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educator Elizabeth Behrens

Episode 39

Talking to Your Kids About Racism

Elizabeth Behrens, Educator

You’re listening to together by AGCI. I’m Marissa Butterworth.

There are a lot of difficult things about parenting, but hands down, there is one particular subject that I am asked about all the time. How and when do I talk to my adopted and biological kids about racism? We are so fortunate to be able to welcome educator Elizabeth Behrens to the podcast. Elizabeth works with people and organizations who desire to see change at both personal and cultural levels, focusing on areas of race and racism. And today she is going to talk through the whens, whats, and hows of starting that very important conversation with all of our kids. Spoiler alert for this one, you should talk about it now. Let’s get started.

Elizabeth, thank you so much for being willing to jump on with me and share with us all today. It’s such an honor, seriously, to have you here with me. I am so excited just, um, to, to sit and be able to hear from you and talk to you about how and when we should talk to our kids about racism. Um, so we’re just going to like jump right in. Thanks for having me. I’m happy to just jump in. It’s good. It’s an overwhelming topic for so many parents, even as yes. Even if the parent feels like they know a lot about the topic, how to actually convey that to kids can be really challenging. Oh, I am a hundred percent with you. I have dealt with this myself. Um, so tell like, let’s just start. How did you become passionate about this work and, um, teaching and training people about the hows and whats to do around this? Yeah, my, my story is kind of long and winded, but I’ll try to narrow it down a little bit. Um, I grew up in a very white bubble, essentially. Um, my graduating class from high school was 250 students and 245 of those were white students. Um, so I did not come at this, um, by upbringing or naturally through experience other than that experience really shaped when I went into the teaching profession, that the first place that I got a job, my classroom was, was very much not what I was used to from growing up. I had a classroom in a school were there were 16 languages spoken, where there was every racial and ethnic group I could name, you know, present there, um, students that came from all the way from the, you know, the lowest of socioeconomic levels, walking to school from the homeless shelter to families who lived in multi-million dollar homes. And so I was thrown into this diverse community that wasn’t just diverse racially, but diverse, economically and diverse culturally. And, um, I was thoroughly unprepared based on my background and that really jump started my desire to do well by my students and to do well by their families and to understand some of those cultural differences that I was seeing play out. And I just, I wanted to be a good teacher and I wanted to really reach my students and see the most, um, growth possible come out of them. And that included starting to open myself up to being willing to even think about this conversation that, you know, growing up for me and, you know, through my, my college and young adult years was very much seen as, you know, something, those, those crazy people on the left care about, or, you know, it was, it was, it was not something that was, was seen as, as worthy of, of thinking about or caring about. Um, but once it was right there in my face that it actually was that my lack of knowledge was harming, um, the students in my classroom, then it became vital to me to start learning. Um, and then, you know, I was, at the time I was married and we started, we had kids, um, and then we adopted a couple children and we, you know, we became a transracial adoptive family, and it was during those interim years there, um, that I really started digging in, um, wanting to say, okay, this isn’t even just doing right by the children in my classroom. These children are, are in my home too. And, um, and I, I want to do well by not, not even just by my, my black sons, but also by my white daughters. I don’t want them to be, you know, 30 something years old and picking up books on this topic for the first time. As so many of us have found ourselves. Um, so I wanted to, I, I wanted to figure out how do I reshape the, um, the, the, the raising of children and the development of children’s racial awareness and personal sense of identity around race in a way that is healthy and productive, um, and would lead them to be, to be people that were prepared for a truly multicultural, multiracial world that they’re growing up into, and that they’ll be experiencing as adults.

