Friday, March 02, 2012

Q and A: Tricky Questions

Question: I'm curious to know what you think about this article:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Amelia/when-your-7-year-old-son-announces-im-gay_b_1277910.html

Answer:
My first thought on reading the article was that I really do not think that most 7-year-olds have enough understanding of themselves or the world around them to know for sure whether or not they are gay - or to know a lot of other things about what sort of lives they might want to lead down the road. I've got two very bright 7-year-old boys and I've worked with kids of all ages all my life and in my experience, kids go through phases and have different passions and interests that come and go. I don't think it's wise to "pigeon-hole" any child into any particular thing they identify with at a young age. I think it's good to accept our children's interests and tendencies and talk about them openly. But I think it's good to encourage them to enjoy childhood and not worry much about their present or future identity right now.

My daughter has been telling me she wants to be a doctor when she grows up since she was 2. She's now 9 and is still saying she wants to be a doctor and while I totally support her in watching medical documentaries and researching medical things on the internet and getting books about the body at the library, I don't feel like it's a done deal that she's going to be a doctor. She might change her mind. We talk about what might be great about being a doctor and what might be hard about it. I tell her that we'll love her and support her in whatever she wants to pursue. But I also tell her that she really doesn't need to make decisions about her future career right now.

Can't we accept and support possibilities but defer a final answer when it comes to our children's identities?

So I guess my main first thoughts spurred about this article were focused on our children's identity and these were my conclusions:

  • Accepting our children for who they really are is a beautiful and important thing.
  • Understanding who our children really are is a real challenge. I'm always trying to figure out what is part of the fabric of who my kids are and what I can and should help them tweak or change or enhance. How do you decide what to keep pushing on and what to give up on? (See this post on how I gave up on a particularly clean room for one particular child...)How do you decide what to encourage and what to discourage?

But then, the more I thought about this article and saw what others were saying about it (there were quite a few comments made when we shared the article in our Power of Moms forum HERE - plus there are tons of comments on the article itself), I realized this article brings up a whole other topic that's really important to me.
  • Teaching our children the values and norms that are centered upon beliefs that are dear to us is an important parental duty. But how do we simultaneously help our children learn to to understand and respect the opinions and choices of others?  
In my family growing up, my parents really focused on teaching me and my 8 siblings the values they held dear (and went on to write a book about the methods that worked that become a #1 NYTimes Bestseller - Teaching Your Children Values). We had clearly explained and enforced family laws that echoed values of respect, kindness, and hard work. We did awards around the dinner table (for more on that, click here). We watched movies together and analyzed what people had done and why and what we'd have done in those situations. We made "decisions in advance" (when we were 12, we wrote down in our journals a list of things we wanted to commit to always or never do in our lives and signed the list like a contract with ourselves).**

But at the same time, my parents really focused on teaching us about other cultures, other ways of thinking, and other ways people choose to live. We were reminded again and again that "different is good" through dinner table discussions and excursions around the world. We were taught to be friends with everyone and to seek to understand and love all those around us while holding true to what we feel is right in our own practices and beliefs.

In my own family, as my kids get older, there are more and more questions that come up. I want to do what my parents did for me. I want to help my kids develop their own strong sense of right and wrong (and of course, I'd like it if that sense was pretty close to my own) but I also want them to be empathetic and understanding and respectful.  We do a lot of discussing and talking in our home  - it helps that we know a lot of people who have made very different choices in their lives. I think that welcoming questions and  talking and discussing is a big key to the understanding part - as well as the "forming their own opinions" and "solidifying values" part. But we're still figuring all this out.

I want to help my kids have a clear moral compass and a strong sense of right and wrong but I also want them to be open-minded, empathetic and loving.

So I guess my question back to you is this: How do you teach your kids the values you hold dear while helping them develop their own opinions and teaching them to be understanding and respectful of others' choices? 

I'd love to hear your ideas on this topic and I just put up a new topic in our Power of Moms forums on this. Please add your comments and ideas here:
http://powerofmoms.com/forums/topic/teaching-values-while-teaching-understanding-and-respect/

**Just FYI, any of these ideas are laid out in detail in my parents' books (Teaching Your Children Values and The Entitlement Trap).

2 comments:

Cheryl said...

My 4 year old daughter insists she is a princess. Is she? My 7 year old insists he is going to be a NBA star, an Air Force pilot AND a construction worker all at the same time. Do I think he will, not a chance, but do I discourage him? Nope.

Within the article the author of the article states they are surrounded by friends who are gay. It is part of their dialogue and a normal part of his life. I think he is saying this because he is exposed to it and it is his reality.

We teach our kids according to our beliefs. We have talked with our older 3 children about our values as far as the family goes. We have taught them that marriage is between a man and a woman but those who choose differently are still children of God and we still love them as a person. We have had family members choose differently than we believe and it has been a good teaching tool about choices and still loving the person. Kids are so black and white that when they are young it is hard for them to separate the person from their choices.

kms said...

In my faith a person who is gay is called to celibacy. I would rather my child not be gay. But this logic is faulty. If a 7 year old mentioned a desire to marry a member of the opposite sex and have a family at the age of 7 most parents would be convinced its a sign they are heterosexual and doing an inner leap of joy into the air. Being around heterosexuals doesn't make people heterosexual. It's not the identity but the acting out on that identity that is problematic. This 7 year old may be or may not be.

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