Unnamed Parent? May I have a word?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two weeks ago my ten year old daughter walked into my room and said this:

"Is it true that Obama wants to kill babies living in pregnant womens bodies?"

Oh my head.

Deploying my oldest teacher technique, I responded with a question:

"What do you mean? I am not sure I understand your question."

What unfolded was an explanation offered to my daughter by a classmate of the politics of abortion, through a lens of a pro-life religious viewpoint.

Emily is an ardent supporter of President Obama. As expatriate Americans, her father and I both voted for him, and she loves the story of his parenthood which seems so familiar to her. She, too, is a biracial child, "just like the President".

This conversation occurred after Emily was talking about how much she LIKED the new President of the United States. Her peer retorted, with all the self confidence of a ten year old repeating information heard from her parent, that Emily's new hero was, in essence, a baby killer.

Because a shot of tequila was not at hand, I had to take only a deep breath and try to sort out the basic information on the tricky and personal topic of the right to choose whether or not a woman carries a fetus to term that I wanted to convey.

"You and Daddy chose to have me...", Emily offerred.

"Yes, love. Daddy and I planned to have a baby and then we found out we were having you - and we were very happy. But some people aren't ready to have a baby when they find out they are pregnant. So they have a choice whether or not to continue being pregnant. President Obama believes that people should be able to continue to have that choice - he doesn't want to take babies from Mom's who are wanting to be pregnant - he wants to make sure that the law says that people can make that choice for themselves, if they need to. Just like Mommy and Daddy think that you can't tell people who they can love, and who they can't love - we don't believe that you can tell someone that they have to have a baby if they have personal reasons for not wanting to have a baby."

I paused. I held my breath. This conversation could really tumble out of the realms of what I was already unprepared to discuss. Topics like birth control, sexuality, religion were flashing like neon signs in front of my eyes. Em has a very basic and unembellished idea of how babies are made....but it is a concept that she understands in a very non technical way. I was not ready nor eager to increase her knowledge of this topic either.

She digested this all quietly. I followed with my standard, "Do you have any other questions about what I said?"

In my head, I was strangling the mother who I knew had started this little interlude. I wanted to rake her over the coals - not for her personal viewpoint with which I disagreed, but for her decision to drag our ten year old daughters into this discussion. Her decision to make statements to HER daughter was now leaking into my bedroom forcing me to discuss issues of sexuality and contraception and the politics of pregnancy.

Emily is far more practical. "Can I tell Unnamed Child that she is wrong?"

I hesitate. "Well, perhaps you can tell her that you don't believe that her information is entirely accurate."

So unnamed Mother...Did you feel my laser beam eyes in your skull last night at the school concert? Because they were trained on you, I assure you.

10 Baleful Regards:

Rebecca said...

two words, simply put: good job.

Jessica said...

As a conservative, my views are the extreme opposite of yours. On this issue, however, I have similar frustrations. My four year-old daughter followed the election with our family. What are the appropriate explanations to offer when she asks what an abortion is? She's four! But the media and politicians use(d) the word frequently. I will someday be the mother to whom you are directing your laser beams, because my daughter is learning at home that life is sacred and valued, and that we don't condone the taking of lives, no matter what fancy term (ie, abortion) is used. While my views may not be popular, I am not ashamed of them. I am not ashamed to teach my daughter in accordance with my values. I feel I must do my job as a parent as fervently as I can while my children are in my care and teachable. No doubt, you feel the same way about using opportunities to teach Emily. None of us, no matter how extreme our beliefs may be, wants to harm our children or lead them astray. We are all, whether conservative, liberal, or unconcerned, doing our best to raise our children to be responsible adults. We disagree on the politics, Dawn, but we have equal rights to be parents and teachers to our children, regardless of the popularity of our values.

Sarah said...

I wish more people, when educating their children would emphasize that "THIS IS WHAT I BELIEVE, however, OTHER PEOPLE HAVE A RIGHT TO BELIEVE DIFFERENTLY AND THAT IS OKAY TOO."

At six, my daughter has been told by her very religious friends that she's "going to hell" because she doesn't pray. My family doesn't begrudge them their right to pray, or their belief in their religion, but because my daughter doesn't pray, she has to be told that she's wrong? That she'll burn in hell?

That pisses me off.

