This situation comes up more regularly that we would like, doesn’t it? Somebody makes an unknowing remark to or around our children, and we find ourselves responding to ignorance. This happened to me last week.
We were shopping at HomeGoods when my six year old declared “this is amaze” testing our the new-to-her slang word after hearing it on a show. The clerk who was working next to us did a quick impersonation of my daughter and said “I love how she just threw her hand on her hip and said that like that”.
As Sydney’s mom, I did not know what to do. The clerk was just trying to be nice but Sydney is my daughter, and that was not a nice thing to say and do.
I smiled at the clerk and told Sydney what I thought was “amaze” about the decoration in her hand. Unfortunately, the clerk went on. She said a few more things that I could not hear because I kept talking to Sydney then exclaimed “she’s all girl, isn’t she?”
I did not respond because I did not know what to say. There was my daughter next to me. My son was right behind me. And here was this clerk who I just wished would stop talking so I would not have to deal with it! But, she did not.
“No Tomboy there at all, is there?” the clerk continued loudly.
What to say… Surely I was not going to jump into an education about why saying that is not okay. I was not going to condone it either. I was not going to launch into a life history of all the things Sydney has done that are so not “all girl” or the things my son has stopped loving because they are “not for boys”. This really was not the time or place. Plus, I was having a nice afternoon with my kids.
Both of my kids were waiting for my response. How was I going to judge Sydney? What would I label her? In that moment, what narrative would I give my daughter about her life?
Psssht. You are Making WAY too Big a Deal of This
It is easy to dismiss this as no big deal. To say that laughing off the interaction would have been fine- and maybe sometimes it will be. On this day though, both of my kids were looking to me to see how I would handle this- they were both uncomfortable.
Yes, the clerk had unintentionally made fun of my daughter. Yes, she had made them uncomfortable. I am my child’s advocate and that remains my priority. This was also a fellow human in front of me, and she just did not know.
As I contemplated this more quickly than you are reading it, the woman excitedly continued “right?! right?! Not Tomboy at all, right?”
I smiled at her and said kindly “they both like lots of different things” and went right back to talking with Sydney. It seems she got the message because she stopped commenting on how “girly” my daughter is. We finished looking at the vases and I poked my head around the corner to tell the woman to have a nice day.
The Conversation After
When we got into the car, both my daughter and my son shared that they did not think it was okay for the woman to say those things about Sydney. I agree.
We talked it out. We talked about it being weird but common that people think they get to talk to and about kids like that- and worse to imitate them. They said it felt like she was making fun of Sydney. Whether or not it was the clerk’s intention, I agree.
We talked about how strange it is that some people think having a penis or vagina determines what color you like and how you like to play. We talked about how that could end up determining what people like. We shared examples of how ignorant we are about so many things. We wondered what that interaction would have felt like if Sydney actually had a penis.
We talked about a lot. We also talked about how that woman was kind and was trying to connect with them, and that even though they were under no obligation to respond or engage, there was no negative intent.
Honesty: The Best Policy?
I told my children that I really was not sure how to handle this situation because I too knew what the woman did was wrong, and that Sydney was my priority- not the woman’s feelings. I also told them that because it was just a woman who did not know, I did not want to make her feel bad just because I was angry.
Here is the lesson I learned about responding to ignorance, or so many other things: there are so many times we parents do not know how to respond. In so many situations we find ourselves unsure of how to handle a moment. Just like with grown-ups, honesty works with our children.
Because I shared that I did not know how to handle this, my kids might feel more comfortable being uncomfortable in a similar situation. They might understand that we all struggle with how to handle some things. They might feel empowered knowing that we can say we do not know how to do things.
Most importantly in this case, we talked through it. I am glad my kids know that their intuition was spot on, and that saying those thing and acting that was is not okay. It opened a conversation about stereotypes and norms that my children will surely remember and apply to other parts of their life- like commercials, plastic dolls, and news stories.
Life is not perfect. Things are far from what we would like them to be. Maybe rather than trying to model how to do everything well, we can show our children our process for when we don’t know how to do things. Maybe this will help them more- because I don’t know about you, but I mostly do not know how to do things.
How do you respond to ignorance on behalf of your children? Please share in the comments.