One of the things I’m proudest of with this blog is the response I’ve received to my post How to Talk to Your Kids About Gay People, By a Gay Person. It’s received exactly the kind of praise (overwhelming) and condemnation (from a few random kooks) I would’ve hoped. I’ve also reached a number of people in the middle, which is where I would suspect most parents are these days, still trying to make sense of our increasingly gay-friendly world and where their kids fit into it.
I’d like to share one particularly intriguing comment I got on the post, which espouses a viewpoint I imagine is increasingly common among parents these days (edited version below; original can be found on the original post):
My husband and I are both tolerant, live and let live kind of people. I am a Christian, [but] I don’t think homosexuality is sinful. What is in the bible is taken way out of context.
We have a two mom couple [in our neighborhood]. [My kids] never noticed, so we don’t bring it up. Then one day, my 5 year old said that a man can’t marry a man, that is just silly. My husband agreed with him. My husband and I talked later and I told him not to say that, because our son has girls with two moms in his class and he may tell them that it is silly or wrong. My husband said that, in truth, two men can’t legally get married and he doesn’t want the kids thinking it is OK. Well that is when I realized that we aren’t as cool with it as I thought.
I don’t think seeing gay couples will make our sons gay, but my husband seems to think that if we just say it is fine and OK and natural, then they will experiment with both genders. While I would love and accept my son no matter what and so would my husband, I don’t want him to be gay. So how do I tell them that it is OK for other people, but not OK for us. Is that ignorant of me. Am I way overthinking it. I don’t feel like these couples are going to make my children gay, but for some reason, I have this problem with telling them that it is perfectly OK and normal for them to like [other boys]. How should I explain it? I would be mortified if he told his five year old friends that their Moms were wrong or weird and made the little girls feel bad.
I’m going to start off by saying something you probably wouldn’t expect me to say:
It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.
I know, can you believe a gay man just said that? I’ll say it again:
It’s OK if you don’t want your kids to be gay.
You don’t have to feel guilty about it or be conflicted, and it shouldn’t be the cause of a fight with your spouse.
As parents, we have a lot of expectations and desires for our kids, and that’s only natural. Maybe you don’t want them to go into the military, because you’re afraid they’ll be in danger. You don’t want them to be poets, because you’re afraid they’ll always be broke. You don’t want them to be windmill technicians, because you don’t want them moving away to the Netherlands. All understandable.
On top of that, it’s natural to want your children to be people you can relate to. We want them to have the same political views as us. We want them to share our religion, our work ethic, our sense of humor.
So maybe there’s a part of you that wants your kid to share the same sexual orientation as you. It will certainly make your life easier. It’s hard enough teaching your kids about the birds and the bees, without also having to explain the bees and the bees or the birds and the birds. Fair enough.
It may even make your kid’s life easier if they’re straight, because he or she won’t have to deal with homophobia and the difficulty gay people face when trying to have a family. Maybe that’s why you don’t want your kid to be gay, and that’s OK, too.
It doesn’t make you a bad parent, it doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t even necessarily make you a homophobe.
Here’s the catch, though: You have to be willing to accept your kids even if they’re not what you wanted them to be.
You would still love your daughter if she joined the military or your son if he became a poet, and if either of them became a windmill technician, you’d be a little sad, but you’d buy a Dutch phrase book and move on with life. It’s the same if your kid ends up being gay, so prepare yourself for that now. Ideally, you may not want it to happen, but it could happen.
And I’m sorry, but there’s no way to convey the notion of “It’s OK for them but not for us” without it coming across as hypocritical or dishonest. Your kid is looking at how you treat your neighbors not just to see how he should treat his neighbors, but to see how you might treat him as well.
What I’m hearing in your comment sounds to me like, “I want to teach my son to be nice to people who are different from us, because I’m terrified those people might learn how we really feel.” You can’t have it both ways. If you’d accept a stranger for being who they are, you can’t discourage it in your own child.
Kids have a tendency of defying their parents’ expectations. Ultimately, as a parent, you should be striving to make your kids happy, and nothing will make them happier than if they’re allowed to be themselves and to know that they have the unconditional love of their parents to support them.
You might really, really prefer that your kid be straight, and maybe you’ll get your wish. But maybe not. And it’s how you handle the “maybe not” that demonstrates what kind of parent you are.
Here’s the other catch: you can’t wait until your kids grow up to tell them you’re OK with who they are. You have to plant the seeds of acceptance before they even figure themselves out.
If your son tells you he wants to be a professional wrestler when he grows up, you can say you’d be very worried that he’d get hurt, but the bigger point you should make is that you’d always root for him.
If your daughter tells you she wants to be a roller disco queen, you can gently suggest that she might need a backup career plan, but only after you tell her to get down with her bad self.
And if your kids say they want to marry someone of the same sex someday, you might be inclined to share what your religion says about homosexuality, but your focus should really be on how proud you’ll be to walk them down the aisle.
Five-year-olds don’t usually have much sense of where they’ll be in 20 years. If we could really trust the predictions preschoolers make, the world would have a lot more firemen and princesses in it. But if there’s one thing kids that age are very good at, it’s testing their parents. When they make assertions about their identity, it’s a safe bet that they’re studying your reaction very closely.
Young adults have been known to experiment with homosexuality if they feel it’ll piss off their parents. But no one has actually ever become gay just because their parents told them they’d be cool with it. I promise.
As for the fact that marriage still isn’t legal wherever you happen to live, it’s only a matter of years if not months before it will be. Marriage equality is almost a certainty by the time your five-year-old reaches adulthood, so don’t cling to the technicality while it lasts.
If you want to know how to discuss the lesbian parents in your neighborhood with your kids, you can show them your acceptance without turning it into a Bi g Discussion on homosexuality. Just say, “Those women are in love, the same way I love your daddy. Someday, you’ll marry the person you love, and I can’t wait to dance at your wedding.”
Then let them go back to playing soccer.
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