Mothers from all walks of life will readily admit that parenting is not without its challenges. Despite our instinctual desires to protect our kids from harm—whether it’s physical, psychological, or otherwise—we also know that there’s a fine line between sheltering children and ensuring that they’re conscious of the world around them.
Current events in the United States, in particular, have likely prompted inquisitive children to ask for explanations from their parents—and it’s not difficult to understand why. Take, for example, the well-publicized shootings of African-Americans by police, and the hateful demonstrations by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. The news may be troubling for kids who learned in history class that their country had long overcome the race-based violence seen during the U.S.’s Civil Rights Movement.
As a Filipino-American mother to a one-and-a-half year old son and with another baby due this fall, I haven't yet had to step up to the challenge of explaining the hatred seen in the latest headlines. And as a born-and-raised citizen of Los Angeles—known for its diversity and, for the most part, bleeding-heart liberalism—I know the day will come when I'll be faced with those tough questions.
Like many parents, my husband and I aim to lead by example as we raise our mixed-race children to be open-minded, kind, and tolerant. We both believe that this doesn't merely involve being nice to the new kid in class or sharing lunch with a hungry classmate—it's also about standing up for those who are marginalized. In these challenging times, it's natural to seek out like-minded people for encouragement in speaking up loud and clear against bigotry and hatred—which is why I reached out to a handful of notable women who are well-respected in their industries.
Katie Hintz-Zambrano, founder of Mother magazine and In Good Company (a conference for entrepreneurial mothers), points us to President Barack Obama's response to the Charlottesville tragedy that she found particularly inspiring. "It's really the perfect sentiment and is a great lesson about the influence we can all have on children, especially our own," Hintz-Zambrano tells MyDomaine. "We all have such a great opportunity to raise this next generation to value equality and inclusivity, and to not teach hate or fear of otherness."
In light of these and other troubling events, MyDomaine asked over a dozen notable mothers: What are the valuable lessons that you're passing onto your children to ensure the next generation embraces inclusivity and equality? Read on to discover why the only answer to hate is love.
Molly Sims, Actress, Model, and Humanitarian
Between raising her three children and sharing her top parenting, beauty, and fashion tips on her YouTube channel, model-turned-actress Molly Sims has also lent her support to nonprofit organizations like UNICEF, Operation Smile, Global Green, and Feeding America, to name just a few. The New York Times bestselling author explains to MyDomaine how she's combatting intolerance as a mother:
"As a parent, it goes beyond solely teaching our kids to be nice or respectful. It's crucial to teach them that being nice and respectful includes not staying silent when people are being treated unfairly. "
Alli Webb, Founder of Drybar
The founder of popular blow out chain Drybar, Alli Webb credits her own parents with setting positive foundation during her own upbringing. "My parents always taught me to treat others as you wish to be treated," she explains, "and that advice has always stuck with me and I try to pass that sentiment down to my children."
"I'm so grateful that my children don't judge or differentiate people based on the color of their skin or their ethnicity. I like to think it's because my husband and I have always tried to teach the boys that all people are equal."
Whitney Port, Fashion Designer
After landing in the spotlight as a cast member of MTV's The Hills and The City, Whitney Port parlayed her reality TV fame into a successful career as a fashion designer. Fans followed her every move as she built her stylish lifestyle brand, got married to producer Tim Rosenman, and became a mother earlier this year. Though she knows there's still time before her newborn son can understand the world, Port tells us that she's already put some thought into the values she'll teach him.
"Although Sonny is too young to learn anything right now except that crying will get him changed and fed, my No. 1 priority as a mom is to teach him right from wrong," she says. "Included in that giant life lesson is the fact that people are defined by a large sum of different qualities, life experiences, and backgrounds. Those who attempt to define people by the color of their skin are either afraid of the unknown or too lazy to do the real work it takes to know someone."
"If I can teach my son that it takes a lot more digging than just looking at someone to know their strength of character, then I will have taught him a lesson worth passing on to the next generation."