Exactly. Oh, that’s so huge. I love it. It’s funny. Like, I hadn’t heard your whole story already, so it’s great hearing that. And so interesting. I think that’s a lot of times where it starts for people is the first time they’re immersed in something. And it’s, it’s all of a sudden, like not just an issue or something, um, that’s been politicized it’s, it’s your day to day life and how you live out your calling to love and for people and, and how that translates to the work that you have to do as an individual, which is something similar that happened with me obviously, too. Um, so a question that I think a lot of parents ask themselves. I know I did a lot of people that I talk to is really how soon is too soon to start talking to kids about race and how in the world do you actually start to do that and open up that conversation? Like, can we start there? I know, um, I know things that I’ve kind of learned over the years, but it’s been like hard one information. So I think us giving anyone like a heads up is huge of like, Hey, here’s where you can start. Here’s some easy steps. So what would you say to that? Absolutely. I would say the first, um, myth I would love to just spell about young children is that, um, that there is this sense of innocence about race that we need to protect and that we need to preserve that, which is hard, right? We have these beautiful little children and they have these big wide open eyes of this world in this future ahead of them. And we hate to tell them, there’s actually this horrible thing called racism. And if you’re raising children of color, it there’s this added layer of like, I don’t want to ruin their sense of feeling safe or feeling loved or welcome in this world around them. Um, but there’s a few things that we know. Um, one is that, um, when we, when we attempt to insulate our children from reality, um, not only are we not preparing them for the reality that they will experience cause that the bubble only is so thick, right? It doesn’t take much to pop that bubble. Um, you know, my, my older son, who’s now going into fourth grade, the first time he was called the N word was in first grade. And so if I had not, if I had decided to put this bubble around him and then all of a sudden he experiences racism out in the world. Um, and there’s a lot of ways you can experience much less overt racism from a young age. But if I don’t, if I don’t prepare him to know how to handle that for him, that can become an internalized sense of, um, you know, a lack of self-worth is thinking there’s something wrong with him or something broken about him. Um, and, and he doesn’t know how to react to that interaction. He doesn’t know how to defend himself. He doesn’t know who to go to, to talk about this.  

If we haven’t opened up that dialogue, but also for, for children, for, for white children or children who aren’t maybe as at risk of experiencing such overt racism, we’re also really robbing them of this opportunity for some real social and emotional growth from a young age that, um, when we teach children about the brokenness of the world around them, we also get to, um, give them the ability to begin to process experiences of empathy for people who aren’t like them. They get to start to see the value in, um, being friends with a wider range of children from different backgrounds. We can explain how wonderful that is, that we all have these different cultural backgrounds and the beauty of, of that being this full image of God, right? Like we all bear the image of God. And when we, when we only allow ourselves to be friends with one little piece of that image, we miss out on so much. Um, and they also get to be prepared for that when it’s their friend, who’s experiencing that racism, that they are there to help, and they know how to respond with a level of emotional maturity, um, a level of understanding, a inability to stand up for their friend and say, you won’t talk to my friend that way. I know that that’s wrong. I’ve been taught that that’s wrong and I’m not going to let people treat you play love that way. So we really want to, we can see this, not just as breaking this innocence bubble, but actually providing this immense opportunity for, um, for growth for our children, that their levels of awareness of the world around them, and the fact that they can feel empowered to do something about it at the same time is something that I think is a, is a fantastic opportunity as a parent, right? Like we would hope for those kinds of things where we can be raising children who are aware and caring and compassionate to other people. But along with that, you know, even with all of those beautiful things, we also know that, you know, by the age is by the ages of about three to five, um, children are, are thinking and even talking fairly extensively to one another about race and racial difference. Um, well, we also know there’s some really interesting studies, um, that have been done. Um, I know Vitra comes to mind, Mary Ellen Goodman comes to mind, um, but who have done studies about, you know, children’s racial attitudes. And, um, there was one really interesting study where they put microphones in the play equipment in a preschool room and they recorded what the children talked about when there was an adult in the room versus what they talked about when the adult left the room. Um, and the children did discuss skin color and, and without using, you know, big adult words around things.  

Um, but they talked about those things only when there were no adults in the room, um, and that they had, you know, in further follow-up conversations had learned that basically, you know, w when we don’t talk to kids about something that they are aware of, they are internalizing that it’s not an okay thing to talk about. Right. So, um, it, you know, if they they’re, we know that our children are gonna make all kinds of, you know, they’re evaluating the world around them all of the time. Right. But if we don’t give them, if we don’t give them scaffolding, which is, you know, this educational concept of, you know, if you can picture scaffolding, like eventually it’s really tall and complex, but it starts really basic with a base. You know, if we don’t provide that base, they are building their own scaffolding. And who knows what it’s gonna look like. I love that analogy though, right? Yes. I always say I have three kids and I always, I, since my oldest was younger, I would say like, Hey guys, you’re going to talk about a lot of different things at school. And you’re going to have words that you hear, and you’re going to have topics that come up and I am going to tell you now your friends don’t know what they’re talking about, like, but I do. So if you come home, you can come home and ask me what a word means.  

