One of the things that slammed into me when I gave birth is the realization that I am responsible for this tiny human being – not just for her general health and care, but also for who she will become as a person. And if you ask me which one of these is more frightening, I would say that it’s the latter. Breastfeeding and diaper changing is easier compared to ensuring that your child grows up a kind and moral person.
As their parents, our kids look up to us in almost every aspect. They watch us and sometimes even mimic us, trying to learn everything about the world and how to navigate it as much as possible.
Admittedly, our world deals with a number of issues – and nothing is more relevant and timely than diversity, inclusivity, and Pride Month. This might be a touchy subject for some, but personally, I choose to cast most of the arguments aside and just focus on two things: inclusivity and love. Mainly because I think that everyone deserves and has the right to love and be loved by anyone they want and be accepted for it. As it is, people identified as “different” and those who identify as LGBTQIA sometimes deal with disparagement and even punishment for their choice. And personally, I choose to not participate in such hate. And as a parent, I would love my daughter to be more accepting of everyone.
Having said that, I also acknowledge the fact that teaching kids about diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQIA can be hard. So here are a few actionable items that we can do bit by bit that could help foster these in our kids:
Be conscious of how we talk about relationships.
Most of us tend to overlook this because we were taught and raised that heterosexual is normal, or what’s called heteronormativity. And as such, we can’t help but teach the same to our kids. Especially if we are a heterosexual couple, our child could not help but see and interpret it as a norm.
But being conscious of it can go a long way in getting our kids to understand that other couples – especially those who might not “look” like ours, are not “abnormal,” just different.
For heterosexual couples like us, we may not realize it but we reinforce heteronormativity to our kids. We do it through our conversations with them about our love for our partners or even through our bedtime stories – when we tell our daughters that she’ll find her prince or our sons that he’ll find his queen. We’re further enforcing the “norm” that couples should consist of a male and a female.
So if we want to raise kids about diversity and inclusivity, we need to make it a point to include other kinds of relationships in our talks about love, care, and families. We can approach the subject by saying that some families also have two moms or two dads. Or that it is totally acceptable for two princesses and two princes to find love in each other. Talking to our child about other kinds of relationships can go a long way in teaching our child that each person is unique and that differences are ok.
Don’t limit our kids to gender-specific toys.
Dolls are for girls, while cars are for boys. By repeating this line every time we’re at the toy store or even while playing with our kids, we further reinforce what society dictates on each gender – or what is called gender policing. Gender policing is the difference in how society in general sees and treats girls. It teaches our daughters that they are not equal to boys and it teaches our sons that relating to girls or liking what they like is a form of weakness. At the same time, this is pretty evident in the large pay gap between girls and boys in the workplace. And the sad part is, no matter how modern our society might be today, gender policing is still unavoidable, and your daughters will most probably experience some form of it – with their peers (yes, even from other girls) the ones enforcing it themselves.
So knowing this, we have to ask, why not set these limits aside at our home? Let us not limit nor weaken our kids by bringing them up this way. A number of studies have already proven that both boys and girls are equally competent in any aspect if given the chance. So believing and raising them as otherwise is unfair for our kids. We can start by encouraging them to play with what they want and be what they want (in their pretend plays).
Encourage conversations about different races.
My daughter has a collection of Disney Princesses. While playing with them one afternoon when she was about 3-years-old, she asked me, “Why is Jasmine darker than Cinderella?” And that question was all it took for me to realize that along with learning her colors, my daughter is also learning that people come in different colors as well. So I explained to her in a few simple terms about race and that everyone is beautiful, no matter how dark or fair they are. And then she asked, “Even Tiana? I like her, she’s brown.” And of course, I wholeheartedly replied, “yes.”
As parents, we could not help but try to shield our kids from issues that we consider are negative or harmful. However, we can’t do so forever. And ignoring such issues will also not make them go away. So personally, I choose the route of building a solid foundation of love, acceptance, and empowerment for my child. Because sooner or later, she’ll realize that our world is made of more than butterflies and rainbows; that not all parents have moms and dads, that girls sometimes have to work harder to prove themselves, or that a person’s worth is not dictated by his/her color. I want her to be comfortable and confident in herself and what she believes in when this happens. And hopefully, she will.