lengthy conversation about the “how’s” and “why’s”, and what could we do for them at that moment. Just two years ago, while doing some grocery shopping for one of my visits, a less-fortunate woman approached us, asking us if we had anything we could spare so she could buy some food. I will admit, there is a 50-50 chance I will help, just because, who am I to judge if someone is legit. But in front of my daughters, I faced another test. Lead by example, or teach a very bad example.
Do I teach them that it is better to be benevolent, without judgement? Or do I show that that it is okay to lie. Or do I make it more complicated than that, that it depends on what you are lying about? Those who understand the mind of a child, knows there is a reason that there are age limits for a reason, because in many cases, the minds are not developed enough to make the right decisions.
I personally feel it is an awful lot to expect of a child to figure out the difference between telling the truth, and understanding potential consequences of telling lies. We have all been there. The phone rings. A child answers the phone. The caller asks to speak to a parent. The parent says, “tell them I’m not home.” As adults, we do not see the big deal, but as children, they get confused. Telling lies is bad. But their parents do it.
I could have easily have told the stranger that I did not have anything extra to give, because I really did not have any extra, as I budget myself when I travel for the visits with my daughters. But as I said, I have taught my daughters to be empathetic, even if it means “giving the shirt off of my back.” As I looked at my younger daughter, I knew what my answer was going to be. My daughter, knowing that I do not have much, saw me pull out some change out of my pocket, handing her a $5 dollar bill. The woman expressed her gratitude, and both my daughters had smiles on their face, believing that they just made someone’s day even just a little bit more better. Though none of us talked about it, there is also the chance that we all realize, we could have also just been had. But again, I have raised my daughters to see the good in people.
It is one thing to be aware of problems and issues. It is another to do something about them. And this is where both parenting and schooling play the most important part of teaching a child how to be a good advocate, to express themselves properly.
Now older, my daughters have opportunities in school, where they must present “arguments” or opinions to certain discussions from English literature to historic events and world issues. Some of these opportunities may be in the classroom, or in front of a debate level stage.
My daughters have seen many opportunities to witness me standing up not only for myself, but for others as well. They have seen the good and the bad. It is important to them to see the consistency that I do not sacrifice what I believe in. Just as important, they must also witness that I do not let any defeat deter my efforts. They have learned that it is important to be educated about the cause that is supported, and then also to learn how to communicate their points of view, especially in the firestorm of an “all out” opposition, to never stoop to someone else’s level because that is not who they are.
It would be easy if people just did the right thing all of the time. But the world does not work that way. It would be just as nice if we could have a simple discussion to point out the needs to correct a wrong situation, and have the humility to accept the error, instead of defending pride to the death, and “better them than me”. My daughters have learned, in all of the areas that I am an advocate for, health, cancer, adoption, child custody issues, discrimination and more, I do not give up. A loss is just that, a loss, not an end to my efforts.