And I will always be upfront and honest with, you can ask me about a subject matter. You can ask me anything. And that’s translated to, that was me. I think, I think you’re far more eloquent in talking about the scaffolding, but that was me trying to say like, hello, let me help you build that skill. Yes. Please do not build your own. I know how good children are at complex models of building units. It’s not good. Not typically. I like to compare it for parents to, um, you know, conversations that more, especially in our more recent generations are having with children’s surrounding, um, you know, sex education, health bodies that, you know, it used to be for a lot of especially girls. It was like, okay, you’re about to get married. We’re going to sit down and throw everything out there on the table, your fire hose you with information. Yeah. Like just take a sip of water from this fire hydrant. Yeah. Um, and rather we’ve learned actually that leads to some really unhealthy attitudes about bodies and about sex and about, um, relationships and consent and, you know, all these complex topics. And so now, instead we start when our children are really young of, you know, their toddlers, and we’re saying, you know, only, you know, only your parents and your doctors should be touching where your diaper is. And then we move on to, um, no, you don’t, if grandma and grandpa or aunt or uncle says they would like a hug and you don’t really feel like hugging, you can S you can say, I don’t want to hug today. You know, we can we say like, Hey, you have bodily autonomy, and you can give consent and people shouldn’t touch your body without you saying yes. And, and, and in the same way, you know, we can be slowly building up this information about race with young children. So instead of when there is, you know, let’s say there are suddenly, there’s massive protests in your town and your children have been told nothing about race. That’s sort of like throwing, you know, the like, okay, it’s, you’re like, you got to know everything right now, but rather if we start, when they’re really young with, you know, I will sit, we’ll be, you know, I, I have a variety of children’s books in our home of every race and creed and color and background, and, you know, and not just books that are about race, but rather books about children skipping down the sidewalk. And that child happens to be a different color than white, um, or happens to be a different color than white or black, which is what’s represented in the people in our home.  

Um, you know, and as we’re reading and I’m sitting there with my three or four year old preschooler, and I’m looking at the pictures and I’m saying, oh, look at this, this character has his skin coat. That looks almost exactly like mine. And we get to another page and, you know, whose skin color that looks like, that looks like our friend Louis has skin color, doesn’t it, or that looks like Luis’s hair. Or this looks like our friend Ammani’s new haircut or new braids she got put in. Um, and we just slowly, I start from a very, very young age of just saying, it’s okay to notice, and it’s okay to talk about it and give that permission. Yes. It’s saying here’s some language notice that people are different skin tones. We know that even six month old babies notice differences in skin tone and facial features and things. Um, and so we’re just giving them language for something we’re not introducing a concept. We’re giving language to a concept they’re already aware of. Um, and the more we do that, the more we prepare them to have healthy conversations about it. And, you know, and it doesn’t, it does, I don’t go into systemic racism with my five-year-old. Right. Exactly. Yes. Now is not the time. Right. And so it’s, if we, if I, if we don’t try to introduce the concept of racism before they have a really strong concept of, um, you know, uh, skin colors and even giving, you know, Beverly Daniel Tatum has a fantastic book out called why are all the black kids sitting together at the cafeteria table about racial identity development? And she talks about her young son in the grocery store, you know, saying like, you know, like white people, aren’t white, like paper is white, white people, aren’t white, you know? And, and so she just has this casual conversation with them as they’re walking through the grocery store and she starts talking, she introduces the concept of melanin, and some people have more melanin than other people. And that’s been a conversation in our home as well. And our older son is very excited that he wins the award for most melanin in the family. Um, you know, and then there’s the, the kids at one point, they were all trying to bait, like how to rank all of the white family members. And they’d like, made us put our arms together. It just becomes normal. Right. It just becomes, this is, we talk about, this is not a big sit-down. We don’t have to have, make a big to-do of this. We literally just talk about it. Yes.  

And you’re giving them the vernacular at a young age to talk about it, giving them the permission, giving them the words to say, and, you know, expanding from there. So it doesn’t have to be something that’s this wild and crazy topic that you bring up. Like you said, when something dramatic happens that you don’t all of a sudden have like, well, I have to, let’s back up here. I have to start at the very beginning. Uh, it’s something that, you know, obviously there are things to talk about around there, but you’re not starting from scratch at least. So what would you say? I know a lot of like specifically white parents feel ill-equipped to know, um, like what exactly to say to their white kids about it. Like, do you have any like quick ways if they have not started this conversation early, that they can start? Like, what would you suggest for those people that are out there going, oh my gosh, have I already messed it all up? I think the quick answer is, no you haven’t. What would you say just for them? Um, you know, there, there’s a few things I would, I would recommend. There’s also a few things I would say to stay away from. And the first is that for a lot of white parents, we kind of default to wanting to say, um, you know, everyone is equal or we’re all on the same on the inside.  

