A Letter to My Toddlers

To the 3 children God has entrusted to me,

Today was a hard day in our world. Really, they all are. Not a day goes by without struggle, without death. Today just hit close to home because Philando Castile lost his life in our city yesterday during a routine traffic stop over a broken tail light. His girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter watched his life slip away, simply because his skin was black, and black men die all too often when they interact with the police.

A little girl your age witnessed a shooting, watched her mother lose someone she cared deeply about, and got the message that her skin color, instead of being full of beauty and survival, makes her vulnerable to danger and death.

My loves, you need to know that the police are still good. Even these officers have undoubtedly risked their lives countless times to serve and protect innocent lives. It’s just that they cannot get away from the unconscious prejudice that convinces them in a split second, without any evidence, that the person in front of them is  a threat. This prejudice is there under the surface for most all of us humans; most of us are not holding metal power in our hands when it comes up.

Tonight I’ve been contemplating how to raise you in this kind of  world, not only how to help you make sense of it, but also how to help you become a part of healing it.

I do not know much about this parenting thing, and I know even less about racism. Here is what I do know.

I am much more concerned with your ability to share power than I am in having authority. In a basic sense, I want you to be able to respect hierarchy, to understand that there are certain aspects of life, mostly concerning safety, that parents and teachers and bosses and lawmakers get to decide. However, for the majority of life, you will be sharing power with others, sometimes as a person with more power and sometimes as a person with less. I want you to leave home having practiced power. If my authority takes away your opportunity to have any, you will leave not knowing how to hold your power in a way that makes space for both yourself and others. I want you to know what it looks like both to respect others when you have power and to expect respect when you are submitting to the power of another. In order to have that wisdom, you need to have power of your own. I hope this will make you the kind of person who can see when power is being used for oppression and know that is worth fighting against.

I am much more concerned that you understand God’s immeasurable, unconditional, unexplainable, and completely irrational love for you than I am about how many sins you commit, how many scriptures you memorize, or how many rules you break. I want you to know that you are the center of his universe, the object of his affection, the hero of the story he is weaving in the world, and the focus of his desire. I am hoping that if you know this to the tips of your toes, it will make sense when I tell you that so is everyone else–that God is being enough for us all to be the center of the universe because God operates outside our concept of space and time and has a love big enough for everyone. I am hoping this will help you internalize the deep conviction that there is no such thing as “other” people. There is only humanity, and that when humanity is hurting, God’s love covers “them” and “us” because really there is only “us.”

I am far more interested in helping you understand the impact of your actions than I am in giving you consequences. I understand that both shame and fear would motivate you in the short term quite effectively toward compliance. I am not really interested in your compliance. I am interested in your relational intelligence. When you hurt someone, I want you to see the impact on that person, feel in your gut what it is like to see someone in pain that you have caused, and then work toward repair of that relationship. Sometimes, I have to remove you from a situation so you do not cause more harm while you are not yet ready to repair, but that is not about punishment, it’s about preservation of the relationship. I want you to understand that at its core, life is about relationships. It’s not about behavior. My hope is that this will give you eyes to see the impact of our collective behavior as a society upon the marginalized and oppressed and know the impact is what makes the behavior inexcusable.

I am not afraid to show you when I am irritated with myself, with daddy, and even with you. I want you to be used to real people having human reactions. And I want you to see them from the people you trust the most. When you can see my unfettered irritation with you while simultaneously experiencing that never-ending, ever-expanding, impossible-of-ruining love I have for you, you will learn that irritation does not prevent love. My hope is that you will become the kind of person who can act in loving ways even toward those who, at one point in time or another, are not your favorite people to spend time with.

I validate your emotions even when they seem too big to me or when I have a different perspective. I want you to know that before I work to get my point across, I am interested in hearing you. I want you to expect from your relationships that others will make space for your perspectives and emotions. Just as importantly, I want you to be the kind of people who can let others have emotions and perspectives that might not make sense to you because you know that relationships are not about always agreeing but instead about making space for and understanding the unique perspectives that everyone brings. I hope this will help you see value in even those who challenge you, knowing that the richness in life comes from our diversity.

Someday, you are going to go out into this world to live your lives. You are going to start to understand the devastation caused by disordered displays of power, the breakdown that follows misunderstandings, the injustice that occurs when people cannot see beyond their own experience, and the vulnerable who get left behind when the relational impact of our actions is not considered.

I don’t want any of this to make sense to you. I don’t want any of it to be familiar.

I want you to be so used to radical love, empathetic understanding, differentiated perspective-taking, and power-sharing in relationships that you will be immune to the world’s poison, that instead of getting infected by it, you will be its antidote.


Your Mommy (who has a long way to go toward making my ideals come true)



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