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Why Sugar Coating the History of Slavery Is a Bad Idea If We Want to Empower Our Kids

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“The difference between a lady and a woman back in colonial times was that ladies had more power and influence because of the number of slaves they owned.” These were the words spoken to my family while on a recent tour of the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.


Peyton Randolph was elected the presiding officer of the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774 and the Speaker of Virginia’s House of Burgesses in the years leading to the Revolution. He and his wife Betty Harrison Randolph owned 27 slaves. This now historic site is set up to educate visitors about the stark contrasts between freedom and slavery at the house of one of America’s most prominent families.

As we left the tour, I pondered how I was going to explain the concept of slavery to my young white children. It is not exactly a common conversation topic at our dinner table. Nonetheless, I know deep in my heart how critical it is that they learn about this awful part of American history. If they don’t know what happened in the past, how will they ever work towards a better future and ensure that we never go back to those dark times?

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I asked my 9-year-old son what he thought of the tour and if he knew anything about what was discussed. He immediately linked the idea of slavery and racism to what he learned in school about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. I was proud that his school incorporated these lessons into their social studies curriculum. Not all schools are brave enough to delve into such challenging topics.

I can remember how shocked I was in college when I sat in my Women’s Studies history class to discover that much of the history I was taught in high school and earlier completely left out women’s roles in important historical events.

Given the current tension in America between people of different backgrounds, such as the horrific showing of hatred in Charlottesville, I have to wonder what role we as parents must play in order to ensure our children get an honest education about history – without frightening them too much.

Are they too young to learn about slavery?

The answer is a resounding “no” from experts at Scholastic. They explain that conversations about skin color typically start in preschool as children become more curious about other people and the world around them.

Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said children are not waiting around for adults to talk about these issues. She found that kids are ready to discuss these topics early and are already doing so whether we realize it or not.

Unfortunately, many parents shy away from talking about the world’s ugliness with their kids, hoping that they will stay naïve and innocent for as long as possible. Thomas says this is not the best approach to take. It is more effective if we are in touch with our children earlier on and address these issues together as they grow.

It may be difficult to find the appropriate time or place to bring up slavery. Keep an eye out for opportunities that pop up, like a TV show, a book, a song, or an event that touches on the topic. Or maybe your young child notices that someone else has darker skin than they do. The more subtley you broach the topic, the easier it will be for both you and your child.

An article in Parenting magazine offered a really clever way to begin the conversation with young children. Invite them to help cook some eggs with you in the kitchen. Be sure to have some white eggs and brown eggs. Ask your child what they notice about the eggs. What is different about them on the outside?

Then crack the eggs together and ask them what they notice about the insides of the eggs. Point out how they are the same inside. Then make the link by explaining how eggs are just like people – they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside. We should not judge someone by their appearance.

Tips for teaching children about slavery

Because talking to our kids about slavery is such a challenging task, I scoured the internet for expert advice on how best to address it. Here are some amazing tips to consider:

Examine your own biases first

Before you even begin to talk to your children about slavery and racism, take some time to look inside yourself and acknowledge your own experiences, biases, or privileges that may influence how you address these issues.

Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles about these topics with your kids. You can tell them that you are not an expert and want to work together with them to learn more. Consider taking the online test about bias created by Harvard experts.

Tell them the truth

Slavery is a very complicated issue that tends to be over-simplified to the detriment of children’s education. Be sure to use correct definitions and tell the whole story.

Many resources only cover the Underground Railroad or the Emancipation Proclamation, but there is a lot more to the history of slavery. Turn to expert resources, like the Teaching Tolerance website that will walk you through the most effective ways to talk about the details of slavery.

Avoid generalizations and stereotypes

Choose your words carefully. Not every Northerner was an abolitionist, and not every Southerner supported slavery. Although the North ended slavery decades before the Civil War, the people there continued to profit from it by manufacturing the whips, lashes, and chains used to enforce slavery in the South.

Also, be careful not to say that people were “born a slave.” Nature does not make people slaves; people enslave other people. Slaves were people treated like property and tortured for profit.

Celebrate the positives

There are tons of awful details about how slaves were treated that we do not want to dwell on too much with our children. Be sure to also focus on some of the heroes of that time who fought for their freedom, such as Arnold Cragston, a slave by day who rowed others to freedom by night, and Milla Granson who taught fellow slaves to read and write.

Encourage them to express their emotions

Learning about slavery can be very distressing. Give your children a safe space to reflect on how it makes them feel. Their emotions can range from anger, shock, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and fear. Then ask them to look for ways to transform those negative emotions into positives, like hope and activism.

