This article started with a discussion about polyamory and another about racism. It was meant to be a short educational look at things pagan parents can do to rear children who are tolerant and aware of issues around racism, homophobia, gender bias, and religious intolerance, but it has morphed into so much more.
Due to the growing length of this discussion, my next few articles will focus on these topics. We will be covering the steps I have identified that will help parents (pagan or not) to address racism, homophobia, gender bias, religious intolerance, and just about any other difficult topic that may need discussion with children.
Before we get started I want to make a few crucial points.
We are all co-parents and guardians of the next generation. Any time we see a child, teenager, or young adult moving toward destruction, we must stand in the gap between their inexperience and our experience and gently try to illuminate the destination they are headed for. Being silent, apathetic, and having an attitude that “This isn’t my problem” is a sure way to make a misguided youth into society’s problem. We are society. We will all suffer.
This does not mean that in the moment, the actual co-parents or guardians will appreciate your voice. However, these pivotal moments last long beyond the initial confrontation. My personal experience has been that more people have come to me later and thanked me for speaking up than have continued to discount what I had to say.
Wisdom is essential if you are to passionately advocate against racism, homophobia, sexism, and intolerance. Be careful that you advocate only for what is clearly right and not for what you have decided is right or correct. There is a difference between your personal opinions regarding morality and identifying intolerance, gender bias, homophobia, or fundamentalism.
Age does not matter. Too often I get the question from parents, “When do I start teaching about XYZ?” Despite the assertion by social and developmental scientists to the contrary, there isn’t a magic age that can be relied upon when it comes to learning about difficult topics. Age is just one indication of what a child can comprehend.
This idea is central to developmental psychology.[i] Through the work of Jean Piaget, stages of development in children were quantified.[ii] These stages can help us guide and teach our children at the developmental level they are in. Piaget’s theories are not the only ones regarding child development however.[iii] There are several different theories that compliment and contradict each other in regards to development psychology. In my forthcoming book Family Coven: Birthing Hereditary Witchcraft, I take a cursory look at these different modes of thinking and then try to utilize them as part of the larger presentation of Family Coven. The references I have given here, however, should be sufficient for the reader to explore these ideas. I will reference these different theories throughout this article and other subsequent articles on childhood development and training.
Although there seems little doubt that children do move through stages of development, the rate at which they move through them will vary from child to child. I say this because parenting tips are really suggestions. When we study the Craft, seekers are often told to keep what resonates with them and leave the rest. I feel the same about parenting. As you read about parenting, take what resonates with you and your child(ren) and leave the rest. And if you try one thing and it doesn’t work, don’t give up and don’t stop trying different things. Reach out, get help if you need to. Seek out professionals and find what works for your child(ren) and your Family Coven.
However, the most important point to make is children begin to learn directly after birth. Their learning is tactile and experiential. What they experience through the senses is what they learn. Piaget calls this the Sensory Motor Stage. Later, children move into the Pre-operational Stage where things are centered on the child: what the child needs, wants, or doesn’t want. Elementary and preadolescent children move into the Concrete Operational Stage of development and lose their egocentricity. Near formal adulthood begins the Formal Operational Stage where they can utilize abstract thought and concepts and create a depth of understanding that lifts them out of childhood altogether.
Through all these stages, the most powerful tool for childhood understanding and learning is osmosis. I define osmosis as the learning and idea development that happens by watching those who are influential in their lives live, love, express opinions, overcome obstacles, and walk a spiritual path. What parents DO or DO NOT DO is the single most important influence upon a child, regardless of the developmental stage the child is in.
You started teaching your child the moment you held him or her for the first time. You will stop teaching your child when you die, and even in how you face death, you will be giving them their final lesson.
I was brought to this article by a series of conversations about my own son, who is fifteen. A close friend and I were talking about polyamory, and he relayed a story about my son. He told me that he and my son were recently admiring the band that was playing at a festival my Family Coven had attended. There was a couple, a man who was white and a female who was of mixed race, who made up part of the band. My son suddenly said, “What a beautiful couple!”
My friend agreed with him and my son elaborated, “I would love to spend the night with them.”
A little uncertain, my friend said, “Really? With her you mean?”
My boy turned to him and said, “No. With them – they’re really beautiful. Not just physically, although, they’re really hot! But they’re nice to each other and obviously love each other. That would be beautiful to be a part of.”
My friend thought to himself, “YES! This is what pagan parenting should produce! Adults who LOVE regardless of gender or race.”
Although I am flattered by the compliment, it left me wondering if one can reliably reproduce such a wonderful outcome. All children are different; at this stage of the parenting game, I have learned the humbling lesson that sometimes, no matter what we wish for our children, they are individuals who will make their own way — and their way may not be the one you hope they will choose. Sometimes, it isn’t even the best direction for them. The best of parents can raise children who are bigoted and homophobic, even when the parents are not. So much goes into the rearing of adults that, especially when children become teenagers, it begins to feel like a crap shoot.
My thinking on these issues continued over a period of a couple of weeks and was brought to the forefront again when my roommate, Nate, told me about his younger brother. Nate is mixed race: African American, American Indian, and White. His baby brother is a fully white sibling by Nate’s mother. One day, the five-year-old brother and Nate were discussing when it was okay to get into fist fights. Nate was telling baby brother that sometimes you have to take up for yourself or your family members against bad guys even if there are consequences.
