Teaching My Kids to Survive in ‘Merica

My two oldest boys took a trip to Texas this summer. It was their second time flying to Grandma’s without an adult.

Last year was their first solo trip and I was nervous, but it was a good nervous. It was a – my babies are growing up – kind of nervous.

Before they left we talked about wearing their seat belts and using their manners. I made sure they had everyone’s phone numbers just in case they got lost playing in Grandma’s neighborhood. I did the usual mom run-down.


But this year we had a much different conversation – a more serious conversation.

We talked about how to stay safe around police officers, even if they were asking for help. I taught them how to hold their hands palms up and to the side, and to never reach in their pockets.

And for God’s sake, don’t run up to them, even in an emergency. Some officers will shoot first and ask questions later – when it’s too late.

We talked about sucking it up if someone made a racist comment to them while they  rode their bikes in the neighborhood. They’ve always joked about what they would do if someone disrespected them in that way.

“I’d put ’em in a full-nelson while DJ gives ’em a wedgy.”

“I’d karate chop ’em while Ty brings the pain.”

I’d usually just chuckle a little and roll my eyes when they came up with these scenarios. They were just so silly. But they had no idea what it would really feel like to be disrespected and discriminated against, so we had to talk about it.

I explained to them, in no uncertain terms, how abrasive and bold people in our country had become. Yes I know, racism has always been around. But in the past year, people stopped trying to hide it.

It’s like race relations have been set back 50 years. People are literally wearing their bigotry on their shirts. So I told them how they might appear to some people.

“You don’t look like kids anymore.
You look grown up.
You look like you’re up to no-good.
You look like a bad hombre and a thug.
You look like trouble.

Some people will see the color of your skin and act like it has poisoned your bodies. They won’t care that you’re on honor roll, or that you help care for your brothers.

So if a person disrespects you, as much as it burns on the inside, just walk away. You can’t control how they feel. It’s not up to you to change their minds.

More and more people are carrying guns – and using them.
Your only job is to keep yourself safe.
At the end of the day, that’s all that counts.”

My kids have been raised in a protective bubble. They already know that the world is full of good, loving people. They’ve grown up believing police officers are here to help and protect them when they need it.

They’re oblivious to all that’s wrong in the world. They don’t watch the news. They don’t know the KKK had a rally in a neighboring town last week.

They haven’t seen the brawls on the airlines. And they’ve never seen the Facebook videos of innocent men being murdered by police officers with no consequences.

So it’s my job to teach, educate, and prepare them. Just like I teach them to be respectful and do well in school, I will also teach them how to survive.

No, these aren’t the conversations I envisioned having with my twelve year old children. I thought we would at least get to girls before we got to guns. But this has been an extraordinary year, full of violence and bigotry.

Maybe we’ll get to the girls next year.

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187 Replies to “Teaching My Kids to Survive in ‘Merica”

  1. Wow! It is so so so sad that we live in a world that you have to worry about this sort of thing. This is eye opening to me. I never looked at from a parent’s point of view. So sorry that this is part of your life. It shouldn’t be.

      1. That’s heartbreaking that you have to teach your kids that stuff. I too grew up in a place where I didn’t think that happened, but it does and its horrible. I have a nephew visiting who is biracial and it never really occurred to me that my town was racist until we walked in to the grocery store I go to every day and people gave me strange looks. I’m glad you’re talking about it. We need to stand up for our fellow humans, again.

  2. Yes, yes, yes…it is their job to stay alive! You know I’m a worry-wort and can imagine the worst. I don’t want to hear that my loving, caring grandkids got shot down as they were trying to stick up for themselves! “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” It’s so sad that we are no longer a community that protects the innocent, especially the children.

  3. As a mom of five I hear you. As a grandma of 9 I often wonder what the world will be like when they are all grown up. The violence is appalling and I worry all the time. Even now that my own children are adults….all we can do is pray G-d will keep them safe. I also find myself not answering people who are rude to me….for fear of one of them drawing a gun on me….I read recently of someone who got angry at a car cutting him off as he crossed the street…..the driver got out of the car and shot him….scary world we live in. Be safe.

