Love is Not Enough

Each week I get to hang out with the coolest kids on my campus. Most identify as LGBT or are allies. The time I spend with these students is, by far, the best part of my week.

In my conversations with these students, I often ask about home. Everyone has a different story, but a theme I hear often is, my parents love me, but….. OK, folks, I just want to be clear with everyone, there are no “buts” in loving your child!!

Here’s what my students are telling me: My parents love me, but they just don’t understand. My parents love me, but they just aren’t comfortable with me being gay. My parents love me, but they’re really religious. My parents love me, but the rest of my family doesn’t know.  My parents love me, but they voted for Amendment 1 or eat at Chick-fil-a. My parents love me, but they don’t support my identity (parents are usually referring to identity as “lifestyle”).

Parents, let’s talk for a minute. Whenever the but follows the love, it doesn’t feel like love. Your kid doesn’t feel fully accepted in the home that should be their safest space on earth. It doesn’t matter what the but is, they* know/feel that they will never be able to live up to your expectations or be worthy of all your love. I know, I know. I have it all wrong. You love your child unconditionally and think they are the most amazing child on the planet. Sadly, the buts are causing them to miss that message.

Don’t understand your child who is LGBT; talk to them (without judging). Understand their experience.

Not comfortable; talk to them (without judging). Understand their experience.

Religious; well, that’s a whole other post, but really consider the teachings of Jesus and what he would do with his LGBT child.

Family not comfortable with your child’s identity; challenge, educate, and advocate. Their bigotry is a choice, your child’s identity is not.

Supporting causes that negatively impact your child; do some soul searching and prioritization. Talk to your child about the impact on them. Support your child – always!

Think it’s a choice, phase, or lifestyle; accept that you’re wrong and listen to your child’s experience. No one is going to “choose” to live a life of oppression that the LGBT community faces. The only choice they have is to hide their identity from you or not.

Don’t think this is important or that you don’t want to do any of this; accept the fact that you’re going to miss out on the best part of your kid’s life – which could be the best part of your life. Your kid is remarkable. Just love them. No buts.

*They/them may seem like poor grammar when used above, but here I use it as a gender neutral pronoun as to not assume the pronoun your child prefers.

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Where I’ve Been

With the Supreme Court ruling on Obamacare recently, there have been a lot of comments about having to support people who don’t pull their own weight. Although the privilege in those comments is smothering, I’m mostly sickened by the assumptions people are making about people who receive public support.

As a teenager, my grandparents never taught my mom how to protect her eggs from the cute boy’s sperm. So, I was born. 1978. Mom 17, Dad 18. Not a good foundation for a relationship. That didn’t last. From the beginning of time, I remember my mom working at a local grocery store; Big Bear. Although she worked 40 hours a week, she didn’t make a lot of money. Luckily, my grandparents owned some land and were able to pull a trailer up in their adjacent lot so we had somewhere to live. As far as I knew, I never went without anything. That included food.

Although my grandparents would have never let me starve, part of the reason why my mom was able to feed me was because of food stamps. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember the strips of orange stamps in my mom’s purse and the page from the booklet with the orange stamps my mom would hand to the cashier. And those stamps helped pay for our food.

I was never hungry. And my mom wasn’t lazy. And she was kind to me. And she would say, “Kiss me and tell me you love me.” And I was mostly always clean and if I wasn’t it was my own fault. I did have some bad haircuts though and that was my mom’s fault because she cut it. She washed my clothes. I had clothes. And she would get me a cool birthday cake from Big Bear every year. One time with Cinderella’s carriage and horses. And I sometimes even got to get my pictures “professionally” taken with my cousin.

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The point is that we used food stamps and we were mostly perfectly normal. Not trying to cheat the system. Not laying around smoking cigarettes, doing drugs, and watching TV all day. Not having more babies to get more support. Not letting men freeload off the support she got.

Just trying to make a living for the mistake that she made. And she always wanted more for me. And for her. She went to community college. I went to college, twice. But before we got there, we had to eat. 

So when I hear your comments about these dirty, filthy freeloaders who should have to take drug tests before getting their aid, I realize you must not have ever been in my shoes. Or my mom’s. And then I feel bad for you because my mom is pretty remarkable. I think you might like being in her shoes. 