And assuming that can be like the totality of the, and that was kind of the old messaging we were. And we know that’s not a good thing. Now we have to break that here. Yes. And we actually know that, um, when we are utilizing those phrases, um, and that’s all the information our children are being given. And then at the same time, they are experiencing the reality of the world around them. That doesn’t match up with what you’re saying that presents some real cognitive dissonance. Right. And that presents, um, a feeling of, um, discomfort or, you know, again, feeling like, okay, that’s, that’s not what I see. Um, and so we can also see that white children can start to internalize, um, well, the Navy, these, you know, these disparate outcomes or, or the fact that most of the homeless people I see in my neighborhood, aren’t white, or, you know, as they start to internalize, okay. If everyone’s the same, but there’s all these different outcomes than what’s wrong with those people. Right. And we know that kids can start to inter, like, there’s just a lot of research on this topic. We know they start to internalize those messages. Um, and then we have the ability to make that not happen, um, by making sure that we, we can talk about the way that, that God created all of humanity, that we all have equal worth in his eyes. Um, you know, but as our kids get older, I really love starting with, um, with just talking about history in, in age appropriate ways and bringing up conversations, like what, what, what was happening, you know, if we’ve already talked about race a little bit, which if you haven’t and you feel like, okay, my kid’s gotten, like, you’re talking about three to five-year-olds. I got a 10 year old and we haven’t talked about this yet. It’s okay to sit down and talk about it. Remember you’re not introducing a new concept. They know exactly. They sat around, they’ve been experiencing it and they haven’t known what to do with it. Yup. And so maybe that’s you change up, maybe you still read a book to your child at night. I mean, I know I still read them. I almost 11 year old at night, we read, you know, different chapter books. Well, introduce one that brings up some concepts of race and know that those, there might be some nights where they’re staying up past bedtime because the concepts came up and use asked some questions about it. Um, the other thing we know is that one of the, uh, research I mentioned earlier, but I’m a veteran and it’s V I T T R U P.  

If anyone’s wanting to Google research studies and nerd out, like I do, um, you know, she did, there’s an extensive story around this, but basically she studied racial attitude measures, um, in, in white children to see, you know, how do we actually improve children’s beliefs in thinking about race? Because that actually, when she measured their racial attitude measures at the outset, um, these, these children had some really harmful beliefs, um, that their parents didn’t even realize they had things like she would ask them, um, you know, how many, how many white people are, are kind, how many black people are kind. Um, and in fact, one of the questions that really upset some of the white families, the most based on the outcome, um, uh, they, she asked the parents, the kids, um, do your parents like black people. Um, and now all of these parents that signed up for this study knew that this was a study about children’s racial attitudes. This in some ways was a state of like defaulted toward like parents who would, would think they were doing fairly good with that. Right. Um, and 14% of the children said outright said, no, my parents don’t like black people. Um, I’m 38, 30 8% said, I don’t know. Um, and, and what we saw in this and what she really realized was that, you know, for a lot of these children, the conversations weren’t happening combined with, you know, it’s not just the conversations were happening. It’s also the context that we’re raising our children in. Um, you know, what does their school look like? Um, and in this case, what did their parents friends look like? If they’re, if they never see their parents interact, their white parents interact with black people. Um, they never have them. They never see them form friendships. Black people had lot of people over the house see a black doctor, you know, sit under a black pastor if they never see that. Of course, a lot of them would say, I don’t know. Right. What would the, and if the conversation isn’t explicitly happening, what do they debase their knowledge on for that, you know, to be able to answer that question accurately. Um, and so, but throughout this study that she did, basically what she found was it only took one week, like five nights actually of open, true conversation, meaningful interaction with children for five nights to significantly change those results. So it took five conversations like crazy, right? And, and this completely shit of the children whose parents had five meaningful conversations over the course of a week.  

