Psychology
19 Oct 2018

Talking to our children about same-sex relationships

“Mom, does your friend have a wife?’” a four-year-old asks her mother about her gay friend.

“No, and he never will. He already has a partner. A male partner,” her mother replies.

“Ok,” says the girl. End of conversation.

Wysokie Obcasy
Paula Szewczyk Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Talking to our children about same-sex relationships - NewsMavens
Girl, Pixabay

The following fragments from Paula Szewczyk’s article originally appeared in the Polish weekly “Wysokie Obcasy” in August 2018.

According to Franciszka Sady, an activist with Campaign Against Homophobia, many parents are worried about their kid’s reaction to LGBT+-related topics. But she stresses  that children are much more tolerant than adults; they accept reality as they see it. Children are not surprised to see someone of a different skin color, in a wheelchair, or two people of the same sex holding hands. Not until adults tell them that something different means something worse.

Penguins Roy and Silo lived in New York City’s Central Park Zoo. They watched other penguins brooding eggs and intuitively started brooding a stone. Seeing that, the zookeepers swapped the stone for an egg. Weeks later, a little female chick hatched out and is named Tango. This true story was turned into a children’s book by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and quickly became the most popular children’s book on same-sex relationships. Although the book was published over ten years ago, parents are still not sure about how to talk to their kids about same-sex couples.

That’s not fair!

“In our case it was surprisingly easy,” says Sady. “We have many homosexual friends, so sometimes our son would spend weekends with Ania and Piotr or another time with Paweł and Michał. When he was eight, I asked whether he could see any difference between those two couples. He said that Ania and Piotr had a dog and made delicious food but Paweł and Michał had a massive TV and they would let him watch cartoons till late.’’

Dorota Łaboda, one of the founders of the Polish activist group Parents Against Education Reform, recollects the first conversation about homosexuality that she had with her daughter: “'Mom, does your friend have a wife?' she asked about my gay friend. She was four. I replied as plainly as possible: 'No, and he never will. He already has a partner. A male partner.' 'Ok,' she said. That was the end of our conversation."

As Franciszka Sady noted, not all parents have same-sex couples in their circle of friends. However, there are different methods for teaching children that families can differ from one another.

During playtime, for example, parents can create a family consisting of two female dolls or two teddy bears, and point out that two women or two men can be together and love each other just like parents do.

I would advise using simple language, suitable for a child’s age and developmental stage. It shouldn't be a lecture, but rather a friendly, honest chat with clear examples. Of course, these talks might lead to further questions, which many parents find slightly problematic. When Ania and Piotr got married, their son asked when Pawel and Michal would get married? It wasn’t easy to explain that in Poland there can’t be two husbands or two wives. “Why?! That’s not fair! If that’s what they want, why aren’t they allowed?!” he kept asking, confused.

Elżbieta Blok Fernández, creator of the popular blog “Mum Against the Tide”, has told her readers that her child will be brought up in an environment where they will quickly realize that one day, they might visit their aunt and uncle, or on another, two aunts or two uncles. Nevertheless, she’s not planning to explain why same-sex couples live together. In her opinion, by bringing the subject up, she would automatically suggest that same-sex couples require justification. She prefers to wait for her child to ask first.

The problem is, before parents bring up the subject, their child might hear a homophobic remark from their colleagues, other adults or from the TV. In that case, perhaps it’s better not to wait?

“Parents often wonder if there is an appropriate age for this kind of conversation. They’re afraid to bring it up too early. Speaking from experience, I would say the sooner the better. Children as young as four or five are perfectly ready,” says Sady.

She points out that even if, after our reply about same-sex families, we hear: “Ok, let’s carry on playing,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that all our efforts came to nothing. A foundation of openness, tolerance and acceptance has already been laid down.

Pink and glitter are a must

While we’re talking to our child about homosexual couples, we could also try to provide realistic examples of what we are trying to teach by taking them places such as the “Equality Parade”. Four-year-old Helenka marched with the colourful crowd along with her parents -- Ewa Jagielińska-Szlassa and Adrian Jagieliński. “This year, when we told Helenka that it’s time to leave for the parade, she took all her colourful clothes out of the wardrobe and tried on a few outfits before she decided what to put on. All she knew was that pink and glitter were a must.”

“Since we’ve started participating in 'Rainbow Parades', talks about LGBT matters with Helenka have became more commonplace. She’s asked me about same-sex couples a few times and I always give her the same answer -- it’s natural.”

What does “coming out” mean, mum?

“It’s never too late for a chat about these issues. We can do it even if our child is already a teenager. Especially as the subject has most likely already been brought up among their peers. We can ask what they’ve heard about LGBT+ topics and if they would like to ask about anything? It might turn out that all they’ve gathered are just some superficial bits of information from media sources or stupid jokes from school. It’s a perfect time to make sure our child understands that 'gay' or 'lesbian' are not offensive terms,” adds Sady.

Home is the last resort

Dorota Łoboda recalls the outrage of her thirteen-year-old daughter after a school trip. One of the tutors, who was speaking with her colleagues, mentioned that students had started exhibiting an interest in the opposite sex. Then she added: “Luckily, only the opposite one.” Dorota’s daughter and her friends thought that the teacher’s remark was highly inappropriate.

“Young people are fully aware that there’s no right, or universal path when it comes to love. And in terms of LGBT+ issues, sometimes it’s the teachers who should learn from kids, not the other way round,” she adds.

According to Sady, the sooner we show our child that LGBT people are around us and that they deserve our respect, the bigger the chance that he or she will grow into an open and tolerant adult. It’s about respect towards otherness, but also towards their own identity and gender. “These conversations don’t necessarily have to involve other people,” she adds. “With time it might turn out that our child was actually talking about themselves.”

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