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Say What?

If you know me, you know that I really don’t have anything to say unless it relates to privilege and oppression. Lately, the people I’ve been talking to have a lot to say also and I’d like to make a proposal.

I’d like to invite any of you who have something to say about privilege and oppression to write a post for this blog. You can identify yourself in your writing or not. You can share your experience or opinion about the topic or someone’s close to you. Your perspective doesn’t have to be the same as mine. In fact, this blog will be much better with different perspectives presented. Republican or conservative perspectives? Would love to have it. Crazy liberal like me? Always like to hear I’m not alone.

If you are interested in this, please email your post to sharilea17@yahoo.com.

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Break the Cycle

A lot of oppression happens because of systems in society that are the core of many social justice issues. People with a lot of privilege like to blame individuals for their failures. Based on their experience, they believe that they worked hard to get what they have and if everyone worked as hard as them they could have the same things. This just isn’t true. Let’s take a look at this theory.

Meet Sam. He comes from an upper-middle class family. His mother has a doctorate and his other mom has a masters degree. He lives in an upper-middle class community that is able to fund school levies each time they are on the ballot.

Meet Paul. He comes from a working class family. Most people in his extended family have graduated from high school. His mother took a couple classes at the local community college, but his dad has no college experience. Paul’s high school struggles to provide text books for all the students and does not have access to sufficient technology.

Sam and Paul are juniors in high school. Sam’s parents know that he should start looking at colleges this year and take him to several different states to visit various colleges. Because he has no one in his family to mentor him through the process, Paul thinks he has another year before he has to start looking at colleges. Sam is involved in several organizations in school and has plenty of time to study each night. Sam and his parents also use their time to search for scholarships. Paul has to help support his family so he goes to work after school each day and gets home around 9pm. By the time he gets home he’s hungry and tired. He eats and then studies until he falls asleep. Paul’s family does not own a computer so even if he knew he should currently be searching for scholarships, he would only have access when he was able to go to the library. He is usually not able to get there because he works or is in school during the hours the library is open.

It’s their senior year. Sam has taken the SAT a couple of times, decided what school he is going to, has already applied to several scholarships, and has his college application ready to submit. Paul sets up an appointment with the school’s guidance counselor who shares time between 2 other schools in the district. By the time Paul meets with her, it’s October. Sam’s application is already in and he’s waiting to hear whether or not he is an early admit. Paul learns that he should currently be applying for schools, but he hasn’t even taken the SAT or gone on any campus tours. After he pays to take the SAT, he and his family aren’t able to afford $4/gallon of gas to travel around the state to look at colleges.

By the end of their senior years, Sam and Paul are both admitted into college. Sam is going to a private school in the neighboring state and has scholarships to pay for a big portion of his education. His parents are able to pay for the rest. Paul is going to a college an hour away from his hometown. He was eligible for a need based grant. He will have to continue to work at least 30 hours a week to pay for his tuition and help support his family at home.

Although Sam and Paul are both going to college, they didn’t have the same experience. Sam had some privileges in his life that made the process easier to navigate. His parents had gone through the process before and were able to guide him. They were able to pay for him to take the SAT until he got a competitive score. They had the resources to take him to serval states to look at many colleges. Paul had to figure out the process on his own. This can be very overwhelming for a 17-year-old boy who doesn’t have anyone to help. He had to pay for the SAT and could only afford to take it once. He nor his parents had the extra funds or a reliable car to travel to campuses.

This won’t be the only differences in their experiences. Sam will never have to worry about not finishing college because he can’t afford to be there. Paul has to find a way to balance 15 credit hours and a 30 hour per week job in order to stay in school. He won’t have time to participate in any student organizations which often lead to better jobs after graduation. People can work hard and achieve great things in life, but not all people have to work equal amounts to achieve equal rewards.