  4. Don’t wait on that girl talk until next year! They need it a lot earlier than mom’s think. Hope the trip was safe and fun for your boys.

  5. I can’t begin to explain how saddened I feel that young boys can’t go and play without fear of being shot down by the people who are supposed to be protecting them. You are such an amazing mother! I hope they had/have a wonderful time in Texas!

  6. Your sons are so lucky to have you as their mum. My own parents don’t bother about these types of talks, it’s a ‘do what I say don’t ask any questions’ relationship.

  7. My own son is 8 years old. I’m trying my best to make sure he is aware of his surroundings, but wanting to make sure he can enjoy just being a kid. We aren’t at that point yet where I have to have this sort of talk with him, but I’m already dreading the conversation. As you mentioned, it seems like we have gone back in time.

  8. This is honestly so sad. I’m just 15 myself and I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have to accept and not react to racism, because I know I would atleast verbally retaliate if someone was racist towards me. It’s so sad to think that even though we’re now in the 21st century, people still haven’t been able to let go of their narrow minded prejudices.

  9. When the shooting deaths began to rise a few years ago, I decided that when my 30-year-old son returned from serving his country for the 3rd time in a war-zone, I’d give him a reminder. You know what he said? “MOM, you don’t have to tell me, I’ve already had a gun in my face.” He was pulled over by the police, went in the glove box looking for his registration and turned around to a gun in his face. He then reminded me of the harassment he and his sister received in the local mall when they were teenagers. I had forgotten. Nobody wants to have to think about things like this and many people think we make it up, or exaggerate. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Thank you. You are preparing your kids to be decent, kind, thoughtful human beings. That’s admirable and it’s the best we can do in a crazy world.

  10. This is a really powerful post. It is really sad that our world has come to this, but they are so lucky to have you as their mother!

  11. Thank you for your thoughts. I’m neither a mom nor in ‘Merica, but this is true in every culture. We have to be prepared and prepare others for the harsh realities of life.

  12. You were the one who told them they look like trouble because of their skin color. You are perpetuating racism as much as anyone else. The KKK deserves no publicity. They need to die in obscurity. So does BLM. The only difference between BLM and KKK is that BLM is given a voice and a platform. No racist party deserves a platform. No kid deserves to be told that his skin color comes before the person he is. Your kids are American. Not black. Your kids will empower this country not through the color of their skin, but through the content of their character, assuming they are taught to.

      1. You know, I did. I totally get what you’re saying. I’m looking forward to the day when people go back to being embarrassed about their racism.

    1. Mickey… I’m glad you responded again, but I do want to address this reply.

      I’m a mother of 4, all of them American (although we lived overseas for 20 years so my sons felt for quite awhile like they were more Asian than American). Two of my kids are Asian (one Korean and one Chinese). They also have developmental disabilities. All of those are aspects of who they are. It makes them different from their peers — not less than, just different. Certainly, their character is more important to them and to the people who love them. But people who don’t know them are often more affected by how they look. That’s where the protective “how to survive” talk comes in.

      It’s no different from the talk we have with our daughters about protecting themselves from sexual assault… and teaching our sons that “no means no” — and quite honestly, the reverse is also true.

      I also have no problem with BLM. My first response to them was an offended, “please, all lives matter!”…. and they do. And BLM doesn’t suggest that ONLY Black lives matter. The KKK is a different story. For them, only white, christian, straight (I’m sure there’s more) lives matter. And they are filled with hatred.

      Meghan, thanks for this post.

      1. BLM does suggest that only black lives matter. Look at Evergreen State College. Look at how white allies of BLM are treated. Look to the co-creator of it, and her constant vitriol about white people and how they should die. It’s full-on racism. Fight the KKK, please, they are evil and need to be wiped out. Don’t, however, pretend there are not other racist groups out there.

