I spend a lot of time talking with my children about things that are important to me. I want them to be important to them as well, things such as tolerance, acceptance and equality. Melodie and I have often spoken about relationships between people. She knows that the most important thing is to find someone you love and care for – and if you want to get married, then you should. I tell her there are no rules as to who you can marry. We have never said she needs to find herself a boyfriend, only to add the “But it’s okay if you get a girlfriend!” We have always said that what matters most is that there’s a whole lot of love and plenty of fun to be had with whoever she chooses. And that is truly all I want for thedm. We may end up with three girls with a girlfriend each, or a boyfriend each – or maybe there will be a mixture of the two. We don’t know – but I certainly won’t be either disappointed or happier about any of those options – as long as they are all treated right.
The same way we speak about equality in peoples relationships, we also speak about people and disabilities. I am no expert, and certainly no child psychologist, but I believe the only way to teach tolerance and acceptance is to openly discuss things that may be seen as different for a child. Mel has her own ‘disability’ which makes for a good gateway towards talking about things that are different with other people. We talk about disabilities we can’t see and those we can. Even such a simple thing as someone wearing glasses is seen as different to her – because none of us do. We talk about not mocking or laughing at people being different, about being a friend to someone who may not make friends as easily. I also think it is important that she is not afraid to ask questions if she sees someone or something being different as I truly think most people are happy to share rather than being misjudged or prejudiced. I know I am more than happy to answer questions about diabetes (or anything else, for that matter) as I know that helps clear things up for people who may not know as much about it.
Then there is racism. Nobody is born racist. Children do not see skin colour, they read faces and voices and smiles and actions. They are colour-blind when it comes to people. It is our responsibility as parents to ensure it stays this way. Melodie and I were once in a shopping mall and went to one of those family rooms, and when she came in, there was a big Samoan man changing his baby girl. I had dreaded this day, where she would say something about someone else’s skin colour. But there she was, watching this big man with dark skin: “Mum, that man has brown skin.” I am totally mortified. You just never know if the target will be offended or if they see it for what it is, an innocent child with no harm intended. Luckily, this was one that was not. He smiled at me, and I answered her, cautiously: “Yes, he does, and look at the cute baby he has.” Trying to steer her in a different direction. “Oh, it’s so cute,” she answers, “and she has brown skin, too, so he must be her dad!” Again, the man looked up and smiled at her, disarmingly, reassuring me that he didn’t think my three-year old was a racist. It was then I realized we hadn’t really spoken about differences in skin colour and what it actually means, but since then we have done so many times. Now Melodie will notice skin colour the same way she will notice the colour of someone’s shirt – as something that doesn’t really matter.
The issue is, though, that we do live sheltered lives sometimes. The majority of the people around me are heterosexual. I do have friends that are gay, but we rarely see them, and even if we did, she would hardly know the difference unless I specifically told her. Also, most people in our lives are white – not for any reason – we mostly hang with family, so naturally we all look similar in that way. The area we lived in in NSW was also one filled with people of mostly European descent.
What are we supposed to do to even this out? Should I bring them to Mardi Gras to expose them to the gay community? “Look, there’s two boys kissing, IT’S NORMAL!!!” “Look at those two girls touching each other – THEY ARE ALLOWED TO.” Should I invite gay friends over for dinner and encourage them to show each other affection so my little ones can watch? No. Of course not.
Are we supposed to join a tribe? Infiltrate a community of people with different skin colours and facial characteristics? Pretend like we are something we are not, for the purpose of teaching the children about diversity and tolerance? I think not.
I think I have found my way of doing it – and it has worked so far. We discuss it. We are open. We know there are differences in people, and that that is what makes everyone unique. We also know about the things that are the same, which are the things that matters the most – like a persons feelings and being good to each other.
While watching the Eurovision show, Melodie saw Conchita, the lady who won last year.
“Wow, she said. A beautiful lady in a beautiful dress. And she has a beard, like daddy. That’s funny. She sings beautiful.” She saw her exactly the way she should see her. Someone singing beautifully, with a beautiful dress on. She just happened to have a beard.