Um, those children show showed just significant positive growth in their racial attitudes and the way, the ways they thought about their parents’ thoughts on race. Um, now the families who just tried to say things like, well, everyone is equal and we’re all the same on the inside. And we shouldn’t judge people based on their race. Like those children showed no growth at all, but when they actually talked about here’s, what’s going on in the world right now. And, um, you know, here’s, here’s why our neighborhood is all white. Do you know the history of your neighborhood to explain to your children why it’s all white? Because there’s a reason it’s not accidental and it’s not just personal choice. Um, you know, and so when we can have those conversations, we can make, you know, leaps and bounds with our kids. And I’m not saying only have five conversations. Yes. But I’m saying don’t feel like if you are starting late, that it’s a lost cause. Um, because we know it’s not research has shown, it’s not really all round. Yes. You can turn the ship around. Like that’s, that’s so encouraging. And also what I’m hearing you say too, is like, these parents have had to do some work on their own to educate themselves, which is huge site. So definitely, um, I mean, don’t be afraid to start there. There are, there have never been as many books out there, uh, articles out there.  

You can really Google just about anything and pull up a ton of information. If you had like one website that you would suggest for someone who’s maybe hearing this and thinking, Hey, I need to start somewhere. I need to do a better job. Do you have a recommendation for like a website or a book that so I do. So, um, I I’m thankful enough. I get to work with Latasha Morrison. It’d be the bridge. And, um, if you are on Facebook, which I know some aren’t and I get it and I’m totally reserved. Um, but we do have a, be the bridge Facebook group. And in there, when you join one of the ways that we’ve attempted to keep a really healthy culture in that space is that when you join, you can’t comment or post for three months. Um, but during that time, we have a whole section of guides that you work through. Um, and it’s, there’s reading and there’s podcasts and there’s videos. And there’s just all kinds of, of it. Literally just walking you through just a foundational understanding of some of these concepts, um, that will give you some, uh, a jumping off point as well as just lists of books on books, on books, and then just her regular conversation happening in there every day that you can follow along with and read along and be introduced to a wide variety of, of opinions and know that if that’s an, if this is a new conversation for you, it’ll feel like culture shock in there. We’re pretty open. And we talk here honestly. Um, but there’s also a lot of grace mixed in with all that truth that, um, we, we stand firmly on both those concepts that we have to tell truth, we have to speak truth. Um, but we have to also offer grace that we’re all on a learning journey. And we’re all in different places, as long as we’re showing humility and forward progress and the willingness to, to be wrong and to be told that and to learn and grow from that, instead of being defensive that, um, the, the third, anyone is welcome in that space. I love that. And that’s the hard work like that really is difficult, but beautiful.  

And I think holy work as well, you know, as, as you’re looking at that, so really quick, if someone has teenagers, let’s say they have not done a good job talking about their child or talking to their children about it, and now their kids are teenagers. Would you recommend be the bridge for their teens? Um, and would you, um, have a place for them to really start having a conversation with maybe kids that have made up their mind, like on their own about where they land and have this, this lovely desire to do that they’re really, really gifted at it. We can’t just tell them what to think. Turns out eventually they don’t care what you think, not so much, but here’s, yes. I actually love working with teenagers. Um, when I, when I was a teacher, I worked with middle schoolers by choice, which makes people laugh because I mean, middle school, super hero, hated middle school so much, but I love working with middle schoolers. I love it. Um, one of the great things I would say that’s come out of the last few years is that there are a ton of youth versions of adult books. You know, Brian, Stevenson’s just mercy comes to mind or, um, Ebraheem Kendi stamped. That’s a version of stamped from the beginning. Um, you know, there’s, I I’m like glancing over at my bookshelf. I have a whole bunch of them over there. Um, but if you have a kid that’s a reader, or even if they’re not, and they’re still young enough where you can, um, convince them to do something with you, then go ahead and read it with them. Like, don’t just buy it. I mean, if they’re more of a hermit teenager, which I have an upcoming, one of those, um, and they just like to read that was my best for them. Let them, let them study it on their own. And then over the day dinner table, um, you know, if you can get them to put their phone down, you can ask them, you know, ask them what they’ve learned, ask them to share with the family or share with you more privately, if that’s more their style, you know, what they’re learning and if it’s challenging them or if they’re connecting with it, um, or, you know, if they’re not just not a book kid, uh, there are just so many fantastic documentaries out there. Um, there are films that aren’t documentaries, but still, you know, touch on concepts of race and, and ways that you can, you can just start to have those conversations. Um, the other thing that’s great with teenagers is that they really have this tend to have this sort of inborn, like fight the system mentality, right? Like they’re, they’re trying to figure out who they are and they want to fight against whoever tries to tell them otherwise.  