“You mean bad men like black guys?” the kid brother interrupted.
Stunned, Nate asked his brother where he got the idea that bad guys were always black. The younger brother pointed out that whenever someone was on the news because they were bad, they were almost always black. Nate told me he felt ill-equipped to deal with the overt racism his brother was picking up from television and from living in a predominately white county in the Southern US.
This led me to think about (and again thank the gods for) our fifteen-year-old who is, at his core, extremely sensitive to the acceptance of races, sexual orientations, and other religions. Talking with Nate, I started to seriously contemplate how he became who he is. I recognized that if a stand against the incipient racism and homophobia present in our society is to be made, there are some key things that my partner and I did with my son that can be replicated. I condensed these into key points:
→ Develop Child(ren) Who Interrogate Reality
→ Be Vocal
→ Words Have Power
→ Praise the Champion
→ Discuss Politics News and Current Events
→ Exploit the Media That Would Exploit Your Child(ren)
→ The Law and When to Break It
→ Empower a Child(ren)’s Opinion
1. Develop Child(ren) Who Interrogate Reality Anyone who knows me knows that I am constantly pushing people to read Susan Scott’s book Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time.[iv] Those few who have trained with me have been asked to read this book at least three different times over a period of four to five years. This book is more than just a communication book, it is a book that walks a person through the ability to interrogate reality. This is the act of asking yourself: What you want to gain from conversations you have? How often you are polite instead of being honest? Do you desire honest answers to the questions you ask? What is the cost of dishonesty emotionally, mentally, physically and economically?[v] This skill contributes to the Emotional Intelligence (EI) of your child(ren). EI is the ability to observe, assess, and govern one’s emotions.[vi]
EI training can begin with simple questions given back to a child. If a child asks, “Why?” A great response is “Why do you think?” If it is a fact-based question (“Why is the sky blue?”), then utilize fact-based references to answer them. If it is an emotion-based question (“Why is mommy sad?”), then ask them to interrogate their reality (“If you were mommy, why would you be sad?”).
Another way to interrogate reality is around the beach ball method described by Scott.[vii] Imagine that a family is all holding the same beach ball, representing the total reality of a situation. Each family member can only see the stripe of the beach ball on the side they are holding. Take, for example, a child whose parents will not permit them to have the newest Xbox. The feelings and reasons behind that decision vary depending on which stripe of the beach ball the family member is holding. The Child may see the green stripe, jealous that “all” their friends have one. The Mother Priestess may see the blue stripe where she is worried about the long-term mental and emotional consequences of too much game play. The Father Priest may see the yellow stripe where he played video games growing up and doesn’t understand what the difference is between now and then (besides the console being way more expensive!). All of these realities are concrete to each person. It is the ability of co-parents to recognize and experience all the stripes that builds a child’s ability to do the same.
The most important question regarding reality that you should ask yourself is this: What is the conversation that I have been avoiding and what is the psychological, emotional, spiritual, and monetary damage being done by my silence? This is especially important with children. Parents often put off addressing issues, or master the art of deflecting questions instead of having difficult conversations. They let television, video games, and other interferences act as a buffers between themselves and their Family Coven members, to the detriment of the Family Coven. When a child asks a question, they deserve an answer, a real answer that isn’t reliant upon absolute conformity to the views and opinions of the co-parents. When things happen that can teach a child a lesson about intolerance, they deserve to have a co-parent who will stop everything and spend ten, twenty, thirty minutes or more having a discussion about that lesson. They need parent priests and priestesses who engage them in discussion and in that engagement, help them develop critical thinking skills that will lead to a high Emotional Intelligence.[viii]
In my next installment, we will continue to explore the different things parents can do to confront racism, gender bias, intolerance, and religious bigotry in their own Family Coven.
[i]McLeod, Saul. “Developmental Psychology.” Simply Psychology. Simply Psychology, 2013. Web. 29 Dec. 2013. McLeod, S. A. (2012).
[ii] McLeod, Saul. “Jean Piaget.” Simply Psychology. Simply Psycholgy, 2012. Web. 29 Dec.2013.
[iii] Miller, Patricia H. “Social Learning Theory.” Theories of Development Psychology. 3rd ed. Gainseville: University of Florida, 2009. 177-232. Michican State University. D. Wong, 28 Aug. 2006. Web. 29 Dec. 2013.
[iv] Scott, Susan. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time. New York, NY: Berkley Pub. Group, 2004. Print.
[v] Scott, Susan. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time. New York, NY: Berkley Pub. Group, 2004. N. page 19. Print
[vii] Scott, Susan. Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work & in Life, One Conversation at a Time. New York, NY: Berkley Pub. Group, 2004. N. page 15. Print.
[viii]Goldman, Daniel, Peter Salovey, John Meyer, Howard Gardner, Robert Sternberg, and Jack Block. Emotional Intelligence Test. Computer software. Emotional Intelligence Test. Queendom.com, n.d. Web. 29 Dec. 2013. <http://www.queendom.com/tests/access_page/index.htm?idRegTest=3037>.
I could not verify who created this test; however, I felt it was a good test to take, and it does borrow heavily from Daniel Goldman’s book on Emotional Intelligence.