Colorful Conversations for Stronger Communities
By Guest Writer, Nikkya Hargrove
Since I can remember, I have always wanted to be married. As a child, I found myself daydreaming about creating a family and a life with someone else but especially, having children. And as I played house with my Cabbage Patch Dolls, I imagined they were indeed my own children. I undressed those dolls with their mushy body parts and put diapers on them as if they were my own six imaginary children. I built a strong fantasy of what I thought marriage was but more so, of what I thought parenthood was like or supposed to be. I had strong, caring adults who showed me affection and loved me unconditionally. And they taught me how to love another as a human being whether that person was a neighbor, friend, or family member.
When I met my in-laws, they taught me about different ways of being married, having a family, and being a parent. They have, by example and many discussions, given me a different perspective of what parenthood (and marriage) could be. I value both perspectives – those I learned during my own upbringing and those I’ve learned from my in-laws. As my wife and I began to discuss the kind of children we wanted to shape into upstanding adults, we first had the need to discuss who we were as individuals and what kind of parents we wanted to be together.
We are two moms raising three kids who are products of our Sri Lankan (my wife) and African American (mine) heritage. My wife was born and raised in Sri Lanka until the age of two, when her family moved to Africa before settling in the United States in the mid-1980’s. My family, products of a Southern Baptist upbringing, left Virginia in the late 1940’s and settled in New York. Fast-forward many years later, my wife and I met in 2007 and discussed having a family on our very first date. I knew I wanted to have kids and she did not. We discussed this all before we made it to dessert.
Today, we are proud parents of twin daughters who are almost two-years-old and a ten-year-old son.
We teach our children about who they are and where they come from because we want them to be proud of their heritage.
Even before their arrival, we knew we needed to figure out what parts of our own culture we would to pass on to our children and consider which rituals they may want to one day pass on to their children.
For my wife, it was about keeping the ritual of homemade curry meals readily available in our home. In my wife’s culture, meals are eaten with one’s hands. Curries simmered in coconut milk are made regularly. Saris are often worn by older women no matter the occasion. On a deeper level, decisions are made, no matter how big or small, in conversation with the family. And advice from elders is readily available (taken or not).
Culturally, for me, our decisions are made by the individual because the individual is the one who will reap the rewards of said decision (positive or negative) and family is consulted last. Food is made for the family and eaten at the kitchen table, especially Sunday meals. And advice comes from the Bible. Rationality is consulted last because in the end “the Bible says so,” a phrase I heard frequently growing up.
As parents to our three children, we needed to first unlearn behaviors to then learn the ones which we wanted to foster in our own children such as the right balance of communication within our family. We did not want to over-communicate or under communicate. We did not want to place too much focus on the differences of our family (or others) but simply make ourselves and our family aware of the social constructs of our society.
Our goal as parents to our children is to foster a strong sense of social awareness and self-awareness to nurture our children into upstanding adults.
And today, we have it far from figured out in our household. We are very “in the moment” parents and take on conversations as they emerge, a trait I had to learn rather quickly. I am the “processer” in my family. I like to think about what kinds of consequences to give our son while my wife, a previous sixth-grade teacher, needs all of ten seconds to come up with a fitting consequence. We continue to grow as individuals, as parents, and as a family figuring out what works for us as our family dynamics and needs change — and as we (and our kids) do too.
With the added layer to our family, being a non-traditional household, we want our kids to see faces like theirs and families like ours. When our son turned four-years-old just before he entered into kindergarten, we created a Gay and Lesbian Family of Connecticut Facebook page to help bring families like ours together. We found families across our state who varied in color and gender.
We meet, mostly as families but at times as couples only, to get our children together and foster a stronger, intentional, diverse community, reflective of who we are as parents. The group has given our children a space to be conscious of many things but namely, that there are other children with two moms or two dads of various shades of skin color and backgrounds.
They also get to see that families are created because of love. In our Facebook group, we have families who came to be because of adoption, surrogacy, and in-vitro fertilization. It is because of this very group, we are able to have conversations with our kids about their families and their skin colors. We are able to bring the realities of our gay and lesbian families into our own living room for discussion around differences which invariably creates a stronger sense of self for our kids.
It offers a foundation to stand up for our families and educate peers about how many different kinds of families are in this world not only in our home or with our Gay and Lesbian Families’ Group but in our children’s school cafeterias, their playgrounds, and community spaces.
Each interaction and gathering with the intentional community we’ve created have made us better parents. We are more self-aware because of this group. We encourage our kids to address questions which they may receive concerning their family head on and with courage. We hope they stand firm in what we have taught them about the strength of a family and the love only families can provide.
It is through those consistent interactions and the nurturing supports of other families, like ours, that we establish a foundation for all of our kids for these critical discussions about the “other.” We are a better and stronger family because we bring conversations to each member. Because of it, we are ready and willing to address any issues our children want to discuss with us anywhere, anytime.
Sincere thanks to Nikkya Hargrove for sharing her wisdom, writing talents, and personal family life details to offer perspectives on parenting with self-awareness and social awareness.
Nikkya Hargrove is a mother to three children, a wife, writer, and resident of Stratford, Connecticut. When she is not mothering or keeping her household together by all means necessary, you can find her indulging in her other “love” of writing. She is a BinderCon Scholar ‘17, LAMBDA Literary Non-Fiction Fellow ’12, and a freelance writer for The Washington Post. Her work has also appeared in the Huffington Post Blog, ELLE Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine, and Dr. OZ: The Good Life.
#Parenting #SEL #Diversity #Culturalheritage