For quite some time now, my 7-year-old daughter has been learning about the election in school. She comes home with questions, and for the most part, they aren’t about the election. The questions tend to be about people:

“Why does skin color matter?” “I’m worried about my friend because her skin is different, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to her.” “Mommy, why would someone say it’s OK to kill the baby in your belly? I can feel it kick and it has a heartbeat.” “Why are some people mean to others? I know I fight with {siblings} but I still love them.” “Why do people put the flag on the ground and step on it or burn it? Daddy says that hurts his feelings because he is in the National Guard to protect these people, even the naughty ones. So why would they be mean to someone protecting them?”

And countless other questions…

That I, an adult with a Masters-level degree, have no idea how to answer.

I am trying to raise children who love, care for, respect, and empathize with others. I’m not perfect. I get angry. I react with yelling, or slamming things down, or what I call “mommy tantrums.” They learn and I hear my angry words coming out of their mouths. I see my angry reactions in their actions. And I am not proud of myself.

I have done enough studying in my counseling degree to know that I am not perfect as a human being. I have thoughts brought on by race, gender, sexual orientation, age, class. I can’t even tell you all the -ists out there that influence how I live. Most of the time, it’s not by choice. Society’s standards impact me. People influence me.

The difference between myself and someone who is openly and cruelly one of these “-isms” is awareness and change. I’ve studied myself (literally had to write papers on it). I’m aware that I’m more afraid of men than women. I’m aware that I’m more wary around certain races, especially if they are men. I’m aware that I can be uncomfortable with someone of a different sexual orientation because I’m afraid of offending them with something I say. I’m aware I’m wary around people of different religions. The list goes on.

I’m constantly aware of my behaviors. I wonder how close I would sit next to certain people. Would I sit closer or farther depending on their race and/or gender or is this distance just my “bubble” – my comfort zone around people I don’t know? I wonder if I should approach the mother of my daughter’s friend, and how to strike up a conversation. Would I inadvertently say something offensive? The day after the election, I went to my volunteer job. I smiled at people. I chatted with them. I wondered if they were wondering if I had other motives because they were different races or dressed differently or weren’t rich. And the list continues.

With my awareness comes change. I try to steer clear of the jokes that openly target races, genders, religions, etc. I make friends and get along with most people. I listen to others, even if their opinions upset me or differ from my own. I try my best to validate what I hear. I speak to my children about kindness, about being themselves and loving themselves, and caring for others. I do my best to show respect for all. I try to encourage my friends and family to not hate. When I was counseling, I confronted clients who chose to perpetuate hate and anger to help them see what was at the root of their feelings/actions/thoughts. I still call out those I know who push angry “agendas” and try to help them see how it is eating at them from the inside.

Yet, even with my awareness and attempts to change, I’m still not perfect. There are times I fail to be a positive change.

But my children are better than me because of my attempts. They genuinely care for others. My oldest worries about how the election results affect her friend, and wonders why people react with violence. My middle child is good at making friends, especially with kids who are in some way handicapped. He doesn’t dwell on the handicap. My youngest – she’s only 2 – is about to get a lesson in the-world-does-not-revolve-around-me when the baby is born. However, she is still a caring person, giving hugs and kisses to those she finds crying.

I continue to work on me. I try to raise loving, empathetic children in a society that is narcissistic and angry. When I posted a quote from my oldest about caring for others no matter how they are different, many people responded how wise she was. One person stated “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see things the way our children see them, a little closer to the floor, looking up. Maybe we could come up with some answers to the problems that our children see.”

It made me think. Children simplify the problems we, as adults, tend to blow out of proportion. They see things differently than we do. They are not born hating; they are taught to hate. When we get down to their level, the world is bigger, awesome, and amazing.

However, his reply had another meaning for me. A message to myself, and perhaps others, to get closer to the floor, to get on our knees, and to look up – to Heaven. To pray. To understand that I may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. To be the light for others who are trapped in the darkness and cannot see a way out. To ask for the courage to stand for what is right (and most likely difficult).

Like a child, get a little closer to the floor and look up to the bigger, awesome, and amazing God before you.

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Jessica McCaslin

Jessica is a mom who is working outside the home part-time and who is learning to cope with the ever-changing daily challenges of full-time parenthood. She graduated with her Master's degree in community counseling from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2005, and works with a diverse mental health population. Jessica resides in Central Nebraska with her husband and four children on the family ranch.

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