A child told my 5-year-old daughter being gay is naughty. Here’s how I handled it.
My five-year-old daughter, Little Miss E, loves to talk about weddings. Since she was two she’s talked about who will be invited to her big day (it’s going to be expensive!), what we’ll have to eat (pizza), who her bridesmaids will be (seven of them), and the kind of dress she’ll wear (one like a princess). She talks a lot about who she’s going to marry. Sometimes it’s one of her brothers – three-year-old Little Man O or just-turned-one Baby Boy I. Sometimes she and Little Man argue because they both want to marry Baby. Sometimes she wants to marry Daddy, and when I remind her Daddy’s already married to me, she says I can marry someone just like Daddy and we can all live next door to each other. Other times she wants to marry one of the boys she knows. One in particular, she says, looks like a handsome prince when he wears his glasses. Other days she wants to marry one of the little girls she is friends with.
Cardiff Daddy and I tell her that people don’t really marry their parents or their siblings – we’re family, so we have an extra special kind of love. We also tell her that Mummy and Daddy didn’t meet until we were at university, so it might be a while before she meets the person she’s going to marry. We explain that sometimes you can love someone as a friend, but it doesn’t mean you are going to marry them. We tell her that as long as she loves the person she wants to marry the most, and they love her the most, and they are kind to her and she is kind to them, then she can marry who she chooses.
Last week, she was talking about wanting to marry one of her best friends, a girl she has known a good few years. “But Mummy,” she said quite suddenly. “Sammy (another friend, and not their real name) says a girl can’t marry another girl because it’s called gay and it’s naughty and wrong.”
I was absolutely blindsided hearing those words coming out of her mouth. My five-year-old daughter is kind and caring and compassionate and intelligent and thoughtful. Sure, she has her moments like all children, and I know she’s not perfect, but she is the kind of girl who will collect every pinecone in the park for her Daddy because he once told her he liked them. She’s the kind of girl who wanted to spend the pocket money she had been diligently saving to buy a new toy for her baby brother. She’s the kind of girl who cries if her brother hurts himself. And here she was recounting something that was hateful and hurtful and homophobic – without the slightest inclination of what any of those things even are.
My eyes welled up with pure emotion. They’re welling up now even writing this. I’ve written on my blog before about how hard I’ve found the fact that my daughter needs me less and less. She goes to full-time school, and other after-school activities where parents don’t stay, and when we meet up with friends her age, they go off and play out of the watchful eye of the grown-ups. She has a lot of influences in her life that aren’t me, her Daddy or our immediate family and close friends. I get emotional about her growing up partly because I miss her so much it hurts, but partly because I love her innocence and the beautiful way she looks at the world and it makes me sad that she’ll see violence, bullying, hate, prejudice, death and so much more.
I want my children to be able to stand on their own two feet in this big wide world of ours, and I know I can’t protect them from it all. It would be wrong to even try. I would be doing them a disservice as their mummy and it wouldn’t set them up very well for adulthood to be shielded from life. But when your child says something like this for the first time, completely unexpectedly, it’s another milestone they have reached and another reminder that they really don’t stay little for long.
I took a deep breath and told her calmly and happily that a man can marry a man, a woman can marry a woman, or a man can marry a woman. If you both love each other, anyone can marry who they choose. I told her about people I know who were in same-sex marriages and had loved each other for way more years than even Daddy and I had been together (a really long time, in her mind). I told her that sometimes children can have two mummies, or two daddies, or one mummy, or one daddy, or two parents that don’t live in the same house together. There are lots of different kinds of families and as long as everyone is kind and happy and looks after each other, then that’s okay. I told her that sadly some people don’t always think the same way, but we should always try to be kind to everyone. She nodded and said okay, and then skipped off to play.
Inwardly I was raging. I don’t blame the child, because they have obviously heard it somewhere else. Maybe at home, maybe from an older child, maybe accidentally overhearing a conversation not meant for them; who knows?
I addressed it in a way that was sensitive and appropriate. I’m not passing judgement or blame, or saying my daughter’s account is the definitive version of what happened. All I know is that we had never used the word ‘gay’ when talking to her before, and she’d suddenly come home not only knowing this word but with the idea that it was wrong and naughty. I couldn’t sit back and not do anything because I didn’t want other children hearing statements like this and no one telling them it’s okay to be who you are.
Chances are someone my daughter knows will be gay. Maybe one of my own children will be gay. As a journalist, I’ve written a lot about homophobic bullying and discrimination. I know people who have experienced it at school, the workplace, from family and friends, and from complete strangers. So many gay people realise their sexuality in early childhood. How damaging would it be to be told aged five that what you are feeling is wrong and naughty?
I’ve tried to handle this as best I can. Maybe I could have done things differently, or maybe I should have talked to my daughter in an age-appropriate way about prejudice before I was presented with it on the spot. Sometimes it’s hard being a parent. The world will throw things at your children that you don’t want them to see. All you can do is prepare them for it the best you can and trust that everything they learn from you will help them to make the right decisions and be a kind person.
What would you have done in this situation? I’d love to hear your thoughts, either below, on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page or you can tweet me on @cardiffmummy
As one of two mummies in our household, with a small little boy we love SO much, I think this is one thing I really worry about. The thing is I would worry about it just as much if we weren’t gay. The idea of prejudice being completely normal is terrifying and as parents the onus is on us to deal with these issues in a careful and non-judgemental way. I feel that you delt with it in a fantastic way and have set a brilliant example for others to follow.
