Challenging Family Conversations On Mother's Day

May 13, 2018
Originally published on May 14, 2018 6:24 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Today is Mother's Day, but you don't only have to be a parent for our next conversation. We all struggle with how to talk to our nearest and dearest about race and identity, especially right now when it can feel - let's be honest - pretty uncomfortable. Luckily, our friends at Code Switch just released a podcast for parents looking for advice around these challenging family conversations. But aunts and uncles, grandparents, listen up, too. It's not just mom and dad or mom and mom and dad and dad who shape the way kids think.

Karen Grigsby Bates and Shereen Marisol Meraji, welcome to the program.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Thank you.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start off with a question from a white family in Philadelphia.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: My son says he's afraid of black people. He's 12 and goes to a very diversely populated school. But neither of us has friends of color that we see regularly. So it's often when he's on the playground near our house and sees a certain group of kids who are loud, sometimes swearing that he becomes frightened and then attributes it to black people in general.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Karen, what do you do when your 12-year-old says he's afraid of black people?

BATES: Well, my 12-year-old wasn't ever afraid of black people because he's black. But for this 12-year-old, I called an expert. I called Dr. Cassandra Harewood, who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist here in LA. And Dr. Harewood, Lulu, says - is not surprised that this 12-year-old is anxious. She says the current climate makes a lot of people anxious, no matter their age. What's important here, she says, is when the boy starts to articulate his anxiety - you know, I'm scared to go there. Are there going to be a lot of black kids at the pool? Mom needs to probe a little more. She says she'd encourage her to explore what exactly he's anxious about. So it's full of black kids, and what? You know, what about that bothers you? What concerns you? And it's OK, she says, if mom doesn't always have the answers for them. It's having that dialogue and not ignoring it, not pushing it down and out that counts.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So many people feel uncomfortable - right? - when you're confronted with that.

BATES: Sure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But how do you resolve it? Is the problem exposure? Is that something mom can help with?

BATES: Absolutely. Dr. Harewood says that the parents need to get out of their comfort zone and consciously broaden their social circle, so their child sees people of color in his home as something normal and positive. It might make the parents a little uncomfortable at first, but Dr. Harewood says, in her experience, parents will make themselves a little uncomfortable if it's for their child's good.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So open your social circle. Now let's turn to a mother in New Mexico. She wants her daughter - and this I have to say is a personal issue to me - to speak both Spanish and English fluently. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I speak primarily Spanish to her while we are in the home, which my husband supports and encourages. However, when we're around people who don't understand Spanish, my husband thinks it's not polite to speak in a language in which they don't understand. My worry is that if our child only hears Spanish in the home, she may think it's something to be ashamed about. She might think it's not as good as English.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So, Shereen, you've looked into this. This mom wants to encourage her daughter's language development but also balance the social norms.

MERAJI: Right. I talked to an expert for this because I'm not a mom. But I am hoping to be a mom and raising a bilingual child of my own. The expert is Gigliana Melzi. She's originally from Peru, but she lives and works in New York. And that's where she's raising her daughter bilingually. She's a professor of applied psychology. And she researches language development amongst LatinX kids in the U.S. And she told me that this mom should most definitely speak with her daughter in Spanish in public as much as possible if she wants her daughters to be truly bilingual. It's really important. And the only time she should switch things up and speak in English is if it's a group conversation happening and not everyone in the group speaks Spanish.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shereen, this mother is concerned about her daughter experiencing shame with her culture. How does a parent deal with that? And not asking for a friend.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: You know - I mean, it's a thing. Gigliana Melzi said kids get clued into language status at a really young age. And they'll start distancing themselves from the, quote, unquote, "lower status language." She says English has a higher status in the U.S. It's what's on TV. The movie stars are speaking English. Famous musicians and politicians are speaking English. So to combat this status imbalance and the shame that may result, Gigliana says you've got to introduce your kids to cool things in Spanish. For her, it was the pop star Shakira. Her daughter thought...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Shakira.

MERAJI: ...Shakira was super awesome. And she is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And she is. That is definitely something I want my daughter to listen to. That was Shereen Marisol Meraji and Karen Grigsby Bates of the NPR Code Switch podcast. Thanks to you both.

BATES: You're welcome.

MERAJI: De nada.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PIES DESCALZOS, SUENOS BLANCOS")

SHAKIRA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.