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Parenting a 16-year-old feels a lot like the homestretch in a marathon.
You have come all this way propelled by determination, devotion, and love.
The dilemmas of yesteryears such as pondering at length about the use of the sippy cup or the regular cup, or whether to go directly from diapers to the potty and skip the pull-ups entirely, feels more like a breeze.
Our children seem to have this uncanny ability to know our vulnerable points—especially those places that strike the heart chord. This can sometimes feel like our Achilles has been severed, but if we can relax with our children and this experience of parenting as it presents itself with all its vulnerability, it can be all the better.
My 16-year-old, soon to be 17-year-old, daughter recently began dating an adorable, 17-year-old Hispanic boy. She being white and their relationship becoming “official,” the modern slang used for exclusive partners, has brought some inherited habitual beliefs about dating across racial lines to the surface. It is an eye-opener to hear and experience the racism that still exists in this relatively liberal and educated suburb of California.
I am heartened to be a parent of a person who follows her heart and is blind to appearance. Everyone agrees that they make a charismatic couple. As they begin to spend more and more time together, the question arises about how does our community, both the Hispanics and whites, feel about interracial dating? Also, I am suddenly more aware of the reports of violence happening on an almost daily basis in the predominantly Hispanic dwelling areas of our community. And unexpectedly, I am handed a more personal perspective on these reports.
The Nixle alert on my phone reads:
Police activity in the area at the intersection of Railroad and Bay Street. Two suspects outstanding.
The Nixle system is a means to notify individuals in communities in case of an emergency. After experiencing a devastating fire in my community a few years ago, and although my physical nervous system, my body, does not find it helpful to be alerted of every situation that arises in my community, the unexpected nature of wildfires reminds me of the importance of keeping this emergency channel of communication open. Soon after this alert, my spouse texts that a robbery stabbing ensued. His text reads:
We better talk to her about this stuff. She is hanging out in that area now and it could be dangerous. Also, she needs to understand that some Hispanics might not like a white girl with a Hispanic boy, if you know what I mean. Anyway, this needs to be brought up in some way as she needs to stay vigilant.
This feeling of wanting to keeping a child safe naturally arises when parenting descends. The area where this misconduct is happening tends to be where the lower income families in our community live. Combine the issues of low income with navigating the waters of two different racial communities, Hispanics and whites, coming together and the arising tensions are often acted upon. It seems clear that these unfortunate situations occur because of many causes and conditions coming together.
As parents, we wonder how to communicate the necessity to be awake to the possibility of something negative or dangerous arising, and, at the same time, encourage connecting genuinely without reference to these unsubstantiated negative racial views. One response might be to tell our daughter not to go to this part of town, but rather meet with her boyfriend in “safer” parts. This cocoon-like approach translates into a view that the Hispanic community is not safe, and, in turn, Hispanic people are dangerous. One begins to see how these negative views perpetuate themselves. This approach does not feel right and is not helpful to anyone.
Next, I notice my wanting to be aware and transcend these habitual ways of coping in order to uplift the situation altogether. This feeling of wanting to ignore what is going on and proceed as if it is different than it is arises. This ignorant approach is not helpful to anyone either, for it literally ignores the true situation. Navigating this conversation with my daughter in a way that is wakeful but not fearful is a challenge. Fostering an open bravery without falling into a naive fantasy swirls. The old adage “not too tight, not too loose” comes to mind.
Expressing the vulnerability in the situation for all involved while encouraging a conversation with my daughter becomes the way to approach this situation. Encouraging her verbal expression and asking her what she thinks unlocks that cornered parent feeling. Together, we can observe, reflectively discuss, and be wakeful about these unpredictable situations and places in our community.
Parenting often feels like a lesson in flexibility, letting go, and loving the child as well as what is in front of you. Wanting our children to live from a place of openness, love, and integrity stemming from their most fundamental sense of worthiness, this basic goodness, is natural.
As parents, we begin to see that this sense of worthiness in our children depends upon our choice to give them the opportunity to live without racial bias. Living in this manner is true and can feel both raw and vulnerable. In turn, this vulnerability necessitates a corresponding openness in us as parents.
Soon enough, the homestretch of parenting gives way as the hierarchy of parent and child unravels over time. This relationship between parent and child can be experienced as a sacred relationship, an incredibly vulnerable opportunity for us to fully live and appreciate complete openness without racial bias in the now.