So, you know, speaking and, and helping them see racism as a system, as a, as a powers that be, you know, keeping some people from, uh, you know, having to overcome massive barriers or, you know, giving, helping them understand that broader systemic reality, um, can often really empower teenagers to feel like, well, then I’m going to fix it. Right. Like they don’t, they’re not jaded yet turns out. Um, and so yeah, giving them that encouragement and, and be the bridge does have a whole youth curriculum that’s that is, um, values-based instead of, most of our resources are faith-based that our, um, our youth curriculum is values based. So, so that, um, you know, teenagers who learn about be the bridge from their parents, you know, can take this to their schools, can do this with, you know, maybe it’s a club at school or, um, you know, a larger afterschool group or just a group of friends or whatnot. Um, and it’s, it’s, video-based instead of lots of just reading and Biggs, it’s, it’s a fantastic, um, curriculum and it’s growing right. There are new things coming out for all the time and there’s separate social media and they are on apps that I don’t even know how to work or know exist yet. Yeah. Same with the teenagers dues. So they’re over on those apps and, and talking with our youth directors and, um, you know, having regular conversations and calls, you know, zoom meetings and things with people from across the country and encouraging one another. And that can be a great place to get your team plugged in. If you have had these conversations and they’re excited and they’re encouraged, but maybe they don’t have that in-person support system that feels the same. Uh, they can definitely, you know, work to find that in that space too. That’s amazing. That’s good to know. So they can find that connection. So what about families? One of the things, um, I often hear from adult adoptees is that their parents just really never talked about it at all with them and this, and some kids are navigating this on their own, and they’re not realizing it until, um, I mean, some people I’ve spoken with they’re in their thirties when they’re starting to look back at this, just because they weren’t given the permission, they weren’t giving, given the words to say they had the feelings that they held within themselves, but not the space to talk. What would you say for those kids in case any of them are listening and they’re hearing this maybe for the first time, um, like what are some steps that they could take for themselves, even though I hate even the thought of them having to do this on their own.  

This is sometimes the reality. Absolutely. Yeah. I would say, um, you know, one thing that I’ve loved that’s come out of, um, about a year and a half, almost two years ago, the, the bridge did put out a transracial adoption curriculum that, um, has been pretty wildly popular, but we have a Facebook group for people that are just people who have bought that curriculum, as well as, um, adult transracial, adoptees are allowed just to join that group. And it’s amazing. They would like to, even if they don’t have to about the curriculum, but, um, because they, if they want to share their voices with parents that are, you know, have questions and would love to speak directly to sometimes you just can only really hear from that adoptee who has that personal experience, but that space has been so helpful for, you know, all these adults that are trying to navigate this world. Um, especially, you know, I know for particularly in this last year or two, a lot of, um, Asian transracial adoptees, our, our, you know, we’re the, the anti-Asian sentiment that came out in this last year with, you know, things like the China virus and the, you know, the, the killings in Atlanta and that it was, it was a really intense year. And for a lot of them, it was really the first time they, they really fully navigated some of their feelings about those things. And so for them to have one another, that I think more than anything, it’s that community finding other, um, there are such great adopting networks out there. There’s some great adoptee podcasts, um, like, you know, adopt these on, or, um, who am I really both come to mind that are run by adoptees or, um, born born in June, raised in April, I think is, is the it’s either that of June and April switched. I always flip the months, but you know, all of those are run by adoptees and a lot of them have online and offline communities available. And I think really it’s that learning from other adoptees that is, um, is the real life-changing work there for adult adoptees who are going, oh, man, I wish my parents had prepared me for this world that I’m now living in. Yes. Um, because, and, you know, we’ve, at times I’ve, I’ve been able to pair up some adult adoptees with, you know, you know, at transracial adoptive families who, um, you know, sort of like welcomed them in as like, Hey, we’re, we’re affiliates a willing and open to be, to have these conversations and support you.  