Link history to present time

The most important reason to study the awful parts of history is to ensure that it does not repeat itself. Take time to draw links between slavery then and racism and slavery today.

Human trafficking and forced child labor are examples of how slavery is still going on today. Sadly, racism is still entrenched in American culture. Explain to your children that slavery caused racism, and people are still fighting it. (Unfortunately, there are all too many examples in the news every day to point to.)

Be a good role model

Many Americans think people are “naturally” racist, that racism is genetic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to experts, humans are not born racist. Instead, racism is a product of history. Our children are watching and listening to us.

Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist, educator, author, and past president of Spelman College, suggests that the best way to reduce children’s prejudices is to model an inclusive home, demonstrating that we have friends of all backgrounds. She explains that “parents who have learned to lead multicultural lives, connecting with people different from themselves, are more likely to have children who develop those important life skills at an early age.”

Resources

Fortunately, we have plenty of well thought out resources to turn to when it is time to talk to our kids about slavery.

Books

Books are a wonderful way to initiate a discussion about slavery with children. Young readers can safely experience scary, sad, and uncomfortable issues through reading. Here’s a list of recommended books for kids about slavery:

  • “Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family” by Dolores Johnson
  • “If You Lived When There Was Slavery In America” by Anne Kamma
  • “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Terry M. West
  • “If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Larry Johnson
  • “Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • “Lest We Forget” by Velma Maia Thomas
  • “Unspoken” by Henry Cole
  • “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” by Faith Ringgold
  • “Frederick Douglas: The Last Days Of Slavery” by William Miller
  • “Nettie’s Trip South” by Anne Turner
  • “Many Thousands Gone: African Americans From Slavery To Freedom” by Virginia Hamilton et al.
  • “The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery” by Dennis Brindell Fradin, Judith Bloom Fradin, and Eric Velasquez

Films

As children get older, it is helpful to sit with them and watch documentaries or movies that address slavery and racism. “Roots”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Amistad”, “The Underground Railroad”, and “A Woman Called Moses” are some of the most popular ones to explore.

Common Sense Media also has an online database of suggested African-American experience films.

Field Trips/Museums

Visiting hands-on exhibits like the one at Colonial Williamsburg offers experiences that your children will remember forever. Here are some museums to visit that address slavery:

Hope is on the horizon

The best news of all is that after our visit to Colonial Williamsburg, my son found the idea of slavery so ridiculous and unbelievable. The concept of treating people differently because of the color of their skin is so foreign to him. He plays with kids of all backgrounds at school and would never dream of it being any other way.

We can only hope that this next generation will be color blind and never put up with intolerance of any kind.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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As mamas, we naturally become the magic-makers for our families. We sing the songs that make the waits seem shorter, dispense the kisses that help boo-boos hurt less, carry the seemingly bottomless bags of treasures, and find ways to turn even the most hum-drum days into something memorable.

Sometimes it's on a family vacation or when exploring a new locale, but often it's in our own backyards or living rooms. Here are 12 ways to create magical moments with kids no matter where your adventures take you.


1. Keep it simple

Mary Poppins may be practically perfect in every way, but―trust us―your most magical memories don't require perfection. Spend the morning building blanket forts or break out the cookie cutters to serve their sandwich in a fun shape and you'll quickly learn that, for kids, the most magical moments are often the simplest.

2. Get on their level

Sometimes creating a memorable moment can be as easy as getting down on the floor and playing with your children. So don't be afraid to get on your hands and knees, to swing from the monkey bars, or turn watching your favorite movie into an ultimate snuggle sesh.

3. Reimagine the ordinary

As Mary says, "the cover is not the book." Teach your child to see the world beyond initial impressions by encouraging them to imagine a whole new world as you play―a world where the laundry basket can be a pirate ship or a pile of blankets can be a castle.

4. Get a little messy

Stomp in muddy puddles. Break out the finger paint. Bake a cake and don't worry about frosting drips on the counter. The messes will wait, mama. For now, let your children―and yourself―live in these moments that will all too soon become favorite memories.

5. Throw out the plan

The best-laid plans...are rarely the most exciting. And often the most magical moments happen by accident. So let go of the plan, embrace the unexpected, and remember that your child doesn't care if the day goes according to the schedule.

6. Take it outside

There's never a wrong time of year to make magic outside. Take a stroll through a spring rainstorm, catch the first winter snowflakes on your tongue, or camp out under a meteor shower this summer. Mother Nature is a natural at creating experiences you'll both remember forever.