Denise Vasi, Actress
Known for her role on the popular TV series, Single Ladies Denise Vasi continues to inspire us with her mindful approach to motherhood and a balanced lifestyle. The model and actress, who splits her time between Brooklyn and Los Angeles, tells us that she keeps in mind this quote from Todd Parr, one of her favorite children's authors: "It’s okay to be different!"
Her daughter, Lennox Mae, may only be 2-and-a-half years old, but Vasi says the lessons she'll learn "are very basic but imperative. I think once upon a time parents thought teaching their little ones that color was irrelevant was a successful strategy to handle the tough subject of racism," she explains. "Unfortunately, this place where we find ourselves today proves that does not work. It is not enough to say race, religion, or sexual preference doesn’t matter."
"I know that by openly discussing not only the differences but also the similarities in all of us, my daughter will understand the basic principle of feelings," Vasi continues. "I strive to instill respect, compassion, empathy, and love in my her. I know that my daughter is looking at me with eyes and ears wide open. Teaching our children will always start by modeling behavior—it doesn’t get any simpler than that."
Amanda Booth, Model, and Humanitarian
As the mother of a child with Down's Syndrome, model Amanda Booth has made it her mission to raise awareness of the condition and prove that children with special needs can indeed thrive. Her experience has driven her to break through the stereotypes of Down's Syndrome and inspired her to continue stepping out of her comfort zone:
"My son is still young and non-verbal, and I think he’s the one doing the teaching at the moment—[but] I can tell you what I have learned about love from my son [who has] Down Syndrome," says Booth. "By opening my eyes and heart to a person who I didn’t know, who I was unfamiliar with, my life has gained a richness that is unimaginable. If my circle of familiarity stayed as small and one-sided as it had been my whole life, it would be so much less full now."
"It’s so important to keep your mind open to something, or someone new and different, because you have no idea how endless the possibility for enrichment can be," she continues. "If we were all the same, life would be so boring. Embracing difference, and accepting others with love and understanding, gives you the opportunity to learn from them. We all have so much to learn."
Anine Bing, Founder and Creative Director of Anine Bing
Originally from Scandinavia, model-turned-designer Anine Bing resides in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter, and son. Her namesake clothing brand is beloved by stylish celeb moms like Jessica Alba, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Sienna Miller for its luxe, off-duty style. Here, she explains the importance of unconditional acceptance when raising her children:
"It's been so important for my husband and I to instill in our kids a very accepting and compassionate view of the world, no matter where people come from," she says. "I always try to teach them if you want the world to be a more loving and accepting place, make sure to treat others with the same level of love and acceptance in your own life."
Natalie Alcala, Fashion Mamas Founder
After becoming a mother, fashion editor and writer Natalie Alcala struggled to find other women in her industry who could offer non-judgmental support. That's why she founded Fashion Mamas, a members-only group of influential mothers in creative industries. Here, she explains what she loves about her son's natural instinct to be accepting:
"There is nothing more beautiful than the innocence of a child—their hearts are organically filled with love and acceptance. It's a joy to watch life through my son's eyes, and my goal is to preserve his inner peace as long as possible. I am teaching him that kindness is the key, and diversity is one of life's many gifts. He is Spanish, Mexican, and Russian, and loves his skin tone as well as the many other gorgeous skin tones that make up this world."
Athena Calderone, Interior Designer and Founder of EyeSwoon
Interior designer and mother Athena Calderone is the stylish mastermind behind Eye Swoon, and we're constantly turning to her for healthy recipes, dinner party inspiration, and decor tips. When it comes to everyday living and parenting, Calderone tells us that she makes it a point to remind her son of his responsibility to make a positive impact in the world.
"Our children are our future and I remind [my son] Jivan of that every day. It is the choices he makes, how he moves about in the world, and the kindness and empathy he emanates that is a reflection on the rest of this world," says Calderone. "It's up to us to change the legacy of violence happening in the world today—not for someone else to resolve—we must show up to foster change.
