WWAC Staff Writers Romona Williams and Wendy Browne are not only geeks, but geek moms. Including geek culture in their kids’ lives is crucial to their parenting. In this article, they answer some questions about geek parenting and provide great ideas for resources and talking with your kids about the more difficult issues that come up with parenting like sexism, racism, and etc.
What makes your parenting style geeky?
Romona: It’s safe to classify my parenting as geeky when my two year old sings the 60’s Batman theme song to herself when she wakes up from a nap. I am a sucker for kid’s comics: the books, the shows, the toys. But these days, it’s especially the toys. When my kid was born, it became very obvious that the toys people were giving my daughter were actually toys we’d both be playing with; the toy chest is full of stuff that we play with together. One of the best presents I got for my last birthday was a set of DC Little People, and we use them all the time. The most important way for kids to learn is through play, so making sure you have toys that appeal to both of you goes a long way towards making play-time more fun. Needless to say, we have foiled several of the Joker’s plans together.
Wendy: My brother began my geeky legacy by giving me his Classic X-Men comics, and I’ve passed that on to my daughters, aged nine and six. We read comics and manga together, watch all the comic book movies and several comic and anime shows (we are big Teen Titans Go fans), and they have joined me at comic conventions. I try not to get too nerdy when the girls ask questions about their favourite heroes, but sometimes I can’t help but go in-depth on Jean Grey’s transformation into the Phoenix or explain the mythology behind Thor. We’re firm believers that everything can be a teachable moment, even if the teaching is completely geeky.
My husband and I are also big gamers, so the kids are almost always around when we are gaming and have taken up the torch themselves. They play games geared for their age groups, but we also let them watch and participate in our gaming. The nine year old has shown a proficiency in crafting, just like her dad, and they are running around playing Guild Wars 2 together as I write this.
Why is it important to your parenting style?
Romona: I touched on this lightly in the first question, but experts say that play is essential for kids’ intellectual, social, and emotional development. It’s also a widely accepted theory that children’s relationships with their primary caretakers are integral to their mental and physical well-being. Adding the two concepts together means that a child’s experience playing with their primary caretakers is extremely important. In order to keep our daughter stimulated, involved, and exposed to new experiences, we introduce her to our interests (which is primarily all things geeky). If we were to avoid comic books, video games, and general awesome things, it would be detrimental to our relationship with her and, consequently, to her development. So, I feel absolutely no qualms about taking my kid to a comic con or free comic book day. It’s good for us.
Wendy: When we had our first, my husband and I agreed that we were going to avoid the whole Disney princess thing, but family and friends seemed to take that as a challenge. We’re not opposed to princesses, and they do have a big collection of dolls now — from Barbie, to princesses, to Monster High — but we’ve balanced that out with other things like LEGO, gaming, race tracks, and comic books. These are the things that were important to us as children and are important to us as adults, so why wouldn’t we want to share that with our offspring? It’s incredibly heartwarming when the kids want to join me at conventions or read comics with me. I feel like some parents feel obliged to do everything their children want to do based on a prescribed slate of popular toys and shows which isn’t necessarily fun for parents (there is only so much Dora the Explorer I could handle). But, if you introduce them to your interests, then the bonding experiences can be that much more enjoyable.
How do you handle issues of racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, etc. in geek culture with your kids?
Romona: My kid is a fresh-out-of-the-can two-year-old, so she isn’t zeroing in on these topics as of yet. But I’m sure it’s popping up on the fringe of her radar. I do what I can to demonstrate that men and women are equally powerful. We have Wonder Woman stop the Joker as often as Batman, and I’m careful to avoid casting women in victim roles while we play. And I tangle with the princess thing. I avoid media and games that involve princesses. Not because there is anything wrong with princesses. They’re great. But, she can imagine being so many other things than that one role. If she wants to pretend to be a princess and dress frilly for a day, that’s cool. But it’s also totally cool when she wants to be a dinosaur. I try not to pigeonhole her into certain expectations and encourage her to explore different roles with the hope that she’ll continue to seek out varied experiences in the future.
Wendy: When my brother introduced me to X-Men, Storm was the first character I saw. I was eleven-ish then, and didn’t realize prejudice was a thing because the series was so diverse. I want my children to be aware of these issues, but I also want them to simply enjoy the geeky things without me pointing out and preaching to them about the problems. That said, we do read and play things that allow the conversation to come up more organically. Princeless is a fantastic way to raise the various issues in a fun way that they can understand, and they loved the opportunity to interview the creator, Jeremy Whitley with me and raise the issues that were important to them such as Princess Adrienne’s “poofy” hair.
One issue that they are starting to pick up on on their own is the male/female imbalance in certain things. They notice when Wonder Woman or Black Widow are missing from Justice League or Avengers merchandise at Target. My nine year old complains that she can’t play as Lily, the only female in Scribblenauts: Unlimited (you can play as Lily, but only after you’ve finished the entire game, having played as all of her brothers first). I make a point of making sure that they see me reading comics and playing video games with female protagonists (who aren’t damsels in distress). If I am able to create my own character in a game, I usually create a female, due to personal preference, but I also offer variety in the races presented. My children are of mixed race, so I want them to see that they, their parents, and their friends all belong in this medium (as well as the fuzzy cat people or the red tentacled people…)
Okay, bragging rights, tell us what makes your kid particularly geeky?
Romona: If you ask her where Batman is, she’ll run over and point to his picture on our wall and go “Batman!”
Wendy: When my five (now nine) year old drew this picture of Storm, I knew I’d done good:
Any recommendations for resources to share with other geek parents?
Romona: Your local library! You can get kid’s books and movies based on comic booky stuff like Scooby-Doo Meets Batman and DC Super Heroes: My First Book of Girl Power. Plus, most libraries have a Parent/Teacher section full of books on children’s development and activities. The library is every parents’ best resource!
Wendy: There are children’s versions of just about every geeky thing. Books are a great resource, so, as Romona said, check your local library. But I think the biggest resource is yourself. You know everything there is to know about your geeky interests so get your kids involved! There are age appropriate things, but my husband and I don’t shy away from the more mature fare, as long as we are with them, ready to discuss, and answer any questions they may have. We love taking the opportunity to teach them — especially when we can teach them about the things we love.