Originally Posted by janinemh
OP here. Thanks again for all of the responses. I'm not sure where to begin responding to a lot of it. I think there have been a lot of good thoughts on walking that fine line between helping your child "fit in" and also being proud of who they are no matter what.
I'm coming at this from a history of growing up in a somewhat narrow-minded community (the one I once again live in) where certain kids were often teased mercilessly. This happened to my brother---thing is, my brother did everything he could to fit in and he was still teased (believe me, there were no purple boots). My parent's were mostly lost in how to help him deal with it.
So it is the topic of "preparation" raised by Musiciandad that I would really like this thread to address. How do we best teach our kids to meet the world with pride no matter what? Without calling undo attention to how they are different and making them self-conscious about it before they need to be.
DH and I were talking and we feel we do the preparation without scary stories really well in certain areas. For example--how to meet a bear or other wild animal in the woods. We teach that wild animals are not to be feared but respected and there are ways to be safe in that situation. Same thing for navigating a situation where you have the potential to fall are trip--know where your feet and body are and be aware of what's going on around you. Crossing the street--ditto.
But we feel less equipped when it comes to preparing DS for the various pitfalls of social relationships. How do we prepare him to handle difficult social situations without scaring him about how mean other humans can be to one another?
The fact is that, while we don't go out of our way to shock the world with our different-ness (most of the time DS wears "boy" clothes for instance--and we're all just fine with that), our lifestyle and values do set us apart in this community. These values go to the core of who we are and one of their foundations is that we do not blindly accept what this culture tells us is right or wrong--- because the fact is that we live in a really broken culture. And it needs to be transformed. So, if my little boy falls in love with a pair of "girl" boots...its just not good enough to say its not culturally acceptable---I want to celebrate him for who he is and allow him to learn for himself what he likes and dislikes (something I honestly don't think I learned to do until I went to college). But we do need some stronger tools to help us meet a world that believes and operates differently.
Thanks again for all the good thoughts.
Preparation for what they may encounter is a long term deal.
Here's what we have done with DD and will do with DS (it really worked great with DD).
- Once she was old enough to understand, we started talking about how different people believe different things. We worked through this over time, explaining some of the ways people react to things they don't agree with, what is appropriate behavour and what isn't.
- We talked about and when needed did some role play, on how to deal with someone acting in an inappropriate way towards them or someone else because of their feelings. What do you do when someone is verbally hurting someone for being different, how about if you are the one receiving the treatment? What do we do if someone is physically hurting someone for being different, what if you are the one being hurt? What if it's at school/home/park? Are there trusted adults you can ask for help or should you just leave? All of that kind of thing.
- We provide a safe zone. Not only for our children but for anyone who walks through the front door. Berating someone or physically attacking them because you don't agree with something will not be tolerated.
- In keeping with the safe zone, we also provide a chance to talk about feelings, things that happened, etc. with not only DD but anyone else who walks through the front door. That means that, yes, if your son is at our house and starts asking about wanting to wear dresses and he doesn't feel comfortable enough with you (hypothetically) to express that, both DH and I are willing to talk about it and help him figure out a way he can safely be himself and even discuss it with his parents.
- We also encourage DD to offer similar support. If her friends, or someone at school approaches her and wants to talk, she will listen and offer advise or assistance. She also has the go ahead to offer either DH or I too help if the problem is too big or to offer support when going to see a teacher or school councilor the other child feels comfortable with.
- Finally, this is really something that doesn't need
to be done but we do anyway because Dh grew up in a very strict, conservative home. We have a policy that our friends know about. If they know someone who needs support, a place to hang out where they can be themselves, or help finding other sources of support (therapist, groups etc) they can help the person get in contact with us and we will make sure they have access to everything they need. Not everyone has the courage to call up PFLAG or walk into a LGBTQ support center alone. Some people feel much more comfortable sitting down and having coffee with someone who understands and can go with them to these places if they can't do it alone.
ETA: This is a really incredible experience for some of the people that we've helped out, because they have always been told that gay men are out doing drugs and sleeping around, but their first real connection is a stable, loving, monogamous relationship.
I know I strayed in to support for LGBTQ individuals, but a lot of that is interconnected with boy (and girls) who break the gender barriers whether they identify that way or not. The more we support the straight individuals who break the gender norms, the closer we become to giving LGBTQ individuals the respect they deserve in society.