I Won't Shame My Kids For Their Privilege, But I'll Teach Them About It Everyday

One "boring" trip to the doctor reminded Heather Jones just how lucky her kids are

“I’m bored, I don’t want to be here!”

My husband and I looked at our son, waiting not-so-patiently for the doctor to come in and see him for his annual check-up and both had the same thought. It was the same day the U.S. had passed a new legislation that will limit access to healthcare for many people. We were struck by our child, sitting in the waiting room of a fantastic doctor from whom we would receive no bill; he was not sick, just checking in, and yet, he complained of boredom.

It wasn’t his fault, really. He wasn’t intentionally acting entitled. He was blissfully unaware of the amount of privilege afforded to him. If we lived in the U.S., my husband’s native country, we would be members of the group affected by the new medical care act. To go even further, if we lived in other parts of the world, we would not have access to medical care at all.

The ability to see a doctor when I need to is something I will never take for granted. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the bone marrow transplant that saved my mom’s life. We worked out that it cost over a million dollars, but the only thing we paid out of pocket for was hospital parking. Around the same time, I saw posters up at my high school fundraising for an American teen who needed the same procedure but could not afford it. The injustice of this weighed heavily on me. The weight has only gotten heavier since I became a parent.

I want my children to understand privilege. I have always tried to impart to them gratitude for what they have been given through simple luck of birth, but it hasn’t always landed. I used to tell my then four-year-old how lucky he was to have been born in Canada. I stopped doing this when he started referring to those born in war-torn or impoverished countries as “unlucky.” Now, we discuss privilege.

I want them to understand that privilege doesn’t mean individual circumstances. Our family has struggled. A lot. But we are still privileged in so many ways, even beyond being residents of Canada and all that that affords us.

My children are biracial, but both of them could pass for white. My youngest does not look even slightly biracial. My husband, who is black, has said he is grateful for this. We do not care if our children are black, white, or rainbow-striped, but the reality is that the ability to pass for white gives them a privilege. I want them to be aware of their passing privilege. I want them to know that while it does not make them better or worse than anyone else, it will afford them opportunities, and I want them to feel the weight and responsibility of that.

I want my sons to know that being male is a privilege. I want them to recognize that as it is right now, their female counterparts will have to fight harder than they will.

I want all this to make them mad as hell. I want them to see the injustice in it, and to use their privilege to extend the advantages of that privilege to others. I want them to be aware of their own privilege, so they can better listen to those without it, and advocate for them.

I want them to understand, really understand, what it means to be given the advantages they have simply by virtue of being born who and where they were, and to feel solemn gratitude for it every day.

But I did not lecture my bored 9-year-old at the doctor’s office. I did not admonish him for failing to respect the remarkable situation he was in. He’s a kid, and doctors’ offices are boring. Fair enough. Instead, I casually reminded him that thankfully, boredom is not fatal and that he would survive. I am careful to not shame my children for their privilege.

Instead, we talk about it as we see it. We talk about what we see on TV and in our daily lives. We make the discussion not about big lectures, but about many small reinforcements that add up to core values. I am stealing the Modus Operandi of microaggressions, and instead using it to instil critical thinking. I am making recognizing privilege and injustice a natural part of their lives so that they can fight for a world where all children can be fortunate enough to be bored waiting for their check-ups.

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