Yes, it terrifies me too. I hate that my children will be exposed to homophobia, racism, sexism, prejudice against disabled people, and so on. It certainly doesn’t come from children but from the older influences in their lives, and I guess I find it hard that I have less and less control over the influences in my daughter’s life. I imagine you worry about it even more, with your little boy. It’s kind of you to say I dealt with it well as it was a really difficult moment. I keep wondering if there is anything I could have done differently, but yes, careful and non-judgemental is important. x
It was a perfect response, I can imagine I would have gotten a little heated myself! I’ll be remembering your response when the inevitable comes along at some point.
Like you say, it’s not the children but the older people who keep these sentiments alive but as parents we can help shape a change in attitude by bringing up children who accept others just the way they are.
Be the change you wish to see in the world is one of my favourite sayings.
Very much enjoying your blog!
I had to make myself stay calm as I was so angry and upset, I love that saying. A good one to remember – we can all make a small difference. x
I know how you feel on this one. Ieuan (6 in June) said to me the other day “men can marry men you know mum”. I think I just said yes and carried on because I didn’t want to have the conversation without thinking about the best way to explain it to him. But I did wonder where the subject had cropped up.
We’ve been quite open that men can marry men and women can marry women – but I just can’t believe at five years of age, a child would say it was wrong. I’m so upset about it. I was expecting these kinds of things when she is older but not aged 5. Makes me so sad. x
You handled it really well especially as it came as shock. In all honesty you did better than me because I would’ve told her that what was said was totally wrong and projected all my beliefs firmly into her not a bad thing in my mind in this instance. I’m up for any discussion and for her to form opinions if her own but when it comes to sexuality I believe in choice and living who you want to so saying it’s naughty fir me I’d have called bull to that ha! Good one 🙂
Oh I forgot! You can find me here http://www.cupcakemumma.co.uk must remember to do this ha! X
I do wonder whether I should have made it clearer that this child was completely wrong. A five-year-old saying something like this is awful on so many levels but who knows what influences this child has in their life, and if my daughter had told them they were wrong, what might have escalated. I’m still really upset about it. x
Oh, what a lovely mummy you are! My sons (and any future children of ours, of course) will have two mothers who are very much in love, and I hope so much that their peers will be raised by parents like you – who see nothing wrong in my marrying the person I’ve been in love with since childhood. I think you handled it perfectly.
That’s really kind of you to say I handled it well. I have thought about it such a lot and wondered if I could done things differently. I’m still really upset about it. Parenting is such a learning curve! Love is such a wonderful thing, it’s makes me so sad that not everyone sees that.x
Awww it’s such a shame that your daughter has overheard something like this and from another child. I think you handled the situation very well, I can only hope that when the situation arises for me to explain something like this to Boo that I handle it as well.
I must admit, I was not prepared for something like this to happen when she was so young. I’m so sad that a five year old said that to her. Hopefully you will be more prepared than me on what to say! x
I don’t have children myself, but as an auntie to a 5- and 3-year-old I’m getting amazed lately at the insights coming out of them! They go to daycare with a woman who is quite religious and my family is not, so the other day when we sat down to eat and the 5-year-old informed me that we needed to pray first, I was caught totally off guard. I told him that if he wanted to pray before we started eating, he could, but I pondered my response for days after. We all have such a huge role in shaping the values and beliefs of our little ones, and I’m only an auntie so I can’t imagine the pressure parents feel.
I think aunties, uncles and grandparents have just as important a role to play and things they say can shape a child as much as the parents. It’s difficult when you are caught off-guard. I was not expecting my daughter to say something like this at such a young age. Makes me so sad. x
I can sort of relate – my son started preschool in 2009 as a fan of President Obama, and then came home one day saying he didn’t like him anymore because he was ‘too brown’. We had words with him and the preschool too but it was a bit of a sad milestone.
Oh, that’s so sad. Did you figure out where it came from? It’s so horrible when things like this happen when your child is so young.
Such a shame that kids as young as five can be exposed to this type of homophobia, you handled it very well, so good work there.
I expected stuff like this to happen when my children were a lot older. Certainly not aged five. I’m still so sad about it.
Wow. You handled it so brilliantly! I worry about homophobia, racism, sexism etc all the time. I didn’t even like it when Gus (5) started coming home and telling he didn’t like this or that because it was girly! He hasn’t (I don’t think) been introduced to LGBT yet but I hope I’m the first to explain it to him. Well done you for being so open with her. Xxx
Both my eldest two have come home saying certain things are for boys or girls and it makes me so sad as that’s definitely not something they have picked up at home. Hope it goes well with any LGBT conversations you have with your little ones. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting it so young!
It sounds like you handled the situation well to me.
Not quite the same, but I can remember when Isaac, then aged anout 4, came home one day to say that his favourite colour was no longer pink (and for 18+ months he had LOVED pink – pink jumper, pink nail polish, Angelina Ballernia, you name it) because it was “a girl’s colour”. I was enraged for maybe 10 seconds and just sad thereafter. In one moment, a big, defining part of our little boy’s personality was snuffed out.
I never got to the bottom of it, but my assumption has always been that a fellow child at his preschool told him that blue was for boys and pink was for girls and Isaac, sensitive soul that he is, took this to heart. As with your daughter, I’m sure the instigating comment was probably innocent, but it really hurt that all the individuality we have been encouraging in our children can be so easily snuffed out by societal norms and peer pressure.
I remember reading something you posted about the pink thing. It’s so sad how one little comment can change everything. My eldest two are starting to say certain things are for boys or or girls and that’s definitely not something they’ve heard from me. This growing up stuff is hard.
This is actually shocking and very sad, because this little one has clearly heard this nonsense from their parents. *shakes her head* So sad. Thanks for linking up! #MMWBH