Everything in the '80s and '90s seemed innocent enough when we were growing up, but we are a little wiser now as we parent in 2022 and navigate the appropriateness of our ways.
Back then, I remember being teased for asking a boy on our road to be my boyfriend (and being adequately knocked back) when I was eight. I remember my friend, who is gay, being equally teased for not asking his next-door neighbour to be his girlfriend. And when I say teased, I don’t mean by the other kids on the street, but rather the adults, the parents, and the older siblings who saw nothing wrong with their gender-normative comments. As a child, I remember recognising the sting on my friend's face as these comments were common and jarring.
Now, as a parent myself, I find my eight-year-old making strong and hopefully long-lasting friendships with the boys and girls in her class. But the difference is, I would not playfully tease or jest about any of her friends being a potential romantic crush. I have not aligned her with my best friends' son as though they are "destined to be married one day". Although these are often things that are naively and inadvertently said, we have a duty to recognise the potential impact such statements can have on our kids, especially if they are LGBTQ+.
What would have been the norm (but also not acceptable) back in the '90s must be cautiously navigated today. It is my hope that we are more accepting and understanding of our children, and equally, more aware of the subtle but jibing comments that can have a harmful effect on our kids who may have possible internal conflicts. Avoiding gender-normative comments when two children play in the yard together such as, "Look at John with his little girlfriend," or not encouraging boys to play with diggers and girls with dolls, is a step towards a greater acceptance and understanding which reinforces the message to our kids that they are in a safe space with their parents. They can be who they are without judgement or questioning.
Joking about our child’s crush can negatively impact their sense of self, their self-worth and their identity. For us, as parents, it is our duty to encourage our children to form strong relationships without the fear of harmful reactions. Focus on their relationships and leave romance out of it. If a joke or teasing is all you can think of at the moment, don’t say anything at all. Be open and honest and show your child that you are a safe place for them to share without the "playful banter" which can negatively impact that space. Be inclusive.