Paul was lucky. His parents were open to the option of college. Many families believe college is unattainable and in the meantime discourage their kids’ dreams. Sometimes it’s much worse. Some families unintentionally teach their children bad habits at early ages (i.e., theft, drugs, alcohol, etc.) and make it virtually impossible for their kids to succeed. Other families are very privileged. They teach their children that through hard work they can accomplish anything. They may or may not have overcome their own challenges, but want their children to be successful. They provide every opportunity for their children to succeed. Even though they teach their children that hard work pays off, their children rarely have to do much work to succeed. But, the children grow up to believe they personally worked hard to become successful. Often they are not able to recognize the opportunities their parents provided to get them where they are.

In each scenario, the kids grow up, have their own kids, and teach their children the same values, habits, beliefs their families taught them. That’s how the cycle works. You’re born into your family. They are the strongest influence in your life. You believe the way your family operates is how life works. You’ve never had a different example. Why would you believe there are other options? And so goes the cycles of privilege and oppression. The cycle never changes until you are able to recognize privilege and oppression in society. Take a look around and decide what you will do with the privilege and oppression you see. What inequities are in your community? What parts of your success or other people’s failures may not be as they seem? What impact will you have in our society that relies on privilege and oppression?

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Raising Privileged Kids

I’m raising two white boys who will grow up with a lot of privilege. That’s a big responsibility. Not only do I have to examine my own privilege, I have to provide opportunities for them to do that also.

Of course, dinner time and rides in the car are always filled with social justice topics. I’m always asking questions like: Why do you think people think it’s not okay for our friends to get married? How do you think your friend feels when they are always the one not being included? What are some things you can do to include them? What should you do if someone is being mean to someone else? What are some things you can say to stick up for someone who is being bullied? What color do you want me to paint your toes? Why do you think that adult thought you wouldn’t want that pink bracelet? Why do you think that someone would call the police on someone just because they are black? What do you think about religion? How do you think the world works?

At some point, we need to provide some good opportunities for them to be confronted with their privilege. What are some things that you have done? Or if you don’t want or have kids, you still have good ideas. Share.

My babies might be my only chance to save this world. Help me out! What would you do?

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Notes for Your Counselor

My first idea for a blog was to write letters to the boys explaining all the weird stuff in their lives and explain why my husband, Ed, and I make the decisions we do. I was going to name it Notes for Your Counselor and then they would have an entire blog to share with their therapists when they grew up.

I never did find the time to start that blog, but I did begin writing some letters to the boys for it. Because my worldview is grounded in social justice, there are definitely things that are relevant to oppression. Here’s a glimpse into their life being controlled by a social justice advocate mother.

Why You Can’t Be a Boy Scout

Dear Boys,

In the past, Hayden expressed his desire to become a boy scout. Here’s the problem: Boy Scouts don’t like gay kids. OK, maybe “don’t like” is a little harsh. But, gay boys aren’t welcome in the organization, neither are gay leaders. The Boy Scouts even won a Supreme Court ruling stating that because they are a private organization, it was okay to discriminate. I know the Boy Scouts do amazing things, and get to race little wooden cars and use knives in the woods, and tie knots, and learn (mostly) good values. And I know Boy Scouts are good kids. It’s not the kids in Boy Scouts fault for the organization discriminating against gay kids. However, as a parent who believes in equal rights, it is not okay for my child to participate in an activity that would be denied to another child.

So, we’ll move on. We’ll look into other groups like the Navigators, Campfire Kids, or whatever other group out there that does cool stuff like the Boy Scouts, but welcomes all children. When you see your friends with their little blue suits and yellow handkerchiefs on, please don’t be jealous or resentful. Know that you are supporting all children and standing up for equal opportunity. I’ll do what I can to provide the same opportunities as long as you’re willing to be patient while your soap box mom fights the system!

Why You Can’t Be a Soldier

Dear Boys,

It’s really important to me that you define your life and make your life decisions based on what you believe and want, not on what the world or dad and I have lead you to believe. I hope you are able to see beyond the falseness of the world’s expectations to become the true you. I will encourage you to pursue any path you deem appropriate. However, under no circumstance can you be a soldier! I cannot be the mother of a soldier. I know it’s not about me, but as the sister of a soldier, I can tell you I do not have the strength to be the mother of one.

