What Women Have Done

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about my daughter’s perception of princesses and my worry that it reflected on her perception of what women can do.  So I must admit that I was pleased to see this year’s Nobel Peace Prize go to three women fighting for change.  These are the examples I want to share with my daughter as she grows up–not that these women are the first to win.

This article talks about the heroines of the Nobel Peace Prize.  It mentions that at the banquet for the first woman who received the  prize in 1906, the chairman spoke “about the great influence of women in history and how they could change the ideas of war and give men higher aims.”  It was another twenty-six years before the next woman won the prize.

This year, though, the prize was specifically awarded for “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”  It seems significant to me, and I am excited for sharing moments like this with my daughter when she’s older.  Those with daughters older than mine might want to take this opportunity to talk about women’s lives around the world.  Perhaps a book like Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story From Afghanistan could open the discussion.  Or another book from the Amelia Bloomer Project book list.

Unless the princesses are creating a safer, more peaceful world, I don’t really want to hear about it.  :)

Exploring religious diversity from a secular perspective

Perhaps before children start asking questions about belief or spirituality, they start asking questions about people.  Kids notice differences, and it’s important that we, as parents, can listen and respond to our kids when they ask about these differences, including about the different religions in our communities.

Shelley Rotner has several books about diversity for young children, including one about religious diversity.  She writes in the introduction of Many Ways,

“This book is a modest attempt to help young children become aware of the diversity in spiritual traditions and of the similarities between their families and those whose faith-based traditions differ from their own.”

The focus is on the photographs in this book, and there is minimal text.  This may suit families who want to open a discussion based on the photographs while others may find the lack of details frustrating.  Nonetheless, the book is an opportunity to introduce several major religions to young children without overwhelming them.

Faith by Maya Ajmera is a very similar look at religion, though this book provides a bit more context with captions for the photographs as well as some back matter that discusses the elements of faith for older readers (including parents) who want more context.

The publishers description of the book puts it this way, “. . . Faith highlights the common threads that bring people together in reverence and joy.”  I think one of the more interesting opportunities with this book for secular families is to bring themselves into the book.  Ask your kids how we ‘come together in reverence and joy.’  Perhaps you talk about prayer or singing or one of the other aspects of faith pictured and come up with some things that your family does that are similar.  I’d love to see a secular family create their own version of this book with photographs of the ways they celebrate and care for their community or how they connect with something bigger than themselves.

A Unitarian Universalist pastor even wrote a sermon that incorporated Maya Ajmera’s take on faith, which he called  “Love is a Verb.”  Towards the end of the sermon, he lists the ways that Unitarians express their faith in the ways discussed in Faith.

Of course, we needn’t wait for a time when we can sit down with books to talk to our kids about our diverse world.  Look for opportunities to “toss tidbits of religious knowledge into your everyday conversations” as advised in Raising Freethinkers.  We can point out places of worship in our community and connect that with what our kids may know about the religion.  Really, it’s about talking.  And talking…. and talking.

More book recommendations on the For Secular Families page.

What a family looks like

Recently, I was researching kids’ books for National Pet Month, and I came across Let’s Get a Pup!”, Said Kate by Bob Graham, which is a cute story of a family adopting a dog from a shelter.  What struck me as interesting about the book, though, wasn’t mentioned in the text.  If you look closely at the cover, you can see that the parents in the book are not the usual picture book parents.  The dad has a tattoo on his arm, and the mom has a nose ring.  This may not seem like a big deal, but it is pretty rare to see parents like this in a picture book.

Since most people my little one comes into contact with have tattoos or piercings or both (not to mention long hair on men or non-natural colored hair on both genders), I was tickled to see these things presented as a normal (not even worthy of mention) aspect of family life.  This is what my family looks like, after all.

Maybe your family looks like the mixed race family in Norton Juster’s Hello, Goodbye Window, which included a mixed race family in the illustrations without making it an issue book about a mixed race family.

Or maybe one of the families in Monday is One Day looks like yours. It features several different families as they count the days until the working parent(s) can stay at home with their family.  The illustrations show families of all sorts, including a family with two dads, as they go about their lives until the weekend comes.  In our family, we discuss the days as “work days” or “hang out days” each night as I put Ladybug to sleep.  I am excited to share this book with her.

These books are great ways to show kids examples of diversity without making a big deal about it.  It isn’t the main point, but it’s there.  Sometimes that’s all you need.

Of course, there are also times when you may want to be more direct about family diversity.  In light of the fact that  opinions are still divided on GLBT families according to a recent Pew Research Center study and the Marriage Amendment being put to a vote in Minnesota in 2012, I would say that it is time to be direct about our support for all families.  For adults that may mean becoming an informed voter.

Family Book Great Big Book of FamiliesFor our kids, it means talking.  Ask them questions to see what they have noticed or what they have assumed. What do they think of when they think of a family?  What kinds of families do they see in their communities?  You can use books like Todd Parr’s The Family Book or Mary Hoffman’s Great Big Book of Families. Both of these books show many ways families can be different from their houses or pets to celebrations in addition to the variety of people that can make up a family, including GLBT families.  This teacher’s guide from WelcomingSchools.org is a great resource for parents that builds on the ideas in the books.

Diversity is about more than just race.  It is as important to open a discussion with our kids  about family diversity as much as it is to talk about racial diversity.   This article on PBS Parents encourages parents to talk about diversity with their kids.  While the focus is on cultural/racial differences, I think the advice applies to family diversity as well:

“Teaching our children to accept differences may require that we use the power of the internet to learn about differences, that we seek out cultural activities that are out of our community and explore the strength and value in diversity. It is not enough to simply visit cultural events, eat ethnic foods and thus learn about differences from a voyeuristic point of view. Instead, we must make a deliberate effort to get out of the familiar and show our children we mean it. Accepting differences should be how we live our lives.”

We can help create a future in which differences are celebrated rather than feared or shunned by sharing these books with our kids.  We can also seek out community events that celebrate diversity.  Start by attending the Twin Cities Pride Festival this weekend (June 25th & 26th 2011).  You can even join the parade on Sunday with Minnesotans United for All Families to show your support.   Hope to see you there!

Talking about diversity with kids

Po Bronson writes in Nutureshock (which I blogged about here),

“We all want our children to be unintimidated by differences and have the social skills to integrate in a diverse world.  The question is, do we make it worse, or do we make it better, by calling attention to race?”

The book makes a strong case for talking about race with kids, and this column on Newsweek talks a little bit about why and when to start talking about race with kids.  But for those who are looking for concrete suggestions for the “how” part of the discussion, I think that Julius Lester’s Let’s Talk About Race is a great place to start with elementary-school-age kids.  This picture book is designed to generate discussion.  It asks questions and provides much food for thought about the ways that people are different and the ways that we are the same.

Whether talking about race will help or hurt when it comes to embarrassing situations for parents, I’m not sure.  But as I blogged about regarding my physical difference, I’d rather kids ask questions than learn that questions are taboo when it comes to people who are different.

What are your favorite books for talking about diversity with kids?  Share your recommendations here or let’s connect on Facebook.