    2. Thank you! Well said.

      Everyone seems to presume the the world has “come to this.” But it has always had good and evil, we just share it now. We give the evil a platform and it spreads like cancer.

    3. No kind of discrimination should be encouraged! Neither color nor religion nor country/region of birth nor anything such should be the base for determining what or how the person is. Just because a number of people with a certain skin color/label of religion/gender/birthplace/financial condition have conducted criminal, unrighteous, unjust acts that doesn’t necessarily mean they represent the whole COLOR, RELIGION, GENDER, LAND, SOCIAL CONDITION!

  13. Better safe than sorry is the best proverb in these troubling times — I totally agree with you. You’re not only telling children to be cautious but respect others. Come to think of it, it’s only a fringe group of individuals (including some in law enforcement) that we need to be vigilant about, but since we can’t easily and quickly distinguish between heroes and villains it’s prudent that we follow the best proverb in town/city/state/nation.

  14. Maybe if they had a Dad, things would be better but, a Black man screwing over a White woman? No need to mention that. It would only affirm the stereotypes. Tell yourself you’re not a race traitor when you can and that White people, your real extended family are wrong about Blacks

    1. I realize that the stereotypes exist for a reason(because they’re generally true), but there is a way to change behavior long-term, and this is not it. You’re making us white folks look bad, saying things like that.

  15. Such a smart Mom. It breaks my heart that our country has come to this. My 3 boys were always friends with everyone, color did not matter to them and still doesn’t . Their friends to this day call me Momma Osborne. Some white some black some Vietnamese . These boys are in their 40’s now and I still love them all. Keep it up Mom not all of us are racist. My First Great Grandson is mixed and he is such a joy to me. I understand where you’re coming from, our world has become a dangerous place.

  16. I applaud you for having this tough conversation with your children. Living in the UK, it’s not the kind of topic I have to cover with my daughter. But the world is ever changing for our children and I hope by teaching our children about diversity and respect they can make it a better place. Sending you love

  17. Reading this made me even more disappointed in the world than before. I’m turning 16 this year, & being a Muslim hijabi in America, I know the comments thrown at you very well. They aren’t pretty. I’m glad you informed them to keep their mouth closed and walk away. It really is the only safe option.

  18. It’s so sad that we live in such a cruel world. I am teaching my daughter that everyone is the same regardless of the country they come from, the colour of their skin, religion or sexual orientation. I like to think that one day all these will be history.

  19. Reblogged this on Woman: A Phenomenon and commented:
    I am a grown woman and have no kids yet and I think about this! I am becoming seriously paranoid about taking national flights. You are a brave mom, teaching them how to fly and not trying to keep them in a protective bubble.

  20. My son is only 3 months and it’s sad that many will look at him when he’s older and assume he’s a criminal. I want a different world for him. I’ve been thinking about when I want to move to. Sad reality

  21. I am 32 white and physically disabled. I worry about traveling alone more than ever. In the current climate, disability is seen with similar attitudes, except a disabled person is more openly seen as prey rather than a threat.

  22. What a powerful read. The sentence that hit me the hardest was, “Some people will see the color of your skin and act like it has poisoned your bodies.” This is tragic truth so eloquently written.Thank you for sharing, wishing your boys safe travels!

  23. I congratulate you on teaching your children. My mom was my support and my encourager. My dad was the strong one… no excuses, no nonsense. My parents were always in agreement on how to teach us, to raise us. Your children will always remember you helped them to survive. Raising children these days requires of lots of faith. Be proud of yourself. Please, read my book. I just published it. “She is my Hero – How my mom helped me to overcome bullies.” It’s for sale at Amazon and in my blog.

  24. I apologize. Please, delete my comment. I did not realize it was going to open a link to the book. I’m trying to delete the post but it doesn’t give me the option. I guess it shows how new I’m at this. I’m so sorry.

