Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guest Post: Out of the Mouths of Babes

Many thanks to our very first Guest-Blogger!Sarah Powers is a freelance writer and mom of two. She lives in Arizona and blogs at Powers of Mine.

One of the objectives behind this here Friendfactor blog is to help straight friends of gay folks lighten up a little. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say or asking a silly question. Just say something, or go ahead and ask, and if it’s done in the spirit of friendship, it’s all good.

Usually well-meaning adults have these kinds of hang-ups in the first place because we’re worried either about hurting someone’s feelings or about looking stupid ourselves. But if there is one demographic who I can promise you does not give a crap about looking silly or making someone else uncomfortable, it’s KIDS.

Show me a preschooler and I’ll show you at least one parent who has experienced the agony of loudly stated observations like, “Mommy! That lady has a baby in her tummy!” (when ‘that lady’ is a stout 55-year-old) or “Hey! Is that guy a football player?” (because he happens to be black) or “Is that a man or a lady?” (and you’re not actually sure of the answer yourself).

As a parent in these moments, it’s easy to want to shove the nearest handful of goldfish crackers into the mouth of your precious offspring. I believe, though, that while doing so saves on a little short-term embarrassment, it also deprives both child and parent of a valuable opportunity for discussion.

Here are some ideas for parents and friends of curious little minds on how to answer kids’ questions about gay friends and family members (or just your average same-sex couple holding hands on the street):

■Make it okay to ask. Always. No matter how inappropriate or embarrassing the comment or question (Hey! That lady is dressed like Daddy but she has huge boobs!), answer it. Yep! Isn’t it cool how men and women have so many choices about how they dress and who they hang out with?

■Keep it age-appropriate. A three-year-old isn’t thinking about sex when she asks about a classmate who has two daddies. Find out what she’s curious about, and use the opportunity to share simple things about what you believe: A lot of grown-ups fall in love with somebody and choose to get married and have kids. Sometimes it’s two mommies or two daddies, and sometimes it’s one of each like in our family.

■Don’t assume that generalizing means bias. Comments like, You can’t marry your friend Lucy – she’s a girl. That’s weird! don’t mean a child is homophobic – only that his worldview is limited. Give him a break; he’s FIVE. Don’t overreact, but do use it as a chance to say things like, Actually, you guys are lucky that when you get to be grown-ups you’ll get to marry whomever you choose to love!

■Prep your gay friends. If you’re worried about your little chatterbox saying something in the company of your gay friends that will leave everyone staring into their latte foam, have a little pow-wow first. Just say, Hey, Ava is really curious about people and the world right now. I think she’s started to notice that your relationship is different than others she’s been exposed to, so just a heads up if she asks you some questions.

■Lighten up. Chances are, you’re going to be embarrassed once or twice on the parenting journey. Guess what? You’ll be the one embarrassing your kid in ten years. Wanting to raise open-minded and sensitive future citizens is one thing; drilling them on socially acceptable LGBT terminology at the dinner table is another. In this case the most important thing you can do is to model kindness. To everybody. All the time. End of story.
Preschoolers’ brains are primed to notice differences (remember that Sesame Street jingle? One of these things is not like the other…): colors, shapes, numbers, patterns, and, yes, demographics we’re not always comfortable discussing. Is the message we want to send that observing and discussing (and the next step, accepting) differences in people is somehow wrong? That while we teach tolerance in schools and pay lip service to equal rights, that simply pointing out an obvious difference, without any judgment or disrespect, is around the same place on the taboo continuum as passing gas in public?

Because that’s what they’ll learn. They’ll learn not to ask questions or make innocent observations. They’ll hear us say that differences are to be celebrated, but see in our flushed and hurried expressions that we don’t actually want to talk about them in public. They’ll learn that they’re supposed to accept, but may never really understand what it is they’re accepting. And then we’ll be right back where we started, in a forum like this one for people who want to support their friends but are afraid of saying the wrong thing.

So, let’s leave the next generation better of than we are, shall we? Let’s teach them to be sensitive and politically correct, but on top of those things let’s free them from the fear of saying the wrong thing by embracing their questions and answering them honestly right from the start. So that 25 years from now they won’t need the Friendfactor blog; they’ll just need their friends.

Reposted from Friendfactor.

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