2018 Powerful Voices of the Year is a Sunday Series, featuring guest bloggers & parents covering some of the most important topics of our time; race, racism, religion, pregnancy and birth, grief and loss, entrepreneurship, women's rights, immigration, nutrition, sustainability, climate change, transgender voices, transracial adoption, foster care, art, representation, and yoga for surviving through crisis.
By Quiana Agbai, Harlem Lovebirds
The morning after election night 2016, my then six-year-old daughter asked who had won. When I told her, she broke down and cried. I did too. As a graduate of Wellesley College, the night before, the college went all out for an alumnae election night watch-party. The mood was festive until the unexpected happened. While there were so many emotions on display that evening, I became stone-faced and left before it ended. I had held in my emotions right up until the point my daughter cried. Seeing her break down in that way broke me.
Now at the one year anniversary of inauguration, I’m reflecting on what it’s been like parenting under the current administration. Rather than sadness, I feel compelled to take action and while I’m not doing anything differently, I am increasing the intensity of what I was already doing.
Let me explain.
Here are five tips that my family and I have found effective raising resilient children in the face of the current administration:
1. Encourage and Foster Diverse Relationships
This takes real work as I learned when I left NYC with my family to spend two years in New Hampshire, before moving to Boston, but it is so worth it. Intentionally raising children in a diverse community builds understanding and I see the results of this in how my children interact with others who may be different from them. It builds respect and understanding. From diversity in ethnicity, beliefs, sexual orientation and beyond, cultivating diversity at a young age makes this a regular part of their lives that I hope they’ll remain true to as they grow and seek out communities of their own. While there are vast homogenous areas in our nation, with the plethora of ways to connect online it is possible to cultivate diversity. Facebook Groups, MeetUp and NextDoor have proven to be important resources for my family in our quest for diversity. Just know it’s going to take effort, it might be uncomfortable at first, but knowing your children will grow up valuing diversity as a norm brings hope in the wake of what’s going on in our country.
2. Seek Out Diverse Representation in Media, Toys and Experiences
Diversity in relationships also extends to other touchpoints and with increasingly more companies and publishers realizing the demand for diversity in options for children’s media and toys, there is a lot to choose from. Gone are the days when there were only two shades of dolls - now they not only come in multiple shades but various hair textures as well. This goes for media and experiences as well - Facebook Events and Eventbrite are fantastic resources for seeing what’s happening locally - from taking your children to cultural performances, food festivals and more. Make the effort to regularly build these into your family’s schedule.
Diverse doll companies:
3. Focus on Positivity That Reinforces Self-Esteem
From re-aired sound bites of the President and his cohorts on mainstream news to what’s overheard at the water cooler and on the playground. As children repeat hateful language they hear from their adults at home, rather than focus on the negative words coming from the current administration towards black and brown people, we have instead decided to drown it out by celebrating all things dealing with Black Boy Joy and Black Girl Magic. In my family we talk about the beauty of our skin tones, hair texture as well as celebrating all the beautiful tones and textures in our community. My husband and I hug and kiss our children regularly, looking them in the eyes and telling them they are beautiful, smart and can do whatever they set their minds to. We preemptively build them up to counter what they may face when they leave home each day. While we have had some down moments during this administration, including a recent incident at my daughter’s school where racist language was used against her, it made us double-down on using our existing mantras with our children. Reinforcing what we know to be true versus what others say has proven a key tactic in getting our kids back on track. For example, when talking about hair differences and comments my daughter may receive critiquing her own, we’ve taught her to say, "My hair is versatile! I can do so much with it.” And this is reiterated with the books we read that show her this, such as I Love My Hair as well as modeling it for her in how I, as her mother, change my hairstyle often.
4. Educate at Home
In the current environment shouting fake news and spreading revisionist history, we have continued to provide expanded lessons on history, government, suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement and more to counter our children’s mainstream experience in our local school system. One of my favorite resources for diverse books is Here Wee Read and we’ve especially found Shades of People, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History and Let’s Talk About Race to be incredibly helpful in opening up courageous conversations with our kids as well as giving us the language to navigate speaking to others about these topics that we may encounter outside our home.
Another crucial action is to be sure to proactively review the papers and lessons that come home with your children, read their textbooks and reach out to their teachers when you notice sugar-coating and incorrect information. Supplement what they are learning with your own lessons and not just focusing on black history during Black History Month - it’s more than that. And just like seeking out diverse relationships it will take effort, but you have to do the work.
5. Reinforce Positive Language
Unlike during President Obama’s administration, we now keep the TV and radio news off when the children around. With the uncertainty of what vitriol and hatred will spew forth from the current administration, my husband and I make sure to model positive language not only with our children and between each other, but also when engaging with others outside our home. Not only are we respectful in the words we use but we make sure the tone is appropriate, too. We’ve found that in public spaces or when we’re guests at someone’s home and the kids catch snippets of what the president says, while they may not fully understand the words being said, they can definitely pick up on tone. Even my 7 year old has said, “He doesn’t sound very nice, mommy.” And of course we have our challenges - living in fast-paced Boston that’s definitely abrasive at times has made me fall prey to going low, but even being mindful of modeling grace and empathy to those we encounter isn’t enough. I make sure to point it out to my children so we understand why we hold the door open for someone coming in behind us or why we still say please and thank you when the person we’re interacting isn’t showing the same courtesy. Having those little eyes watching helps to keep me on the straight and narrow!
I’ll admit it: if I allow myself to start wandering into the black hole of my own thoughts of despair realizing how much longer we have until this administration is over it gets me close to tears, but I continue to focus on the fact that what’s going on is bigger than one figure head in office. Beyond him, “we the people” are going to be left with each other and I believe as a parent to two beautiful brown children it is my responsibility to raise them into fully functional, capable and resilient adults. If anything, what we’re going through now is only making us stronger and giving us the ability to foster a stronger, diverse community so that in the future they won’t have to grow up and wonder “how did we get here?” in the way that so many of us are doing now.
Quiana Agbai has been covering urban family life on her blog Harlem Lovebirds since 2009. A graduate of Wellesley College with 8 years of experience in the advertising industry, Quiana took a leap of faith to become a mompreneur launching Trifecta Media Group, a marketing, PR, and graphic design firm. A certified Toastmaster, Quiana enjoys empowering her peers to pursue their passions and has appeared on TV One, ABC’s The Chew and The Dr. Oz show discussing her own passion of food and enjoys traveling and reading as well - when she gets the time away from her 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son! After nearly a 10 year hiatus, in 2016 Quiana and her family returned to Boston where she and her husband first met when they were in college.
Click here for the rest of the series.