I think the communication is KEY. We all should be talking to our kids and answering their questions, but I don't think nearly enough parents are letting their children know that other people may believe differently and it's NOT OUR PLACE to tell them they are right or wrong.

Dawn said...

I appreciate your viewpoint, Jessica - I really do. I think that my frustration lies with the terms that the other child used with Em - Baby Killer, and such.

One of the many hurdles we face as parents is this very conundrum - I like this mom, socially. We have had dinner and drinks together. These are not topics we talk about while wine glasses are in hand and the girls in the other room on the Wii Sing it.

I think Sarah's point is where I try to straddle the line.

This family has a right - and yes, a responsibility - to teach their daughter what they believe to be true. But do we also have the discussions with out children that Some people do not believe the same thing and that does not make them evil, or bad.

Its a delicate line to draw in the sand, and fundamentally speaks to the desire of each of us to instill common values in our children.

Part of that line, however, is the knowledge that we can exist with people who do not agree with us - in a civil and even friendly and loving way ( says Dawn, whose best friend is a life long Republican...)

We can disagree without the need to convince the other that he or she is wrong.

Jessica said...

Thanks for hearing me, Dawn. I don't mean to argue here. This question is an honest one: We'll use this issue as an example. I firmly believe abortion is wrong, not a choice or a matter of opinion. I believe it is WRONG. How shall I convey that to my daughter (when she is of an appropriate age), and tell her that other people believe differently without sending a mixed message? How do you (we) teach our values alongside tolerance without watering down our message? I know that my children will eventually need to think for themselves and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. In the mean time, I want them to have a firm foundation to spring from. How not to muddy the water?

Dawn said...

I don't find you to be arguing at all, Jessica.

And I surely don't have an easy answer, or maybe an answer at all.

I think the best way I can think about it is that we do our best to teach our children our families values - what ever those may be - knowing that they are also more global citizens of a community, country and world.

I, myself, do not claim to understand the full symbolism of the hadjib and why some Muslim families choose the veil as part of their religious practice. Yet, there are families in Em's school - and some girls in her class, for whom this is simply a part of their identity.

If I were to simply say to Emily: "People who wear a veil are stupid and oppressed - how antiquated and chauvinistic an idea that any entity such as a God wants them to show some kind of subservience by hiding their hair." I would be missing the essential complexity of the issue by giving her information that is purely informed by my place as a White, English Speaking Woman who has no particular religious affiliation.

Conversely, If Azara's mother were to say to Her that Emily's Mom is clearly a brazen whore who is going to hell because I wear my hair out and show some cleavage, she too is missing the opportunity to more fully embrace that we do Not live in our world in isolation.

I have to believe that Both Moms want the Best of their daughters - but that this term "best" can have vastly different meanings for each of us. And how do we navigate around each other as adults, and families with respect?

Simplification is the problem, I think. President Obama is not a "baby killer" and to reduce the issue to that for a child is unjust. Just as unjust as if I were to reduce the other mom to a "religious wingnut" - which I do not believe that she really is. The Muslims and Jews in Emilys class who refrain from eating pork aren't weird or stupid...., just as the girls in her class who are veiled are not abused and oppressed.

What I hope for is that we can raise our collective children in a way that respects and understands that we can each hold very different and dissonant opinions on a whole variety of issues...but that this does not mean that the person is worthless or unworthy of respect.

That I can disagree with you without calling you names. That I can live with understanding that our viewpoints do not coincide..but that I do not have to convince you of the rightness of MY opinion.

mamalion said...

Very well put, Dawn - both the original post and this last comment.
One of the things that I like best about this president is his emphasis on civility. We can agree to disagree, even when the disagreements run deep.

Freya said...

As someone who voted for Obama myself, does not have kids but plans to have them someday, I can only applaud your response to Emily's question. It's a tough subject to broach and the mother of Unnamed Child should be ashamed for bringing that question up in front of her children, or she should have explained that such beliefs should not be shared outside the household because everyone is entitled to their own opinion. So, as a future Mother, I think you handled the situation with class and in a way that Emily could understand. Well done =)

MarciaAnn said...

Thank you for the great discussion. I too agree that it's fine to bring your child up with your traditions, but to give them the understanding that just because that is our feelings/opinions ... some other people may disagree and that's okay too.

Capital Mom said...

Wow, you handled yourself so well. I am going to have to borrow "What do you mean? I am not sure I understand your question." That is a keeper.

 
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