  25. Goodness what a world we live in. How right you are that we have gone backwards in this country. If young children need to be afraid of racism and violence, there is something deeply wrong. It’s so awful to think that police officers cannot be trusted to really protect our communities anymore. You have prepared your kids well and I hope that when they get older they will never have advise their own children in the same way.

  26. Wow. you are a smart mom but even with only just finding your blog today, I felt so sad for your children and so many other children.

  27. The police part really shocked me. And it pains me at the same time.
    Racism is very real. The one and only post I had so far is similar. Except that I’m still disgruntled. I should suck it up like you said. There’s no other way.

  28. “I taught them how to hold their hands palms up and to the side”- this makes me so so sad. I’m sorry that this is your reality and that there are still people who discriminate, I’m sorry that your babies need to go out in the world already trained to be submissive in a society that threatens them, I’m sorry that they don’t get the same expressive voice as some other people do. It pains me the kind of fear you must go through sending your children out into the world and hoping someone doesn’t see them as a threat. I hope to Gd this will change. Be proud that you are raising your kids right and they are becoming the voice of change.

    1. Thank you for those kind words. But I don’t feel sad and I don’t want them to feel that way. I want them to grow up and help change culture. But in order to do that, they must stay safe. ❤

  29. As a police officer and father I’m sorry for your fear. I know there is a lot telling you to be afraid. That is by design. Don’t be concerned about teaching your boys about how quick the cops will shoot them, that would be like me teaching my boys how quick black men will shoot them. It’s just not the right way to go about it. Please teach your kids to be respectful and take responsibility for their actions. It seems that is what you are already doing and I praise you for it . The world will be alot less scary for them if they rely on those, and not the fear of racism.

    1. I’ve read some of your blog posts. I teach my boys the same principles… Respect, Responsibility, and Toughness. They excel with each.

      But none of that matters if they are gunned down by a trigger-happy officer who makes a quick judgement about them because of their skin color.

      Your comparison of cops shooting black kids to black men shooting white kids is flawed. Police are hired to protect the public, regardless of race. We are supposed to be able to turn to police for help.

      My children haven’t been raised to fear police or racists, but we are starting a dialogue now that they are getting older… I want them to be respectful, take responsibility for their actions, be assertive, AND STAY ALIVE.

      Thank you for reading.

  30. It’s OK Meghan; I live in a bubble and have never been happier LOL. More about ignoring the fear-based masses and spending my time and energy building my friendships with loving, high energy folks. We keep inspiring others, which lifts the collective consciousness, which also helps these fear-based groups outgrow their silliness.

    1. bubbles are great… but they don’t keep you safe. I’m all about being positive and hanging out with positive people. There’s a huge difference between living a life of fear and taking real practical measures to keep my kids (and myself) safe.

  31. It’s crazy to me that it is necessary that you have this conversation with your children, but I am glad that you did. Thank you for being brave enough to write about it in this current climate.

  32. disturbing – so sorry you and your kids have to worry about such things – the America you experience now most certainly wasn’t how it was when I grew up there – but I too have my concerns about how things are now and so choose to remain living not in the US but in the UK.

  33. Such a lovely family you have. Thank goodness your boys have such a wise and sensible mother. My girls -both young adults- want to travel to America on holiday. I’m sitting here composing a list of dos and don’ts. Times seem so much more dangerous now than when we were growing up. I hope your boys enjoy their trip to their grandmother. All the best.

  34. It’s an intricate balance to reveal just enough from beyond the bubble, without souring them on life experiences.

    Happy to read that they they enjoyed their trip and hoepfully they’ll be to repeat the experience.

  35. Wow. My two are 8 and 11, and I’ve also raised mine in a relative bubble. It’s so hard to determine when it’s time to “open their eyes”, however gradually, to the harshest parts of reality. It’s also a tremendous challenge to raise them to be kind and respectful and selfless in a culture that’s largely…not. But both are necessary, or the whole thing’s hopeless. I applaud you for having the tough conversations – before you ever expected to. Great post.

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