How We Can Model Respect and Love.
In my relationships with friends and partners, I work hard to be truthful and respectful (sometimes I fail but hopefully each time I can learn and be better). In my relationship with my child from the start, I wanted to be the kind of parent that told the TRUTH. That said there’s been times where I’ve said, “I’ll explain it a bit more when you’re older”, or “now’s not a good time to talk about how babies come out of vaginas IN DETAIL” (on a crowded airplane – true story).
It’s really hard to stick to truth with children. The temptation is there to pad and soften and disarm. But I tell Allie, “I will always tell you the truth”. As an agnostic, it was really hard not to talk about heaven when my great grandmother died. Allie was devastated and a world of big fluffy clouds, harps and benevolent angels just seemed like the obvious go-to. So I went. However, I also said, “we don’t really know”. Other people believe there is nothing but good memories left behind. We talked a bit about earth religions and then I said, “you will just have to decide for yourself.” And then, “Great Granny will always love you and be in your heart.” Sob.
And then there’s SEX. But beyond the mechanics, explaining to our children who we love and why and letting them feel comfortable asking questions. What it means for parents to have “grown-up time”. We love our children but we also need to sustain and value nourishing, equitable relationships with the adults in our life we love. And it is good for them to see us as the grown-ups they will be one day, with loads of adult friend supports and exciting dates where we get dressed up (and nervous).
More boundaries and less boundaries.
In a way, we are modelling boundaries even as we enact them (or struggle to define them). As a single person, I have trepidations of embarking on a second committed nuclear family formation and the fears of impending emotional devastation and financial challenges of divorce. And mostly because I NEVER want to put my own child through that again. We’re in a good place now. So going slow, keeping lovers to dates and new friends with little Allie contact is protecting both her heart and my heart, if things don’t go the way we hope. And then friends and lovers who’ve been there and proven their loyalty, get the Allie pass. And sometimes I love my ex-wife to spend a weekend with us as the family we used to be but a little more wiser. There needs to be room in our home for our chosen family. Ultimately Allie benefits from knowing that it takes a village and we can build the village together.
Queer Pride is a part of Allie’s life. We head out with our friends and dress up and party down like it’s 1985. We talk about how Pride is about all people being able to love each other however they want, and all families being okay – just like ours. There is no right or wrong way to be a family. Thanks, Todd Parr for your amazing books! At this last Toronto Pride, Allie saw a man dancing naked in the streets. She thinks this is the funniest thing ever. She brings it up all the time in random conversation. But I’m glad it happened. It’s about body pride. And freedom. And consent. And maybe not agreeing with everyone but it’s their body (it was cold and rainy that day).
Unpacking Guilt or “The Parent Box”.
We need to get over the idea that if we aren’t with our children 24-7, then we are failing them. It’s unhealthy to put such huge expectations on ourselves. Deprivation never leads to anything good (I’ll save the Catholic Church rant for another time, and yes I am a recovering Catholic).
We can give ourselves permission to love and to love the way that is true to ourselves. And harness all the energy in that love to be the best parent we can be. We will never be perfect parents or avoid all mistakes. We will only fall down trying too hard and too exhausted and not loved in all the ways we need to be loved and to love. Because if we are truthful to ourselves, we can be truthful to our children. In this way, we can create a world that honours diversity and compassion. It starts with compassion for ourselves. And the giving just keeps on giving. It’s all about love, baby.