I was sitting out on our deck with my two oldest kids eating lunch. It was a beautiful day. I said, "Man, are we lucky to be here and to have all of this. So many people, even in this country, are surrounded by violence right in their backyard." I don't know if it was just timing, but my kids started asking questions and we had a sweeping conversation about violence, governments, advocacy, and immigration.
It was unintentional and unplanned. By having the conversation, it cut into our schedule of getting our daily assignments done for the day and into my work schedule. But, I let it go. I listened to my kids. I answered their questions. And, we talked for at least an hour.
It was amazing.
Their little brains were wrapping around some pretty complex topics. And, it was cool to see them start to understand.
As impromptu as this conversation sounds, it wasn't completely spontaneous. I had been laying the foundation for several weeks because I knew a conversation about immigration and ultimately, about kids being separated from their parents at our border, was going to be a complex one. And, certainly a difficult one.
I didn't want to have the conversation all at once. There are a lot of pieces to it and a lot of terms that my white kids living in very white (albeit progressive), northern state in a white town do not have a lot of exposure too. In my quest to raise them aware of other people, cultures, and a respect for differences, we have had a lot of conversations but we had not really talked much about immigration.
I've had children's books about Syria around the house for months as I had been researching books for my Celebrating Differences Crate over at The Kindness Crate. Related, I had been reading books in preparation for this activity on migration and immigration. So, we had started having conversations about these topics.
Before even getting to the activity for this week, it's required a bit of work on my part to help my kids understand the environment in which we live and how it's different from so many other people across the globe. These books and early conversation really helped to start having a larger conversation about what is happening in this country.
Which is why, one little statement of "we are lucky to be here" turned into such a sweeping conversation. I won't go into every little detail of that conversation, but what I hope they got from it are:
We are governed by a system of democracy - there are people who make the rules. We vote for them because of the rules we think they will make. If enough people don't like their rules, the people of the country vote them out of office. This is because we are "citizens" of this country and have the right to vote.
There are many places that do not work like this. They are often governed by mean people called dictators that use the military to enforce their own rules. A lot of times these dictators pick a group of people to pick on.
These people are then forced to leave their homes and try to find new ones in a different country. These are refugees or immigrants. Refugees leave because of violence, but immigrants may be leaving their home countries for lots of reasons.
The thing is that most countries, including ours, have rules about who can move there from other countries.
Right now, our country is a country where a lot of people want to come because they believe with the freedoms we have, they can build a better life. There are lot of people who follow the rules of coming here. But, there are a lot of people who don't follow the rules and get into trouble.
The problem is that the people who make the rules in our country have made a rule that when people come to this country and get caught, they are put in a kind of jail. And, kids go to one jail with parents going to the other jail.
When I finally got to this last point. Both kids got quiet. I asked if they had any questions about that. And, my son said to me,
"I understand it. But, it seems like the punishment is too hard for what they did. It is too big of a consequence."
Well stated, my love, well stated.
I told them both that I agreed with them and that this week's kindness activity is about taking action. My youngest son to me something that I know is on many adults' minds too - "what can we do?"
Well, the good thing about where we live and the democracy that we live by is that we can start telling the people in our government that are making these rules that we believe they should stop doing this. The more people who do this, the more likely they will listen.
Parents, I know this is a complex topic. I get it. What's more is that there is not a single set of words that any parent can say to their children that will work in every situation. Across the country, we all sit with different life experiences and different circumstances. You have to bring this into the conversation you have with your kids, and have your OWN conversation.
This week's activity and download provides an opportunity for you and your child to start having this conversation. This is one where following the process I outline here would be really helpful. For the storytelling, I highly recommend you grab one of the incredible books listed in here. In particular, La Frontera is a wonderful and true story about the journey of a son and father to this country.
Finally, there are some learning activities in this week's download that help kids understand the terms that come up in this conversation. Sit with your kids while doing these activities. Ask them if they have questions. And answer them.
I'd love to hear from you. Have you spoken to kids yet about the issue of immigration and that families are being separated at the border? What were some of your a-ha moments when having this conversation?