This year, my family dressed up as characters from “The Greatest Showman” for Halloween. My daughter first brought up the idea because she wanted to be the girl with the pink hair. I’m going to be real with you: I selfishly took her suggestion as a way to have family costumes and ran with it.
After a couple weeks spent of digging through our closets and searching area thrift stores, we were all set to be a carnival family. In a twist suggested by a dear friend, my husband and I switched roles and he went as the bearded lady.
My husband is a very good sport, but he makes a hideous woman. (Sorry, hunny!) My kids thought it was hilarious that Daddy had boobies and a big wig. I was weirdly in love with my leather baton, and had too much fun bopping my crew on the rear. This is what Halloween is all about!
Everyone was happy as we ventured out into our neighborhood search of good candy and fun. It didn’t take long before I realized that my husband dressed up as the bearded lady was not as charming to some of our fellow trick-or-treaters as I thought it was. Little children were pointing and laughing, which was fine because our kids did the same thing at first. And those big plastic breasts were really funny!
What was not fine or funny were the grown women calling him hateful names loud enough for my children to hear. I was shocked at the language that I heard these adults using to tear down someone in front of their kids. It wasn’t everyone—or even most people—but the few crude people made a huge impact with their mean-spirited comments.
I was amazed that on a night where people were dressed up like inflatable dinosaurs and fictional cartoon characters, a man in a dress was the most shocking thing to see. As adults, we have tough skin—it takes more than a stranger’s comments to upset us—but I couldn’t help but worry about how my kids were feeling. Did my choices in costumes make them feel mocked or embarrassed? When we got them home, we brought it up as they rummaged through their candy loot.
My daughter wasn't embarrassed, but confused. I was taken aback when she looked up and said, “Those grown-ups should be careful! They are setting a bad example for their kids. Why don’t they teach them that everyone is different? That we never try to hurt people! They are raising kids who are not going to know how to be kind! I feel so sorry for them. Those kids may never ever know any better.”
We don’t always have the answers in the moment, but surely we can help by not modeling hateful behavior.
Before I get too self-righteous in my prideful parenting moment, allow me to humble myself. My children have said rude and insensitive things to strangers plenty of times. My son once asked a Target employee if she had a baby in her belly. When the lady politely said, “No,” my son replied with, “I bet you really do and you just don’t know it yet!” I quickly walked away while muttering apologies.
Then there's the time my daughter screamed while pointing at a man getting out of a handicapped parking spot, “THAT MAN CAN WALK! He is faking being handicapped! Call the police!” I pretended I had never seen this strange little girl before, as I left her with her father and ran ahead into the store.
So, I get it—parenting is tough!
We don’t always have the answers in the moment, but surely we can help by not modeling hateful behavior. When your child is talking about the "weird" boy at school, challenge him to think about how hard it would be to be an outcast. Let’s not entertain the idea that some people are below us, that somehow their feelings don’t count as much as ours do.
While we build up our kids' self-esteem, let’s be careful that they don’t somehow get the idea that they are better than other people. Let’s all practice a little empathy. Teach them that everyone is different. We have unique views and ways of seeing the world. When you see a person that looks or acts different, don’t point out their differences to your children but point out things you probably have in common. Remind them that we don’t have to understand our neighbors to respect them.
There is never a reason to call people ugly names. If your objective is to tear someone down, stop and ask yourself why you feel that need. There is enough hate and divisiveness in our world, without us contributing to it.
Remember, it costs absolutely nothing to be kind—even when a family of circus freaks is walking down your street.
This post originally appeared on Momstrosity and was republished with permission on mom.me sister site, Cafe Mom.