Making Room for All Children at the Table
By Nikkya Hargrove
Anyone who has had the privilege of being a parent knows it is hard. It is a role we take head-on and as flawed and incomplete as we are, we say “YES” to being a parent. It is a decision. When we do sign up, we also take on the responsibilities which come along with it from cleaning the dirty diapers to teaching them how to drive to lending them money for their first apartment. Parenting is a job that never ends. We all have a purpose as parents, and as such, we too are “works in progress” as are our kids.
Have you read the book “Are You My Mother” by P.D. Eastman to your children? If not, the gist of it is that a little birdie goes around asking anyone (a dog) and anything (a bulldozer) if they are their mother. When reading it to my now 6-year-old twins, even while I know how the story ends, I say to myself, “Sure, the dog can be your mother,” because the dog can give you love, compassion, and provide you with a family little birdie. In my household, I am the birdie and my kids are the exclamation points. The question I ask all three of my kids is, “Were you the only brown person there?” I ask them this almost daily. Why? Because being the only brown person or the only person of color in a room always, can be exhausting, uncomfortable, and frustrating.
I am a Black mom with biracial children who are half Sri Lankan and half Black. I know what it feels like to be in their shoes. I have often been the only Black child in my elementary school classroom and now I am often the only Black professional woman in meetings. I hope that we can change this fact. But it will take work. If we, as a community, put in the work now to do more to be more inclusive, our society will reflect it. Do we say, “it is what it is” or “my hands are tied” or “I don’t control who is in my kid’s classroom?” We are parents who have a purpose and while our job as a parent is a role we take on without pay or reward, we do it because we love our kids and we want the best for them. Embracing racial inclusivity now, while our kids are young, will invariably shape their futures as professionals and as young adults. Here are some steps we can take.
It’s simple. Read the room, the classroom, the cafeteria, the playground and see who is there. See how diverse the room is. As a mom of color, I certainly scan the room and just take a mental note of who is showing up in the room from the teachers to support staff to the kids. When we are more aware of our surroundings, we can sit with what we have opened our eyes to, and have discussions with our kids.
Learn Because It Matters
If our children have taught us anything, it is that we must continue to learn, to keep up with them. We must learn the names of their friends and understand how our kids are being treated by their classmates and their friends. Here is where we can discuss race with our kids because it matters. When we talk about race with our kids, it helps them be more self-aware and aware of their surroundings in a crucial way.
You Can Be The One
You can promote inclusivity. My kids are often “the two” kids of color at the party or on the playground because their friends are predominantly white. We, as a family, are comfortable being “the” one because it is what we know. Given that fact, as moms of color, we must also be proactive in befriending more people of color, inviting more people of color, and bringing them to the proverbial table, even on the playground. It’s not a one size fits all approach to being more inclusive. We all have a role to play in bringing inclusivity onto the playground.
I know in my household, we promote inclusivity. I’ve found myself, as of late, being more aware of how to be more inclusive picking up tools, mostly reading articles, and truly listening to others. With birthday party invitations arriving monthly to my email inbox and playdate requests showing up via text, I am conscious of who is inviting whom to playdates, birthday parties, and everything in between.
Keep your eyes open. I know, when things get tough, when my day-to-day seems unbearable – the tantrums, the fights, the overload on social media, the screen time, the forgotten homework, the calls from teachers – I want to throw in my hat. I want to quit. But most often, when things are calm, when dinner is served and we are sitting around our dinner table, with a meal that I made with love, and the belly laughs begin, I am reminded of my purpose. I will continue to be intentional, to sit and ponder what the “right” decision for my kids might be, and today, the right decision is to put them in environments that invite them to the table, belly laughs and all. And if that space does not exist, it is my job to make room for them.
Nikkya Hargrove is an alum of Bard College and a 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow. She has written for the The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Taproot Magazine, Elle, and more. Her memoir, Mama: A Black, Queer Woman’s Journey to Motherhood, is forthcoming from Algonquin Books. She lives in Connecticut with her one son and two daughters and is a staff writer for Scary Mommy. Learn more at https://www.nikkyamhargrove.com.