7. Share your childhood memories

Chances are if you found it magical as a child, then your kids will too. Introduce your favorite books and movies (pro tip: Plan a double feature with an original like Mary Poppins followed with the sequel, Mary Poppins Returns!) or book a trip to your favorite family vacation spot from the past. You could even try to recreate photos from your old childhood with your kids so you can hang on to the memory forever.

8. Just add music

Even when you're doing something as humdrum as prepping dinner or tidying up the living room, a little music has a way of upping the fun factor. Tell Alexa to cue up your favorite station for a spontaneous family dance party or use your child's favorite movie soundtrack for a quick game of "Clean and Freeze" to pick up toys at the end of the day.

9. Say "yes"

Sometimes it can feel like you're constantly telling your child "no." While it's not possible to grant every request (sorry, kiddo, still can't let you drive the car!), plan a "yes" day for a little extra magic. That means every (reasonable) request gets an affirmative response for 24 hours. Trust us―they'll never forget it.

10. Let them take the lead

A day planned by your kid―can you imagine that? Instead of trying to plan what you think will lead to the best memories, put your kid in the driver's seat by letting them make the itinerary. If you have more than one child, break up the planning so one gets to pick the activity while the other chooses your lunch menu. You just might end up with a day you never expected.

11. Ask more questions

Odds are, your child might not remember every activity you plan―but they will remember the moments you made them feel special. By focusing the conversation on your little one―their likes, dislikes, goals, or even just craziest dreams―you teach them that their perspective matters and that you are their biggest fan.

12. Turn a bad day around

Not every magical moment will start from something good. But the days where things don't go to plan can often turn out to be the greatest memories, especially when you find a way to turn even a negative experience into a positive memory. So don't get discouraged if you wake up to rain clouds on your beach day or drop the eggs on the floor before breakfast―take a cue from Mary Poppins and find a way to turn the whole day a little "turtle."

Mary Poppins Returns available now on Digital & out on Blue-ray March 19! Let the magic begin in your house with a night where everything is possible—even the impossible ✨

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Garner have a lot in common. They are both actors, they're both moms of three, and they're both having a laugh clapping back at magazine headlines suggesting they're pregnant.

Witherspoon shared the cover of the latest issue of OK! on her Instagram recently, tagging Jen Garner in the caption and asking "Can we raise our imaginary babies together?"

"We are going to be the cutest imaginary family," Garner replied. "I'll just go ahead and move in now."

As much as we are all for an alternative reality where Witherspoon and Garner are BFFs who move in together to raise their children, it's pretty clear that isn't happening in the real world.

What is happening is speculation about women's bodies, which isn't cool. In this case, a magazine linked Jen Garner's supposed fondness for sweaters to a secret pregnancy and not, you know, sweater weather.

But women in the public eye have to put up with pregnancy rumors nearly constantly. Just recently, Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge was said by tabloids to be three months pregnant, a rumor she totally shut down by drinking Guinness on St. Patrick's Day.

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And of course, no woman in history has been pregnant as often as the tabloids have made Jennifer Aniston out to be, something she's written at length about, noting that the speculation is hurtful to her on a personal level, and is damaging on a societal level. "If I am some kind of symbol to some people out there, then clearly I am an example of the lens through which we, as a society, view our mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, female friends and colleagues," she wrote for Huffington Post in 2016. "The objectification and scrutiny we put women through is absurd and disturbing."

"We use celebrity 'news' to perpetuate this dehumanizing view of females, focused solely on one's physical appearance, which tabloids turn into a sporting event of speculation. Is she pregnant? Is she eating too much? Has she let herself go? Is her marriage on the rocks because the camera detects some physical 'imperfection'?" Aniston wondered in her essay.

Like Aniston, Garner and Witherspoon are frequent subjects of false stories that say more about our society than they do about the women they claim to be reporting on.

It's good to see these two powerful women clapping back at companies that make money peddling pretend pregnancy narratives. As much as we love a *real* pregnancy announcement, we're bored to death of bump speculation. Women—those making the headlines and those consuming them—deserve better.

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To the parent of the child who continues eating a snack from the ground well after the five-second rule expires...

To the parent of the child who isn't content unless their hands are at least a little muddy...

To the parent of the child who is perfectly happy to share sips of water from a friend's cup...

