“Mine! Mine! Mine!” I immediately think of the annoying, ever-present seagulls in the Disney movie Finding Nemo. But if you’re a parent, chances are these words also invoke images of a child fighting for the right to play with a particular toy or clinging to a precious stuffed animal he doesn’t want to share.
Sharing is not innately understood. It seems counterintuitive to children’s developing brains. Why would I want to give away something valuable that I can keep for myself? Yet we know, as adults, that learning to share toys will lead and grow into other greater skills, like generosity, kindness and unselfish behavior. We begin with the simple encouragement, “You can share.” And we rejoice at the small improvements, “Good job taking turns!”
There are many things our children learn to do with little help—eating solid food, walking or riding a bike. There are others that require much coaching for many years, sharing being one of them. Because we love our kids, we won’t risk leaving them to their own devices when it comes to these. As a white parent, I have been reminded over the past year that there is another skill I cannot and should not avoid—training my children to be antiracist.
My husband and I have chosen to raise our kids in a culturally diverse city, sending them to neighborhood schools. We’ve done this because we value diversity. However, being surrounded by various cultural groups does not inherently teach me or my kids to show honor, respect and value to their classmates or our neighbors. This part takes intentional teaching. And this antiracism education starts at home. Parents, we are on the front lines!
Racism is a large issue to grapple with. But there are small steps we can all take to begin our antiracism journey. One step I’ve taken over the years is reading stories with my kids. (Even my teens will read a beautifully illustrated picture book with me on the couch.) I look for books that feature main characters of different cultural backgrounds living in America. I search for ones that highlight the accomplishments of people of color, like John Lewis or Rosa Parks.
Reading books told from the perspective of a child allows children to relate to the story in a significant way. After reading I am Not a Number, my 9-year-old son and I had a tear-filled, heart-felt discussion. The author, Jenny Kay Dupuis, writes from the first-person perspective about her grandmother’s experience being removed from her home and placed in the Canadian Indian residential school system. Her story is heartbreaking and necessary for us to hear. Reading helps us gain an accurate and authentic understanding of identities, perspective and experiences different from our own. It is an opportunity for all of us to grow in understanding, empathy and love.
Jesus’ most common form of teaching was parables, a simple story to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson. If the wisest teacher to ever walk the earth used stories to illustrate large, hard-to-learn principles, shouldn’t we take note? Can we let the stories of others speak boldly into our hearts and minds of the value and worth inherent in each unique individual that God created? Can it help us, and our children, embrace the image of God in each other, especially those that look and live differently than we do?
The greatest part about reading with my kids is that I am growing too. By searching for books, talking with librarians and asking questions with my kids, I am modeling humility, allowing the Holy Spirit to shape my mind and heart. I am simultaneously reminding myself that the story of God’s kingdom is one of a people gathered from every culture and nation, speaking every language. As I listen and learn through the stories of others—be they in books or in person over a cup of coffee—I am stepping toward the kingdom of God. I am teaching my kids to journey alongside Jesus, who loved others enough to listen to their stories too.
Jamie Mack is humbled to keep learning alongside her husband, Randy, with her four kids ages 9 to 19 and among her faith family at North Fresno Church. Jamie serves on staff at NFC as the associate pastor of discipleship and worship. Her lifelong love of reading is gladly shared through Bible studies, book clubs and with other seminary students in her current studies at Fresno Pacific University. She realizes her antiracism journey will last her whole life and hopes to encourage others to journey with her in this important kingdom work.