Originally published as a Letter to Editors [The Foreign Service Journal, March 2013].
Diversity at State: Helping our Children.
The value of diversity promotion in the State Department was well emphasized by EEO Counselor Krishna Das (Letters to the Editor, January issue). As a parent, I see the discussion regarding how we bring up our children within the diverse Foreign Service lifestyle as equal parts interesting, challenging, and crucial. It is, of course, necessary to serve as role models for our children right from the start, particularly in teaching the lesson that everyone, despite appearances or stereotypes, deserves respect.
As noted, State Department children are highly exposed to diverse cultures, and we as parents should demonstrate why this is such an advantage to their own growth as human beings.
Building a culture of diversity starts at home, a literal reality for many State Department families. We speak different languages, come from distinct cultural backgrounds, and practice different religions. And yet in most cases, our children are growing up in a culturally richer environment than we (parents) were brought up. Children in the Foreign Service live the concept of diversity and its social implications – on a daily basis.
That said, it is often necessary for us to question what is our role as parents in this process? How can we assist our children regarding the issue of diversity? It would appear as far as diversity is concerned, we need to be extra involved in their lives: listening to their stories, learning about their ventures and challenges adjusting to new, countries, discussing their questions and social frustrations, establishing a healthy communication channel, building positive identities and respect for differences. Further, we should seek ways to insert these concepts into the routines of our children’s everyday lives and help convince them through our actions that a society without discrimination is possible. It is critical for us parents and caretakers to develop ‘cultural sensitivity’ regarding our surroundings; otherwise, without specific cultural information, we may inadvertently promote practices and approaches that could counter other parents’ efforts.
One great piece of advice I once received was to “encourage your child’s friendships with others across race, ethnicity, class, religious practices, background and ability.”
The more personal experiences children have with other groups, the easier it will be to dismiss stereotypes and misperceptions.
Want to add to the discussion? Please feel free to share your comments/opinions/suggestions here!
- Embracing Diversity as an Expat: “How could we help our children around this issue?” (3rdculturechildren.com)
- Raising resilient expat children? (3rdculturechildren.com)
- Children: Of Mice and Men? (researchingreform.wordpress.com)