I first experienced the heartbreak (and inequality) of a soldier’s life when dad and I attended Uncle Brad’s boot camp graduation. It was a phenomenal experience and the culture of the Army was remarkable. What overshadowed everything for me were the boys (this was infantry so there were no girls) who stood in formation waiting to be pinned and they had no family or friends there to participate. I couldn’t help but wonder what these boys were thinking while they were standing there alone and seeing the love and support other soldiers were receiving around them. It probably didn’t help that at the time I was a brand new mom of about 2 or 3 months. I knew these boys were people’s sons. How terrible it had to be to know your son was there alone.

Here’s the thing. The military can be a ticket out of poverty. The military knows that and uses it against the poor kids. You get a salary and benefits. The more risk you are willing to take to compromise your life, the more money you get. That can be really appealing to those who have never had money; ask Uncle Brad, he fell for it. Not only do they use money to get people to do some illogical jobs, you see situations like the boot camp boys I talked about. Some may have come from homes where they didn’t have a lot of money. They were sent to Georgia to boot camp and maybe their families were from Colorado. Who could afford a trip from Georgia to Colorado when you can barely pay your bills? So, the boys just stand in formation and watch others with more privilege (i.e., money, geographical location, vehicles, etc.) getting their support. The poor boy and the privileged boy just had the same intense experience and deserve the same support, but because of inequality, they don’t both get it. Certainly everyone joins the military for various reasons, but it cannot be denied that the money and benefits lure in people who live in poverty and want out.

Then there’s war. We’ve been at war your entire lives. Do you know what has happened as a result of the war? There’s a lot of broken and dead people and a lot of stereotypes about people from the Middle East. That’s all. Nothing else. (Oh wait, and a lot of missed holidays and birthdays when soldiers are deployed.) In order to go to war with someone you have to believe that they are wrong or bad or need to be eliminated. I NEVER want you to believe this about anyone. Sometimes people make bad decisions, but none of them deserve to be killed or hated. And neither do you. And neither do the 7800 people who have died since the wars started.

I love our soldiers. These people make sacrifices that most people couldn’t even imagine…at least I couldn’t imagine. I want you to do hard things in life. I want you to make a big difference. I want you to sacrifice for the greater good. I don’t want you to kill or be killed, hate or be hated, to accomplish that.

Why You Can’t Eat at Chik-fil-a

Dear Boys,

I know that we’ve have some good experiences at Chik-fil-a. We enjoy their pickle soaked chicken and as much as it makes me puke in my mouth, you love the play area. We all thought family nights there were a great way to spend our evenings. Their ice cream cones and sweet tea are great. Their staff is very kind. But. There’s always a but. But, I learned that the company is connected to organizations whose mission is to protect families or to protect marriage. Sounds nice, right? What it really means is that the organization wants to define marriage between one man and one woman and is opposed to gay marriage. When we buy their products, they make money. They use that money to be able to support these organizations. By default, our money would also be supporting these organizations. Can’t happen. Sorry! I’ll feed you pink slime before we donate to “preserve family/marriage.”

And so it goes….

Sneaky stuff, huh? You have to watch out for this stuff. Oppressors are sneaky. They cover their motives with pretty words. Sound noble and ethical. Hide behind cultural norms. Challenge it baby boys! And it hurts sometimes. It hurts to sit and watch others chowing down on chicken that we know tastes so good. It hurts to walk away from promises of a lot of money and a successful career. It hurts not to race your car with the rest of the blue shirts. It hurts to be the only one not participating. It hurts to say or do things no one else believes. It hurts to not choose the easy option. But I have faith in you. I know you can and will do great things, not only for yourselves, but for the world. You’ll grow up to be white men. A lot of power and privilege come with that. Use it wisely baby boys. Use it wisely.

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Social Justice Parenting

I’m getting ready to start writing some things about parenting from a social justice perspective. In the meantime, here’s a good post from Momastery to get your juices flowing. (Thanks Jessi for the link!)

People tell me (or tell others) that I’m trying to make my kids gay. Actually, I’m trying to help them understand that if they are gay, they never have to have anxiety about how I feel about them or how I will react. The mom who wrote the post in the link above captures my perspective beautifully.

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