There is good news: Exposure to dirt and germs helps children's immune systems. Jack Gilbert, Ph.D., a scientist who studies microbial ecosystems at the University of Chicago—and a father of two who continually faced messy situations—looked into the effects of those potential germs on little bodies for a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

What he and his co-authors discovered about the relationships between kids and germs was incredibly reassuring. “It turned out that most of the exposures were actually beneficial," he told NPR's Weekend Edition. "So that dirty pacifier that fell on the floor—if you just stick it in your mouth and lick it, and then pop it back in little Tommy's mouth, it's actually going to stimulate their immune system. Their immune system's going to become stronger because of it."

Now the co-author of Dirt is Good: The Advantage of Germs for Your Child's Developing Immune System, Gilbert said his bigger concerns is with the extreme sanitization we see today.

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“It's fine to wash their hands if there's a cold or a flu virus around, but if they're interacting with a dog, and the dog licks their face, that's not a bad thing," Gilbert said. “In fact that could be extremely beneficial for the child's health."

So, what's the reason why small amounts of dirt and germs help kids?

Gilbert said the infection-fighting neutrophil cells in our bodies become “grumpy and pro-inflammatory" when they're waiting for something to do. So, without small amounts of germs of fight off along the way, those neutrophils become “explosively inflammatory" when they finally do get to tango. As he said, “That's what triggers asthma and eczema and often times, food allergies."

As for the common dirty dilemmas parents face, here are the verdicts Gilbert gave to NPR...

Should children use hand-sanitizer?

Gilbert said that hot, soapy water is the better bet in most cases.

Is it okay for a kid to eat something more than five seconds after it fell on the floor?

Gilbert said this is actually a case of all-or-nothing: Because it takes microbes less than a second to attach to food, the bigger question is just how contaminated do you think the surface really is? In most homes, he said this isn't too big of a concern.

Should you wash or lick a pacifier after it fell?

Good news to the mamas who never got around to buying those pacifier wipes: Gilbert cited a study of more than 300,000 children, which showed children of moms in the habit of licking off dirty pacifiers actually had lower rates of asthma, allergies and eczema. As he said, “Overall, their health was stronger and more robust."

Next time your toddler eats a handful of dirt, remember this: You're just doing your part in raising a healthy kid.

Here's how to make your job a little bit easier, mama:

1. Fill your own cup first

As a parent, you are always taking care of other people. The whirlwind of worry, cooking, feeding, diaper changing, snotty nose wiping, cleaning, scheduling, shopping, working, and sleepless nights leaves you feeling frazzled and drained. The cycle of constantly tending to others' needs leaves no time for your own.

But you can't pour from an empty cup. In reality, serving yourself first will allow you to best serve others. It is not selfish, it's just basic self-respect. Something you want your kids to learn, right?

So find a way to make self-care a priority. The world can wait while you take a little break to go for a walk, read a book, pursue a hobby you enjoy, do some yoga, prep healthy meals, or even take a fantastic nap.

2. Get moving

One of the single most important ways to implement self-care is to exercise. I know, I know, you've heard this one a million times. “But I don't have the energy or time, it's hard, it's boring," you might say.

But it doesn't have to be that complicated. You don't have to spend hours a day, buy expensive equipment, join a class, kill yourself boot camp-style, or even go to the gym (unless that's your thing, of course).

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Just get your body moving. Find something that you actually enjoy. Walk, dance, or follow a simple at-home workout plan in your living room. You'll find it invigorating and will be surprised at all the wonderful things it will do in your life, like boost energy and immunity, improve your sleep, and even help you think more clearly. Not to mention you'll be setting a great example for your kids to follow, double win!

3. Let boredom ring

“I'm bored."

Two little words every parent dreads hearing. That phrase sends us into a frenzy of googling activities to do, Pinterest-y snacks to make, local events to go to, and crafts to make out of toilet paper tubes. Then, when our offspring decide none of this stuff is acceptable, we throw up our hands and just give them another hour of screen time.

Why do we think we need to entertain our kids at all times?

LET THEM BE BORED.

Everyone experiences it. No one ever died from it. It's not something you need to protect your children from.

There are actually all kinds of benefits to getting bored. Boredom fosters creativity. When a kid hits that state of nothing left to do, their brain starts really firing. Bored thoughts lead to innovative thoughts, which are a good thing.

They will come up with something to do, no matter how much whining happens first. If they really need help, create a list with them that they can always go back to. If that doesn't work, you can always make a list of chores or ask them to help you clean. Suddenly anything else becomes oh-so-fun!

