As the parent to a five year old, facing awkward questions is becoming part of day to day life. This week our daughter eloquently probed the reasons why she has only ever seen one of her friends’ Daddy, and never her Mummy. Bright and observant, it was only a matter of time before many of lifes ‘less than regular’ situations were curious to her.
Whilst tempting to brush over these kind of questions and discourage openly asking questions which may hurt her friends feelings, the time felt right to have a simple chat about all sorts of family set ups. Some people only have a Mummy, some only have a Daddy, some childrens Mummies and Daddies don’t live together any more. Some children don’t have a Mummy or a Daddy. Some have two Mummies, and some have two Daddies.
The explanation was well received and invoked almost zero reaction. It was processed, it was noted, and she moved on. “What are we having for dinner tonight?”.
A few days after this talk, I happened to stumble across a BBC documentary; “Is it safe to be Gay in the UK?”. Hardly my usual evening viewing (as I favour a bit of trash TV to wind down), however I was intrigued, and spent the next hour frankly horrified by what I saw. Homophobic hate crimes that beggar belief, and the shocking statistic that attacks like these are on the increase in the UK.
It made me think back to that conversation with my daughter, and more specifically, the role we play as parents raising a generation which not only accept, but love and celebrate diversity in our community.
Growing up in the 80’s when an on screen gay kiss routinely generated ‘Urghs’ and ‘Turn it off’s’, I thought the nation had come a long way from then, but perhaps progress isn’t happenning how I liked to believe it was?
It isn’t just homophobia that gives rise to hatred in some; race, skin colour, sex, disability, religion… it’s hard to imagine that the perpetrators of hate crimes started off life in the same playgrounds that our children play, but they did, and something somewhere went so horribly wrong. As the news continues to report the gender pay gap, and women continue to fight for an equal access to career after having a family, it seems we have a long way to go.
Whilst we have seen the first subtle gay references in a Disney movie, and the theme of the prince rescuing the princess fading into the past, is that enough to instill the right morals into our children?
Clearly, there is only so much reach one family can influence, but by raising a generation of children which show love, compassion, understanding and acceptance in all walks of life, we are doing what we can to make the world a better place. Who knows where those life skills will take them, and the people that they may influence. Perhaps enough to sway some peer groups to make better decisions as teens, and perhaps to have the strength to realise when they have been drawn into something that is wrong, and to say no. Values to carry through their life where they might impact whole communities, whole counties, or even nations.
As parents, we must be role models to the young eyes watching us. To not sensationalise the minority groups, to accept them and treat them as equals. To let our children see us doing exactly that and to answer their questions openly, honestly and truthfully. To mix in circles where they see diversity and embrace it. To both talk and learn about the rich cultures in our community, yet play together as one and let differences stay invisible to them as they so often do when deep in play.
There are so many ways this can be done – through everyday conversation and scenarios. Dolls with more than just one skin tone, visiting places where your child can mix with a wider community. When she was just two, and devastated the dog had chewed off the hand of her beloved Harry Styles doll, we casually let her know, that it was fine because lots of people only have one hand. Explaining that some children aren’t naughty and just need a little more patience and help can be enough for them to understand Autism and the beginnings of tolerance and equality towards those with special needs – which will serve them well in life as they will undoubtedly cross paths with many individuals needing their love and understanding.
My heart broke for the hatred the individuals endured watching that programme. Let that never be my child, your child, our children. Please let them never be victims to any horrendous acts of hate crime, and equally, do all we can to ensure they are never the ones to carry out any act of hatred on another because of their sexuality, their appearance, their religion or their abilities. A smirk, a laugh, a comment, an act of unkindness, they can all leave scars the same way a physical attack can.
There is a difference between a child’s natural curiosity and the beginnings of an unhealthy mindset; let them know that there is zero tolerance for any form of discrimination, in a gentle, age appropriate way.
The future is in their hands, and therefore it’s in our hands. Let’s make a difference, as best we can – humanity is depending on us.
This post originally featured on www.meetothermums.com