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How parents can play their role in raising future citizens

This month across our social channels, we will be discussing some topics and ideas around supporting children and the role of parents in Diversity & Inclusion

We talk a lot about the role of companies in supporting their employees in the parenting transition. We support them to leave the organization and to rejoin the organization - or rather, the best companies that are good at diversity and inclusion, support the parenting transition. What we don't talk as much about is the role of parents in raising future citizens that are inclusive and respect diversity.

We are very conscious as parents of our role in shaping the adults our children will become – I think this is why it feels like such an overwhelming responsibility a lot of the time! How this part of my job as a parent related to diversity and inclusion was highlighted to me in 2015 when Ireland was discussing the same-sex marriage referendum. My twin girls were eight that summer and I was asked about what they were seeing on the posters and hearing discussed, questions like “Mammy, can girls marry girls?” were asked and given my years of working in diversity and inclusion my answer was a resounding “Yes!”. In fact, my partner and I have always made a point of talking about their future relationships in terms of the boy or girl that they will someday meet – we wanted them to know early and often that our male/female life partnership didn’t reflect all partnerships and that families were made wonderfully different.

In the years since, that conversation has expanded to discussing racial inequality, transgender rights, disability inclusion, neurodiversity and I’d like to think that we have taken every opportunity to signal our beliefs in inclusion and respect, to our children, every day.

This doesn't just apply to LGBT+ inclusion, we can also support our children in establishing ideas around gender norms and roles at home. Sharing parenting responsibilities with another adult means playing an equal role in the caregiving responsibilities and household chores (Shout out to all the single parents out there!). Our job is to help our children to understand that men and women have careers, and chores are gender neutral – cooking is not “women’s work” and neither is taking out the rubbish a “man’s job”. It's in these everyday actions that we help our children to frame the world.

Our role as parents is weighty and sometimes can feel overwhelming but examining how we teach our children to behave in the world is one of our core responsibilities.

We signal norms and acceptable behaviour to our children every day in the books we give them to read – Rebel Girls anyone? - in the television we watch with them; in the friends that we encourage; in their Halloween costumes; in the way we communicate with them about what is going on in the world. We know that every day includes teachable moments - “share with your sister”, “no hitting”, “get down, you’ll fall”. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we recognized and took advantage of the everyday moments to teach them to include others and value difference?

Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”, maybe explaining the challenging issues in our society to our children can help us to identify gaps in our own understanding and help us to not only influence our children, but also educate ourselves to be better allies.

If you’re looking for a collection of diversity-positive books for children, have a look at this Canadian bookshop for some wonderful suggestions. Or, get help to raise a mighty girl with this online collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident and courageous girls.

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