Breeding an Appreciation for Diversity

July 27, 2010

Today’s a real special day on NonProphet Status: I have the honor of featuring a guest post by my own mother. Now I may be a bit biased, but I think this is a beautiful and really insightful reflection on parenting, individual choices, and how we regard the decisions and identities of others that — you guessed it — draws a parallel to religious pluralism.

Take it away, Mom!

mom and me

Like mother, like son.

It was 1985: a time when women were free to pursue a career and take advantage of safe and secure childcare relatively guilt free. In fact, if you were intelligent and educated it was almost expected. As a National Honor Society member, Senior Class Officer, Student Council President and academic scholarship recipient in high school, it was surely expected of me.

But I had a different plan. I knew I wanted several children and I knew I wanted to stay home with them. Actually, I believed it was best to stay home with them.

I remember my Mother-in-Law sighing with disappointment: “Oh dear, I just hate to see you limit yourself! You are so smart and talented and I hate to see that go to waste.” I also remember getting the message from my “feminist” friends and acquaintances that my choice was unacceptable.

However, my decision to be a stay-at-home parent was deeply founded in my moral convictions. I will confess I probably had a feeling of moral superiority over “working moms.” I recall thinking to myself, Oh those poor children in day care

Moral superiority aside, I thoroughly enjoyed my years at home with my children. Although my choice meant that my wardrobe was made up of two pairs of jeans and a couple sweatshirts and our diet consisted mostly of bottom shelf boxed macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, it was the right choice for me. I feel confident that my children ultimately did benefit from my intelligence and talents as a stay-at-home mom, and that it was worth the sacrifices it required.

When my youngest child was in elementary school, things changed. Suddenly I was a divorced working mother of four with dwindling resources and a need to work more hours. I was confronted with the prospect of utilizing the childcare program offered by the local YMCA and, though it wasn’t my first choice, decided to use their services.

I recall observing the interactions between parents and their children as we dropped off and picked up our kids daily and having to reassess my previously held beliefs and judgments about the “right and wrong,” “good and bad” of raising children. I realized that my decision to stay home had been right for me but that it didn’t mean, given the option, that choice would be right for everyone.

My decision was right for me based on my life experiences. As I became more open to and aware of the experiences of others, I realized that people presented with the same set of facts can come to a different conclusion and that doesn’t necessarily make one “right” and one “wrong.”

My experiences as a parent were enriched by observing and appreciating another perspective. We can still have the same goal – raising healthy, happy children – and see different ways of accomplishing this.

As I have been reading this blog and responsive posts this year, I have been struck by the feelings of intolerance and lack of empathy. As his mother, I am proud of Chris’ message of tolerance and inclusiveness, as these are values I cherish as well and am so glad to share with him.

I don’t think it is “wishy-washy” to want to find areas of agreement with people we disagree with. And whether it is the decision to cover one’s head with a hijab, to believe in God or pray, or to utilize childcare while pursuing a career, I am grateful to live in a diverse and pluralistic society that allows for our differences. As a matter of fact: I celebrate them.

Even if that means my son is covered in tattoos.

momToni Stedman is a proud mother of four very different young adults (including this blogger) and is an excited new grandmother. When not working as a widely respected insurance agent that prioritizes personal relationships with her clients and strives to provide ethical service, Toni enjoys walking her dogs, catching some wind on the back of a Harley Davidson, serving on her neighborhood council, and target practicing with her rosewood handled revolver (she’s a pretty good shot!). Her youngest child is just about to move out of the house and she plans to celebrate her new “empty nest” status with a road trip west to the Grand Canyon.

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9 Responses to “Breeding an Appreciation for Diversity”

  1. Kate said

    Well said!! I enjoyed this post a lot, and think that this is an appropriate forum for it. I was homeschooled, and I went through a similar restructuring of mentality, when I began to recognize that while being homeschooled was an incredible experience for me, it wasn’t ideal for everyone (and of course, not everyone could afford to do it in the first place!). My youngest brother chose to go to school, and that was definitely the right decision for him.

    Your wonderful son is a testament to your hard work and the kinds of decisions you’ve made. And I agree completely, trying to find common ground is never a cop out. It’s the only thing that ultimately makes sense!

  2. dam said

    What a great post by your mom. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Bruce said

    Wow, what a great post. And what a great mom and person! I agree that it’s not “wishy-washy” to want to find areas of agreement with people we disagree with. Incredibly difficult a lot of times, but also essential if we want to move forward and create a better world. Loved the last line of the piece–on tolerance (and tattoos)–too 🙂

  4. Hitch said

    I like areas of agreement, but not at self-abandon. Someone like me is constantly asked to give up my identity in order to get agreement. Too many things are non-negotiable. Smiling stick figures are swastikas. To say that the original pledge of allegiance was more inclusive is totally offensive. To be concerned that outspoken minorities get ostracized is to be angry.

    Unfortunately I’m in the last group that it is OK to exclude for being us by virtually any other group, so it’s a little hard.

    Inclusiveness to not be wishy-washy has to dare to embrace criticism and differences. We are together exactly because we respect and cherish each other through differences, criticism and misunderstanding.

    Without that it is not pluralism.

    That’s the best inclusiveness of all: “I don’t know you, I don’t understand you, what you do is offensive in my culture, but alas, I want to you be here and be happy, come on in.”

    Once we get there this world will be a really wonderful place. Until then I fear we will see a lot of negative stereotyping of those who are inclusive but dare to be different.

    Empathy is a two-way street too. I get a lot of one-sided empathy. People demanding empathy from me (which I love to extend) but not returning it. Perhaps one day we will be all peers and all worthy of empathy. For that we have to learn to empathize with our harshest critics.

  5. Emy said

    What a great and insightful post! Thanks for sharing, I really enjoyed reading about how you were able to connect your experience with parenting to the interfaith movement. A very engaging piece 🙂

  6. […] cracking so many jokes at another’s expense, let’s listen to more stories, like the one my mother shared on this blog about how she learned to embrace the legitimacy of choices that differed from her own. As Eboo […]

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