If they're always handed things to do, how are they ever going to handle themselves? Constant doting and attention can lead to them feeling entitled throughout life. Let them start thinking for themselves.

Remember, learning to amuse themselves helps develop problem-solving skills, motivation, and interests of their own – all contributing to healthy psychological development and a clear sense of self.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to ignore your children. It's great to spend time and do things with them, but it's also okay and even beneficial to let them figure things out for themselves sometimes.

Bonus: You might even be able to get some valuable me-time out of it.

4. Give yourself a time-out

Although you probably can't take a daily nap or excuse yourself from frustrating moments in most situations, you can give yourself a little time out when you need it at home. If you need a break, just go to another room and cool down a bit. Breathe. You'll likely be more reasonable and collected when you come back.

5. Help yourself to some hygge

Um…what?

Hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Danish term meaning “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being." It's likely a factor in why Denmark is considered the happiest country in the world.

Unfortunately, in our fast-paced culture, relaxing can be viewed as laziness or underachievement. Silence your inner critic and anyone else whose opinion you don't need. Taking a break is not only nice, it's necessary.

Just as adequate sleep is vital to overall health and functioning, a hygge-style mental rest can make you feel refreshed, full of joy, and more productive, among other things.

So have a hefty helping of hygge however it suits you. Slow down to savor a mug of hot cocoa or coffee, enjoy family movie night, slip on some warm fuzzy slippers, listen to music, Netflix and chill, go on a date night, get together with friends, bake cookies, chill on the beach…whatever makes you feel comforted and cozy. Try to make this a regular thing in your life. It's a lifestyle, not just an occasional thing.


She turns five this month. My sweet, little baby girl will be five.

I have all the typical parental platitudes: Where did the time go? I can't believe she's FIVE! Remember when she was just born? Took her first step? Roared like a lion all the time? (Okay, so that one's making a comeback.)

When she rocketed into this world, I had no idea about anything. I had no idea who she would become, or who I would become, or even that I would transform into someone else.

Looking at pictures of that day produces the same nostalgic emotion in me, directed at both of us—Awwww, I remember that girl.

I remember her, so tiny and beautiful, sweet and new. And I remember me, innocent and hopeful, exhausted and adrift. Untethered. Something changed in me the day she was born, but I didn't know that yet. And I certainly didn't know what or why or how I would get to the other side.

Five years. Five years of sleepless nights and intense love. Five years of laughs and kissing booboos and reading books.

Five years.

She's growing up. So much changes by five. I'm heading into this year pretty certain that this is the last year of being able to see any remaining baby-ness in her. I've watched it start to fade faster than ever, these past few months.

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I don't want to head into five being overly sentimental or sad. I am fiercely proud of my girl. For the way she embraces love, creativity and adventure. For how she's traversed the past few years of preschool and new friends and a little brother who is growing up fast and requiring more and more of our attention. For how quick she is to hug and laugh.

She's independent, stubborn and strong-willed. She's curious, open and loving. And she was trusted to me. I am awed. Whatever I did to earn this girl with the beautiful, magical, wonderful spirit, I will never stop trying to live up to the privilege.

And now, I wonder about myself.

I've also been trusted with my own beautiful, magical, wonderful spirit. For a little while, I stopped considering that a privilege. I stopped considering it at all. I think this is the point where danger lurks in motherhood, the point where we put ourselves on a shelf and go all-in on our kids' lives.

I also think it's okay to do that. In some ways, it's required. But we need a tether, something attached to dry land that can pull us back when we wade out too deep.

The Stevie Smith poem echoes in my head, when I think about the darkest, deepest days: "I was much too far out all my life/ And not waving but drowning."

How many mamas do we see waving who are actually drowning? So many, I think. We haven't figured out how to be moms in this do-it-all era. We're getting there, but so many of us are untethered.

I would do anything for my kids, and if it came down to it I know that I would cast aside my dreams in favor of theirs. I just can't think of a scenario where it would come down to that. I think that both can coexist.

I think I can give my kids my best and still water the garden of my own desires. I think I have to. I know I want to show them that. I want them to see me happy, fulfilled. I want them to believe that anything is possible, not just because I told them it's possible for them but because I showed them that it was possible for me.

I love them with a fierceness, and so I have learned to be fierce about my love for myself, too.

My daughter turns five very soon, and we'll celebrate her. But in the back of my head, I'll be celebrating me, too. So maybe it's really this: We turn five this month.

For me, five years of motherhood. Feeling tethered, finally.

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