And, and if, you know, cause there have been, you know, I know, um, I have adoptive friends whose families, you know, whose white families have largely, um, you know, cut them out because they have decided to dig into their racial identity and want to understand, um, you know, what that means for them and their, their lived experience at that has that’s been so politicized that it has, um, you know, really shut the doors to, to those family relationships, which is just such horrifying secondary loss. We have like having loss of both families that’s I can’t even imagine the pain. Um, and so I also think of that when I think of encouraging families that like this can feel hard and it can feel overwhelming, but it is a lot harder and a lot more overwhelming to lose your kid when they’re an adult. Right. To, um, I can’t imagine, you know, my kids feeling that I had so ill prepared them for the world that they’d be living in as I had no choice, but to, um, cut us out. And, and that, that would, that’s heartbreaking to think about. And I can’t imagine for those, those, you know, grown children now, young adults and, um, who are adoptees having to face those choices in that, that reality. So, um, yeah. I just encourage parents that it’s worth it. And then I, I promise you don’t destroy their innocence and that actually you can raise some really delightful children, um, who have just eyes wide open as they walk out into this world and say, I can, I’m going to leave this world better. You know, then I found it and I’m aware of some of the problems from a young age. And so I’m ready to maybe to take this on. I love that. That’s so beautiful. And I think that’s all of our hopes as parents, at least I hope it is. I, it should be, it should be. And I mean, I would just say for anyone that’s there, I, I think this is a common thing that just to listen to your kids and their stories and listen, whether they’re adults or children or what they’re going through, um, just to be that place that listens and doesn’t make a judgment on them and that you are their people. And just to challenge yourself when you feel uncomfortable to lean into that, because as people we want to be comfortable and we don’t want to feel those things, that’s just how we’re wired. But in order to do this hard work, we have to sit in that kind of gray uncomfortable space where we don’t know everything. And I love this on that note. I was going to say, you know, sometimes parents feel like they can’t bring it up because they don’t know enough.  

And that’s where I say, like you don’t first, you don’t have to know at all, you can learn alongside your child and let your child know that you’re learning alongside now. Beautiful. Is that just sit down at the corner table when you’re sitting at the dinner table tonight, if you are lucky enough to not be taxing children all over all the time, um, just say, what do you know about race? Or what do you know about racism or what have you, what is, what is your school talked about? You know, maybe it’s, it’s come February, it’s black history month. What is your, what’s your school talking about black history? You know, who, what names do you even recognize, or have you heard of, so-and-so just, you can open up the dialogue and not have the answers. It’s really okay. And it actually teaches our children also that it’s okay to be humble. And it’s okay to say, I don’t know the answer. How about, how about tomorrow? We head to the library or we hit up Google or we, you know, let’s, let’s answer this together. Let’s figure this one out together. Um, and that’s such a great, you know, bonding with your child and teaching them humility and teaching them the value of, of not knowing something and so going out and learning. Yes. And that that’s okay. I mean, we’re in such a strange part of history that everyone is expected to know everything about everything and the information’s at our fingertips, but that doesn’t mean we do. And it is okay to admit that to yourself and to your children and learn together and what a cool moment to have and, and allow them to teach you what they know because they’re learning things. And my oldest son, he’s almost 17. He just taught me something the other days, like, did you know this happened? And I was like, oh my gosh, no, I didn’t. And I love that. I’m like, that’s, I love that. That’s a part of it. So, and that is something that we all can do. It doesn’t feel so big that we can’t tackle it. And that’s, I think what we’ve convinced ourselves, maybe this is too big to enter into, and it’s not, it’s a part of our every day and we can do this together and are on this journey together. The important thing is we just keep taking steps on the journey. So the importance is deciding I’m not going to just say where we are right now. We’re going to figure out every day I can do this parenting gig better some days more than others, but there’s that tomorrow is always another day. Yes, exactly.  

Well, thank you so much, Elizabeth, for imparting all of this wisdom and knowledge, and just talking through this in such a generous and gracious way. I hope, um, that people go and pick up books and join Facebook groups and do all the things to start along that journey. I just so appreciate it. You’re welcome. Thank you so much for having me. Of course, that was the incredible Elizabeth Behrens is an educator focusing on race and racism. I sincerely hope that you walk away from this podcast feeling inspired to not only talk to your kids about racism, but to continue your own personal journey of learning more about it for yourself.

Thanks for listening to together by AGCI. For anyone keeping track, that was our last episode of season two. Season three launches September 9th and we can’t wait to bring you even more stories of hope. As always, if you like what you heard, please rate or review us where you listen to podcasts. If you’d like to read or watch even more stories, check out our website at, reach out to us and let us know what you think on Instagram at @allgodschildreninternational, or you can email us at