"We all count and must use our voices and never turn a blind eye to hatred, bigotry, and cruelty," she continues. "That who we choose to love, male or female, or the color of our skin is no different than being born with brown hair or blond hair—we [are all] 99.9 exactly the same genetically [and] we are all equal, plain and simple. Our children are born only with love and acceptance in their hearts and it is our job to not tamper with their innate purity."
Amanda de Cadenet, Author, Founder and CEO of #Girlgaze
Long before her daughter, Atlanta De Cadenet Taylor, became an influencer in her own right, Amanda De Cadenet had already cemented her place in the fashion and entertainment spheres as a photographer and TV host. After becoming a mother, De Cadenet added producer and author to her résumé, and her latest book, It’s Messy, is due out this fall.
"I actually have a whole chapter in my book dedicated to these ongoing challenges of raising kids in our current political climate," she tells MyDomaine. "[It discusses] how it’s incredibly important for us as mothers to lead by example and to discuss race, gender, identity, stereotyping, bias, and equality in some capacity almost on a daily basis."
"As parents or caregivers, we must explain to our kids that gender bias and white privilege are rampant in today’s culture. You must take the time to identify with them what these issues look like, so that they don’t join in and instead become upstanders," continues De Cadenet. "I’ve spoken to my kids and continue to keep an open discussion about these issues—I feel that you’re failing as a parent if you’re not honest [and have] age-appropriate conversations about what’s going on in the world."
San Francisco-based writer Katie Hintz-Zambrano co-founded Mother magazine as way to fill the void she found in the parenting blogosphere, and the stylish lifestyle site tackles a range of topics from tough to light-hearted, including post-partum depression, fashion, travel, and gender expression. When it comes to opening her 4-year-old son's eyes to diverse viewpoints, she includes books by Rosa Parks, Malala Yousafzai, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Maya Angelou and others in his reading regimen.
"We love the Little People, Big Dreams series, as well as the new book Sparkle Boy—those allow us to start to talk about the history of racial and gender injustice in both this country and others," says Hintz-Zambrano.
She tells MyDomaine that she already sees how her son has begun to pick up stereotypes, including gender norms. "I've noticed that a lot of this begins as early as toddlerhood—and even earlier—when kids are starting to be pigeonholed... [in] the way they dress, what toys they play with, and the emotions they are allowed to express," she says. "It's something that you have to be vigilant about, as there are so many limiting stereotypes coming at you from all angles—the media, the colors of toy aisles, and other adults and kids. And this isn't even to touch on when the racial and ethnic stereotypes start creeping in."
"It's a fine balance between preserving a sense of innocence in your kids and also starting to break the ice on some tough issues, like gender and race inequality," she says, but she tries to counteract antiquated standards by explaining why one person's opinion may not always be fact.
"I'm also lucky that my son, who is half Mexican, attends a Spanish immersion school in San Francisco that celebrates different cultures and has a fairly diverse student body," continues Hintz-Zambrano. "I am very conscious, however, that the city we live in is not as 'diverse' as it once was. There's rampant gentrification—that I'm surely a part of—and the black population is being displaced. I think recognizing your role in it all and recognizing white privilege and other forms of privilege are important.
For her, life is a never-ending lesson: "Like everyone, I'm still unpacking it all and trying to grapple with our current situation and what I can do to make things better."
Katya Libin, Co-Founder and CEO of Hey Mama
The mother of daughter with Russian, Jewish, Mexican, and Catholic roots, Hey Mama co-founder and CEO Katya Libin is familiar with raising a child in different cultures. "My daughter Liliana [was] born here in New York, and she couldn't have more of a diverse background," she says.
"As a parent, I find it important to teach her that we are all born equal and with the same love in our hearts, and that it's important to give each and every person a chance to show you what they are all about," continues Libin. "On a more simple level, I teach her to smile and say 'hi' to everyone to spread that good feeling and warmth. She understands that it's important to treat people how she would want to be treated and [at age] six, I see her using [applying the concept] every day in the playground."
