How I Turned An Awkward Run-In At Target Into A Lesson In Diversity
Fact-checked by HeHe Stewart, Doula and birthing expert. HeHe is the founder of a Maternity Concierge, Doula and Birthing Service in the Boston area.
Toddlers are so unpredictable. There’s something to be appreciated about the period between birth and the moment your child’s language develops and you begin to hear your own words coming from a much tinier and more innocent mouth. Toddlers are also magnificent creatures that have absolutely zero care about anyone else’s opinions or feelings. They say what comes to mind, when it comes to mind, no matter who is around….and usually, this is done at a very loud volume.
More: Kids and Diversity
As a Maternity Concierge, sometimes I go on the first few outings with new moms after the baby is born. This particular family had a three-year-old, too. So here we are having spent way too much time in Target and a cart that drops items every few feet because it’s piled mountain high because this mom had been cooped up for the last three weeks. I’m wearing the baby, who is sleeping, and the three-year-old is in the cart (and holding a few items), but growing antsy as each minute passes. Nap for her was due in 45 minutes and we knew we’d already be late for that.
As we step into the line (keeping in mind, we are the third party in line), the three-year-old asks if tomorrow is a “school day” or a “home day” and her mom tells her it’s a school day. The conversation pursues and the little girl names her friends that are in her class including the “not kind” friends and her “most favorite” friends. As the conversation dies, I begin a conversation with the mom about setting expectations for what our plan is for when we get back to their home. Amidst our planing, we hear this booming, yet so innocent, voice say, “Look Mommy! She’s black.”
Now, let me set the stage for you. I don’t have children. I know secrets to nooks and crannies of parenting. I know tips and tricks for couples about to have a baby. I know how to comfort someone after a miscarriage. I know how to navigate setting boundaries when tantrums strike, introducing solids, and how to potty train kids, but nothing… I repeat, nothing…. can prepare you for a moment like this in life. Sometimes in my job, I find myself saying, “Thank God I am not here yet in life,” and this was one of them.
I froze. I couldn’t move when I heard that sweet voice say such a…. socially unacceptable thing? It felt so rude. I wanted to run and hide! But why? It wasn’t wrong, it was true. It wasn’t said in a derogatory way, it was an innocent observation from a three-year-old who is learning by observing the world around her. It wasn’t motivated by anything other than something she noticed in her immediate environment. Yet, it felt so uncomfortable and I had no clue how this was going to end.
This mother, ever so gently said, “You’re so right! You’re noticing we all look different. We all have different color skin, isn’t that neat?” The little girl continued, “Like Justin* at school!” Her mom replied, “You’re right! Do you want to say hi to her? You could ask her her name.” The little girl nodded and turned to the lady in front of us and said “Hi! I have this baby!” As she said this, she was holding up her new baby doll she was getting “to practice breastfeeding” as mom breastfed her new baby brother.
As it turns out, this little girl had been learning about diversity at school. Not only was she displaying her intelligence of being able to transfer things she learned in school to the outside world, she was simply trying to say hello to a new friend and didn’t know how. It was never about the lady in front of us because it was always about her being a proud new big sister showing off her new skills in her new role. It was always about having something to say and not knowing how to say it.
Imagine if her mom had squashed that?
The lady in front of us was the kindest woman in the world. She engaged this little girl and asked all about her new baby doll and one of her “most favorite” friends, Justin. She walked away with a high five and an invite to their house from the little girl. This was in 2017 and still today, we talk about her “Target friend.”
Remember, that your child has no idea what is socially acceptable and what isn’t. That’s your responsibility to set those boundaries and teach your child why those boundaries exist. It’s your job to teach your child how to interact with other humans and treat other people kindly. As they learn about the world, you will have to shape the way they express the constant influx of knowledge they take in each day.
Be mindful that your child learns by seeing and doing and observing. They ask blatant questions because, to them, their questions are simple. They make unfiltered comments because, for them, that’s the language they have to express that feeling or thought. Remember, they are simply connecting the dots around them.
All I can say to toddler parents out there is...get ready. Stand up tall and brace yourself for brutally honest one-liners and embarrassing encounters. Remember, when you fail (because you will...everyone does) brush yourself off and plan for next time. You should expect next time to go smoother, but never expect it to go according to your expectations. Toddlers always have nonsense up their sleeves to pull out in the perfect moment.
*Name has been changed.
For more tips for teaching kids about diversity, follow FamilyEducation on Facebook: