There’s all this buzz (pun intended) about the new movie “Lightyear.” I haven’t seen it yet, but I’ve heard the outrage is because two “female” characters (albeit animated) kiss: “How dare we expose young children to this? Our children aren’t mature enough to see these kinds of things. We are corrupting our children!”
I’m a cis-male parent of two boys, ages 12 and 8. I’m definitely no expert in gender, sexuality or child development. My (female) spouse and I have had many conversations about how we as parents talk about gender, sexuality, attraction and displays of affection to them. We’ve had conversations with our boys about relationships, marriage and have even explained what a drag queen is — after all, we see them on TV!
Our approach to these issues does not come from a place of fear that our children will be corrupted; instead, our approach is not to shield them from issues of gender and sexuality but to give them an environment where they can experience, wonder, question and get explanations at their pace, when they are ready to talk about it. Our role is to create an environment that doesn’t project judgment or fear, especially prior to their own experiences.
When asked about marriage, we’ve said things like, “Some boys and girls get married. Some boys marry other boys. Some girls marry other girls.” None of these conversations were long. They heard us. They said, “OK,” and we carried on. We didn’t tell them what to think or feel, we just told them what was true and let it be. If more needs to be said, they will ask, and we’ll be ready when they do. At least I hope we will.
Shortly after the “Lightyear outrage,” we stumbled across the movie “Big Daddy” that stars Adam Sandler. This movie debuted in 1999, and would you believe there was a scene where they showed two men kissing? “Well, let’s see what their reaction will be,” I thought to myself. My boys watched it, and of course, I looked right at them as it happened, curious of their response. My head spun at light speed thinking what they might say and how I would respond. And then — nothing. They had that same “sucked into the movie” look on their faces as they had from the beginning. I didn’t need to say anything because there wasn’t anything to say. They had seen their mother and I kiss before, how was this any different? To them, it appeared, it wasn’t.
I’ve learned over the years that children have their own way of processing and seeing the world which doesn’t always require parental interference. When they see something new, something different, it can spur further curiosity, but not always. My spouse and I allow them to drive the conversation when it comes to these things. As they grow they will learn more of the story, especially the complicated parts, and the history that hasn’t been kind to our LGBTQIA+ siblings there as their parents to allow them to question, to fill in the gaps, to tell them what we don’t know, but ultimately to model that our faith says, “Love is love, because God is love.”
At the same time, while watching the “Big Daddy” scene, my children taught me an unexpected lesson — the power of silence. Our children experience life at their level and the role of the parent isn’t always to add commentary to their experience. Sometimes saying nothing can be the best thing a parent can do. Parents often forget to simply watch alongside them. As our children learn about culture, people, diversity and struggle, hold off on the outrage, hold off on thinking you’ve got to explain everything to them, hold off bestowing all of your wisdom, and just watch. Watch with them. Try even watching with their eyes — pure, innocently curious and full of love.