For Libin, the Charlottesville tragedy hit close to home. "Because of my Jewish heritage and having family who suffered at the hands of Nazis, I find it all the more important to teach her that hatred is wrong in any form because of what it can lead to," she says. "The more love and warmth we instill in our children at this young age, the better our country and our world can become."
Kathryn Eisman, Emmy-Nominated Journalist, Author, and High Heel Jungle Founder
International bestselling author Kathryn Eisman knows a thing or two about the struggle to balance mom/work life. A two-time Emmy-nominated journalist, TV host, and entertainment and fashion reporter, the Sydney-born, LA-based mother created her blog, High Heel Jungle, as a way to empower other women and prove that choosing to have a career doesn't diminish their roles as mothers. She tells us that her journey into motherhood has shown her that "a child's natural state is to see the world through a lens of love," and she hopes to inspire her 3-year-old daughter to hold onto that positive attitude.
"They don't see color or creed or religion. Hatred and racism are taught, it's a learned behavior first observed then mirrored and perpetuated," says Eisman. "My daughter is still [young] and I want to keep her in that natural state for as long as I can so that she doesn't even begin to start defining people by their differences."
"When the time comes—and sadly it will—that she sees the injustices of racism, fascism, or anti-Semitism, I want her to be shocked so that she sees this for what it is: Unnatural and unacceptable," she adds. "I am teaching her that someone should be judged purely on their character, not their color. That we are essentially more the same than we are different."
Michelle Davenport, Raised Real Founder
Despite studying for a PhD in Nutrition at NYU, Dr. Michelle Davenport could barely carve out time to make healthy, homemade meals for her own daughter. The registered dietician co-founded Raised Real, a food delivery service that offers preservative-free, pre-portioned kids food made of farm fresh ingredients. Although her daughter comes from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, Davenport explains that instilling open-mindedness goes far beyond just being surrounded by diversity.
"We're raising Sophie to embrace differences and to unabashedly use her voice whenever she doesn't agree," says Davenport. "We read bedtime stories about embracing originality and non-conformity with books like Rad Women Worldwide and I Dissent, which is about Ruth Bader Ginsberg. [My daughter] is of Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, English, and Scandinavian descent, and is surrounded by grandparents who immigrated as refugees and a family in Hawaii where it's a cultural melting pot. While she's surrounded by diversity, I know the most impactful way to teach her these values is by example. She's always listening, always watching my every move."
What lessons are you teaching your children to inspire love and equality?
Zehra Allibhai, The Fit Nest Founder
Canada-based fitness expert Zehra Allibhai is dedicated to helping people live their best healthiest lives. The mother of two regularly shares her favorite workout moves and nutritious recipes, from easy sweat routines that can be done at home to her guide on eating healthy during Ramadan. She tells MyDomaine that before she had children, "the thought that each and every one of my actions would be setting an example for them was definitely a little bit scary, but also forced me to think carefully about what values I felt would the most important to impart to them."
"By far one of the most important lessons for me is that of universal love and acceptance (for others as well as for themselves). We are fortunate enough to live in Toronto, Canada, and being one of the most multicultural cities in the world I love that my children see and interact with people of different races, cultures, and beliefs each and every day," she explains. In addition to stressing the importance of being kind and compassionate to everyone and celebrating peoples' similarities and differences, Allibhai also makes sure that her kids understand that they "have the power to change someone else’s day."
Like other parents, Allibhai also uses children's books to address sensitive topics and teach powerful lessons to the next generation. "Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed very simply illustrates how one simple act of kindness can snowball into something so much greater when people 'pay it forward'," she shares. "Just Because is a lovely little book with a boy talking about all of the things he loves to do with his older sister, who we eventually find out has special needs. It’s a great little story of sibling friendship and beautifully illustrates that such children aren’t defined by their disability."