Monday, January 16, 2017

Parenthood: Week 187 – Empathy Machine

Ollie’s diet was great. It was filled with a variety, from different sources. All the important groups were represented and then he got into the frozen section. I mean Frozen and it all got out of wack.

Ollie was into Moana, listening to Hamilton, reading books by a variety of authors, with a nice balance of animals, and people of color as main characters. Even the NPR politics podcast that he often overheard while I drive him around had a nice balance of political viewpoints and perspectives from people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Then Ollie got into Frozen from my niece. And while I was a little annoyed initially because while I think this film is pretty good, I could never get into it, it ended up being fine. He had a new cast of characters, and instead of being obsessed with his Maui doll, he got into this Anna action figure and it only added to the variety of cultural voices that he was experiencing.

We are very concerned with what we feed their children. Many try breast-feeding, and many do formula. This is a difficult choice for some parents. Those who do go with formula have a whole different challenge of trying to figure out which formula brand and type is best for their children.

The introduction of solid foods takes a lot of careful planning and there are a multitude of different philosophies. Toddlerhood is where a lot of people start compromising and let their kids eat too many carbs and not enough vegetables, but the thought of a balanced meal never leaves a parents’ mind. Even my mom, across the country sometimes checks in the make sure that I’m eating right.

It’s important that we think about the books, films, music and television shows that our children consume as well. Think about the authors of the books that you read your children. Are they all men? Think about the characters in these books. Are they mostly white? Mostly male? In the music that your children enjoy, are they of one style of music and again, what perspectives are being represented in the music? As important as it is for children to see themselves in art, they need to see others to help expand their idea of who is included in their tribe.

Just like with foods, we sometimes simply lean into what our kids are into, but we need to educate our kids to take small bites of books and films they don’t initially like, just like a small bite of a new food.

Parents of children of color think about this issue a lot, because if we do not deliberately consider the representation of people of color in the art that our children consume, they will view a world that is mostly Caucasian and does not include them. Woman more often think about this than men because as a minority. There is less portrayal of woman in our culture and less diversity in that limited exposure we have to woman than is idea.

Start with yourself. Examine the authors you read, the artists you listen to and the actors that you watch. Put them in a list. Does this list represent the many layers of diversity that you want your child to embrace and celebrate? If it doesn’t, make some changes. Then do the same thing for your own children.

This isn’t easy to do, but it’ important. You are what you eat and you are the art that your experience. With food we feed the body and sometimes our soul, and with art we feed our minds, our hearts and our soul. Do this work so to your children are healthy and strong, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Neil Gaiman said that “a book is a little empathy machine.” I would add that all art is an empathy machine, which as Gaiman concludes, “It puts you inside somebody else’s head. You see out of the world through somebody else’s eyes. It’s very hard to hate people of a certain kind when you’ve just read a book by one of those people.”

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