One of the more complicated tasks of parenthood is to answer the difficult questions posed by our endlessly curious children. While their questions may begin innocently enough, kids eventually begin to dig deep into us for the hard answers. “Are we there yet?” will quickly become, "Why did [horrible thing] happen?" Many parents, for example, worry about what to say the day their kid asks them where babies come from, or what sex is, or why it is exactly that we die. These are the questions that suddenly launch us from patty-cake to "uhh... what?" especially if we’re not prepared (and I mean, who is?).
For the time being, my son is too young to pose any significantly complex questions yet (unless you count, “Cookie?”), but I know the day will come soon enough when he begins to ask me things that may catch me by surprise, make me uncomfortable, or things that I simply don’t have the answers to. And while not all of his questions will pertain to feminist topics, I know that my feminism will influence a lot of the ways in which I answer him.
We Listen Closely
In order to be a good ally, feminists know we need to pay close attention to others, to their specific issues and struggles, to their particular concerns. You might not have thought of it this way, but as a parent, you are your child’s most important ally. Sure, we might not always think their pressing questions on why there are no new episodes of Super Why are all that vital, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss our kid’s curiosity. And when they finally get around to asking a tougher question, like, “Why do other kids make fun of my friend Katie?” we’ll know to give them our full, undivided attention and take in all their concerns before giving an answer.
We Answer Respectfully
Feminism is all about equality and respect, both for others as well as ourselves. As a result, we never want to belittle our children’s questions. It’s important therefore to answer every question as respectfully as possible. We don’t use our answers to espouse hatred or negativity. For example, if a child asks why their friend has two mommies, we would make sure to explain that all families are made up of different people and that this is always OK, rather than trying to make it seem like one type of family is better than others. And we certainly don’t answer in a way that would hurt our children.
We Answer Honestly
There are enough people in the world lying to our children, why would we add to their confusion, especially when it comes to the hard questions? As a feminist, I feel it will be important to answer my son’s questions as honestly as possible (within age-appropriate limits, although those are probably broader than you think). I don’t plan on making up stories about storks delivering babies to our home, but rather will explain reproduction in scientific terms a child might understand.
Maintaining honest and open communication with my kid is extremely important to me. I truly believe this will aid in keeping our relationship close over the years, as well as setting a foundation for healthy, honest communication between himself and others in the future. I am in my 30s and still have never had an honest conversation about sex with anyone in my family, and I know it would’ve been helpful, to me especially in my younger years, if we had been able to talk about things like that.
We Use Correct Terminology
When my son asks me why our body parts look different, I won’t be calling his penis a “wee-wee” and my vagina/vulva a “hoo-ha” or any other term or euphemism. I have already gotten into the habit of referring to his penis as a "penis" during diaper changes, so why would I change that once he begins asking questions about it? Same goes for many other things.
We Avoid Ableist Language...
Say your kid comes home and asks, “Why did Juan call Stella "crazy"?” As feminists, we work toward a world where we don’t use ableist language. It’s a subject I admit I’ve only recently begun learning about myself, but I recognize its importance and am striving to be a good ally by avoiding certain harmful words. To start answering a question like that, we’d first explain why we don’t use words like "crazy," and ask what they think prompted others to call their classmate/friend that word. When you begin to recognize the ableism in your own language, you begin to find better ways of communication and extending your everyday vocabulary.
...While Also Staying Body Positive
In keeping in line with the importance of language, we should always strive to speak in ways that are body positive, whether we’re referring to our own bodies, our child’s bodies, or anyone else’s. If my son asks me why my belly sticks out, I don’t ever plan to say something negative about my belly, even if I might feel negatively that day about it (as body positivity and self-love can be an ongoing struggle for many of us). I want him to know that his body is perfect just the way it is, that all bodies are beautiful, and that we shouldn’t shame anyone for theirs.
We Work Hard To Be Inclusive...
At some point in every child’s life, someone will take it upon themselves to mention their differences, or the differences of others, and chances are at some point, they’ll mention these things in a negative way. And then our children will come and ask us why their friend’s skin is lighter or darker or has freckles or why they “look like a boy” but refer to themselves as a girl, or ask why their friend celebrates Hanukkah instead of Christmas, etc. In answering our children, feminists work toward being inclusive of all others, whether it’s in regards to gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, and so on. Feminist moms will answer their children in a way that celebrates our differences, rather than making it seem as though one way is superior.
...And We Make Sure To Check Our Privilege
When answering our children's hard questions, feminist moms do their best to check their privilege before answering. This might come in the form of addressing our socioeconomic class (anything above low socioeconomic status), our skin tone (if we’re white or “white passing”), our gender, our sexuality, or our race. We must remind ourselves (and our kids) that some people have the privilege of doing certain things without having others question them and without having others shoot them down for it (figuratively and, sadly, even literally at times). If we recognize our answer come from a position of privilege, we often try to make sure our child understands this as well.
We Don’t Pretend To Have All The Answers And Use These Opportunities As Teachable Moments
I don’t ever intend to be the type of parent who acts as though they know every single little thing, because it’s simply not true. Feminists don’t claim to know everything. In fact, we encourage continuous learning throughout our lives. When I don’t have the answers to my son’s questions, I’ll let him know just that. If my kid isn’t satisfied with a simple, “Sorry, I don’t know,” and it’s something we can find the answer to (be it with a quick Google search or by doing a little research at the library), I’ll encourage him to seek these answers, with or without my help.