I scored at parenting, this week. At least, that’s what it felt like when I overheard my seven-year-old daughter explaining the facts of life to her two-and-a-half year old brother. I stood outside the door to her bedroom, listening in and trying not to gasp, giggle or burst into tears of pride, as she said, slowly and seriously: “Girls have vaginas, boys have willies – unless they are born in the wrong body. But EVERYONE has bums.”
Everyone has bums! What a classic. I’m seriously thinking of getting T-shirts printed, just to remind the world of the inimitable wisdom of children. Certainly, her message went down well on social media when I shared it. Yes, we’re all different. But WE ALL HAVE BUMS.
There’s a serious message here, though, behind the lols. How can it be that our kids get it, so easily and simply, but we don’t? They understand the subtle nuances of NOT being racist, homophobic, transphobic or sexist even though they can’t even tie their own shoelaces. Grown-ups have a lot to learn.
We also have a lot to teach, and perhaps that’s where the answer lies. I’m far from a perfect parent – I stick my kids in front of the TV so I can dash in the shower and get dressed each morning. I shout at them to get their shoes on. I’m always rushing, often late, and I forgot to send the permission slip back to school so my daughter could have her flu jab. Parenting fails: I’ve done them all.
But one thing I have tried to do consistently, since they were born, is teach them to accept others without judgment. To think about people’s feelings. To have empathy, tolerance and understanding – and simply to be kind.
I’ve also tried to be as mindful as possible about privilege and not projecting my views automatically on to the kids. I’m an atheist, and don’t hide the fact that I don’t believe in God from my daughter – but I remind her that others do. I’ve encouraged her to make up her own mind once she’s ready and hammered home the importance of respecting other people’s beliefs.
And that line of thinking goes for gender, too. When my daughter was born I became more than a little paranoid about pink. It was EVERYWHERE: clothes, toys, even toothbrushes. I noticed the language people used when talking about little girls (“pretty”, “cute”, “bossy”) and the differences when talking about little boys (“brave”, “a leader” and that ubiquitous excuse for bad behaviour: “boys will be boys”).
The really shocking thing? Most people don’t even notice they are doing it.
I rallied against stereotyping, in my own way. But it was tough. I bought gender-neutral babygrows, made sure my daughter had an even mix of trains and tool boxes as well as dolls and soft toys. She went through a stage of only wanting to wear dresses, and I let her. She’s out of that now, preferring jeans and leggings – and her favourite thing to do at weekends is to go rock climbing.
She loves hearing about people with different lives to her own, and is openly fascinated with the Rebel Girls book series. Her favourite story in there is the one about Coy Mathis, a transgender primary school student with four siblings who identified as female at the age of four. So when she told her little brother about everyone having bums, I know that what she was really thinking about was one of her heroes: Coy. A little rebel girl who helped to change the world.