Sharanya Misra

I was looking through some parenting content on Google recently when the picture of a ‘family’ from a children’s book popped up. It showed a child with a mother, a father and 2 grandparents standing together, all smiles. While it was a beautiful picture, it had me worried. Would my child too be growing up learning that only this is what a family looks like?

Research shows that early learning in children is of immense significance. It is during these years that kids are like sponges, absorbing every piece of information around them, getting ready cognitively, emotionally, and socially for their lives ahead. What they see and hear at this age, with their brains learning and developing every single day, is of significance much beyond what many of us comprehend. In such a case, what if I teach my child, a 3.5-year-old that there is no other way for a family to be? Aren’t we bringing them up with blinders doing that, showing them only the partial truth?

There is so much acceptance for alternative sexualities world over today. Homosexuality is not only legalised in many countries, in fact, homosexual marriages are also being accepted wholeheartedly by society gradually. So why must we wait for our children to grow up before we introduce them to the nuances of such families? It’s not too difficult for us to tell them right away that there could be families with two mommies, with 2 daddies, or with single parents too. In fact, at an early age, I have found my daughter accepting of these realities with the utmost ease, because as per her (and as it should be) there is simply no reason to question this possibility.

In fact, the idea of always one set of grandparents in these pictures too disturbs me. More often than not, we simply assume that it is the paternal grandparents living with the child, so they are to be included in the concept of the child’s family. Why so? With family dynamics changing today and with society recognising that the mother is a significant and separate entity for the child, why not shed this patriarchal notion and show both sets of grandparents, if there is a need to show them at all? Afterall, nuclear families are increasingly becoming the norm too. Why not introduce kids to the idea of immediate and extended families, instead of giving them a singular idea on what a family must be?

Another unbelievable concept we continue to follow in schools and at homes is categorisation basis gender, with the third gender completely missing from all conversations. With so many gender identities now getting recognised, why do we still say things like “Form 2 lines, one for boys and one for girls”? We still talk of only 2 genders when we explain the idea to our kids, why not include trans-genders as part of the curriculum? One very positive change I have observed now is the uniformity in school uniforms irrespective of gender. Pants, which are any day a more practical solution, are now being offered as an option for uniform for every gender. While this is a great initiative, we still shy away from actually talking to our kids of all genders, as if it were taboo.

The Tamil Nadu government recently notified a glossary of terms in English and Tamil to be used in addressing members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is a great step forward for us as a community, but also a wake-up call that we currently are NOT aware of the terminology. Isn’t that because these communities and the associated terminology are completely missing from our everyday conversations in the first place?

If you think about it, talks around marriage with Indian kids begin innocently at a very early age. Girls and boys are teased about their future “husbands” and “wives”. But aren’t we already closing doors for communication when we do that? Aren’t we assuming their gender and sexual identities right there and instilling the fear in them that anything ‘different’ from what we mention would not be ‘normal’ and hence they can’t talk to us about it? “Coming out of the closet” has become such a significant event for a lot of individuals with alternative gender/sexual identities. Can we pause for a minute to ponder on why we as parents make it so difficult for them to tell us what they truly are? Why must they feel such immense fear and apprehension just to tell us which gender they prefer to spend the rest of their lives with? Or what kind of lifestyles they themselves want to lead? If we were to talk openly of possibilities right from early childhood, wouldn’t their normal automatically encompass these alternatives? For example, why not tease them with the word partner instead of terms like “husband/wife” which is already restricting of their future identity?

We talk of Diversity and Inclusion at the workplace, but we often forget that where it all begins is at home and in schools, at a very early age. Our society is plagued with biases, and in these new times, we are thankfully emerging out of them and into a more inclusive age one by one. Take colour for instance. Or body types. How easily do we dismiss someone who doesn’t fit into certain norms of colour/body type with our language? But we CAN stop that, we can break the chain, with our kids. For example, don’t say “you look nice and fair after a bath”!! Instead use the words “nice and clean”. See what difference a single word can make? Similarly, not labelling kids’ bodies with “too thin” or “too fat” and simply focussing on using the word “healthy” instead can make them respect their and others’ bodies too so much more. How often do we look at a neighbour or stranger passing by and wonder aloud in front of our kids “I am sure she must be hogging on so much junk to be this fat”? Ever thought what the kids learn from this? They learn to grow up to be individuals who fat-shame too without giving a thought to what battles the other person may have. They grow up without empathy.

We can go on and on about the various ways in which Inclusivity in our everyday language is so important while we bring up our children in these changing times. But none of that is possible unless we as parents are truly accepting of these changes and visualise them as our normal too. It is easy to be allies of the LGBTQIA+ community from afar. But are we ok with our kids being a part of the community too? Are we accepting of the fact that the very skin colour or body type we ridicule today maybe our kid’s reality in the future? To truly bring about change, our own belief systems must be inclusive and our language with our kids must reflect them too. Are we parents ready to do that? Are we ready to make the new generation a truly inclusive place to live in?

Read more of my posts on parenting here.

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