It is said that there are few ways to avoid harming your child, in one way or another, as you go along your parenting journey. Somewhere along the way you will do something that hurts them and could have lasting consequences, whether you intend to or not. How you show up during the healing process is, however, something you can control. This is said in the context of raising normative children, so imagine what the outcomes are for queer children. Parents often don’t consider that their children could be queer, because they approach parenting, and life, with a lens that makes sense to them. This approach often results in erasure of queer children’s experiences and identities, that need full acknowledgement to be nurtured and guided towards self-actualisation. When parents don’t acknowledge their children’s queerness, that erasure causes harm they may not realise they are perpetrating. What does such harm look like?
Growing up, I had a very close relationship with my mother. My femininity felt at home in her presence. She affirmed me as her child, but completely ignored my queerness. One of the most painful moments, I recall, growing up was while watching an episode of Oprah with her. On that episode, parents shared their experiences of parenting their queer children and accepting them. My mother watched with intrigue and eventually exclaimed: “This is fine, as long as it’s not my children!” My heart sank. I had received my first warning to keep my queerness out of sight because I would not be accepted. If I were to ask my mother about that now, she would probably tell me she didn’t mean any harm and was only expressing that she wanted the best for me – a common sentiment among parents. The best is often what parents want their children to become and not what children want for themselves. When the best is an entirely different identity that is impossible to achieve, queer children are left with feelings of failure and inadequacy.
Another way that parents harm queer children is speaking of queer people in disparaging ways. Whether it be making fun of them, expressing disdain for them or endorsing inhumane treatment of queer people as a matter of opinion. Again, teaching your child that such views are acceptable is deplorable in general, but when those are the only people they can feel represented by, knowing that their nearest and dearest hold such contempt for queerness, spills onto them. Parents may even be affirming of their child but express such prejudice towards others which confuses children and teaches them that their acceptance is conditional.
It is easy to simply ignore the difference in your child and assume that they will fit the mould you have prepared for them, but the real work comes with recognising that your child has specific needs which will differ from others, and serving those needs requires presence of mind and a willingness to learn new ways and unlearn old ways. It is with ignorance and refusal to change that parents harm their queer children without realising. The very least my mother could have done, was to hold her view internally and leave me under the impression that she was indifferent about queerness. Sometimes, when parents don’t yet know better, the solution is to practice basic decency towards everyone and teach their children that difference is not cause for disdain.
When parents do undertake to actively nurture their queer children there are ways to learn and unlearn that ensure healthy, encouraging exchanges with their queer children. In the first article of this series, I encouraged parents to divest from all external forms of fear-based validation and focus on getting to know their children. That includes protecting them from harmful opinions and belief systems such as queerphobic, violent religious texts. Remember, this discussion does not consider religious teachings valid when they perpetuate harm. I then proceeded to explore how queer children must be taken seriously as a source of learning and unlearning, allowing them to request and inform parenting styles that help and affirm them. They are the best teachers, since their hedonistic nature prevents them from being dishonest about what they need. Finally, I emphasised the importance of acknowledging childhood queerness as real and important in the development of children. An understanding of queerness that is not linked to depravity and indecency opens up opportunities to introduce age-appropriate, practical sex education that they can use later in life.
These are but a few examples of how to parent queer children better. This series is a peek into the possibilities of contributing to a different world where young queer people are equipped with healthy ways of being that encourage confidence and self-love. It is the best place to start on the lofty ideal of changing the world.