Kids are our future. We all know this. But there are a lot of people who still – unfortunately – use this as an argument against gay marriage: After all, they say, a child raised by gay parents is going to get teased. This completely undermines the idea that not all gay couples are going to want kids in the first place, and then those who point this out are basically told that no kids = no reason to marry.
Which, logically, means that they don’t think infertile couples should be able to get married, either.
It’s not right. It’s discrimination, pure and simple. Those who do want kids are often told that their kids are going to be messed up, by default, just for having gay parents.
I call bullshit.
Gay parents doesn’t automatically mean gay kids, just like straight parents doesn’t automatically mean straight kids – and even if the kid did end up being gay, by saying that there’s a problem with that, these people are acting like there’s something wrong with being gay – even if they refuse to admit that they feel that way.
Believe it or not, though, there are a lot of common parenting fails that are actually so much more harmful to kids than just having gay parents. Psychologically speaking, kids benefit from a loving, supportive environment, regardless of the gender of their partners.
Of course, lesbians will need some outside help in order to raise a boy, just as gay men will need some outside help in order to raise a girl, but this doesn’t mean that they’re being slighted by having gay parents. There is no psychological evidence that their role models need to be a parent – in fact, my best role models growing up weren’t related to me at all.
Curious about what you’re doing to screw up your kids? According to science, these 15 things are a much bigger deal than the gender(s) of a child’s parents.
1. Not babying your baby.
According to Tovah Kline, the director of the Barnard Toddler Center at Columbia University, your kids should be treated like their actual age. This means that babies should be held and responded to – otherwise, you’re not teaching them independence (like you might think), but rather you’re teaching them that their needs are not important. This is bordering on neglect. The opinion among parents varies here, but it’s impossible to spoil your child just by treating them like a child. Reprimand them when necessary, but never let it mean that you ignore them.
2. Lying to them – even white lies.
Kids benefit from honest parents, which means that those little lies you tell them to save them from pain are probably messing them up more in the long run. Don’t tell your child that their dog ran away if it had to be put to sleep. Don’t tell your child that their other parent went on vacation if they really walked out of their life. It seems like you’re saving them from pain, but they will eventually figure out the truth, and it’s so much harder to face if they haven’t been adequately prepared for it. You don’t need to share all the grisly details, but you shouldn’t pretend that painful situations don’t exist, because they certainly do.
3. Raising multiple children exactly the same way.
Sure, parenting is hard, and it can be even more difficult if you’ve finally got one kid figured out and then you have to learn an entirely different parenting style for the next kid. But it’s super important to them if you do. You know how there are some kids who don’t benefit from a traditional school setting? It’s the same with parenting styles. Children are not the same, and treating your artsy, rebellious child the same way as your Type A, obedient child is bound to have some disastrous consequences in the long run. Children need to be nurtured in a way that works for them, and to put the younger child in the shadow of their older sibling is not a good thing.
4. Skipping family dinner.
It can be really tough to coordinate schedules enough to sit down as a family at every meal, but it’s important that your children socialize over the dinner table at least a couple times a week, if at all possible. It doesn’t necessarily have to be dinner, but kids who eat with their parents, as a family, are much more successful in their social relationships their whole life. It teaches the art of small talk, good table manners, and so much more. Don’t skip it – make time for a family meal whenever possible.
5. Bottling up your anger, and then lashing out.
Let’s face it – kids can be annoying sometimes. That’s just a part of being a kid, honestly, and sometimes they’re going to frustrate the hell out of you. We might try to ignore these things, and we tell ourselves that we’re “letting them slide”. But we’re not – our mind keeps a mental inventory of these annoyances, until we end up blowing up over something that’s been frustrating us for a long time. Instead of pretending things aren’t a problem, calmly explain to your child why you would rather they didn’t do whatever they’re doing to bug you. Chances are, your kids are more reasonable than you thought! But if you bottle it up and then blow up, you’re teaching your kids that a) it’s acceptable to blow up over something minor (it’s not) and b) they should defer their problems to a later point in time (which isn’t healthy, because it teaches them to build up their emotions until they literally can’t hold it back anymore). Not only does this actually make parenting easier, it also encourages a healthy exchange of emotions.
6. Revenge, or using aggression to fight aggression.
Spanking is a very controversial topic among parents (and non-parents) everywhere. There is a point where it definitely approaches physical abuse, but exactly where the distinction lies is a bit fuzzy. No matter how you feel personally, the truth is that responding to your child’s aggression with more aggression (aka spanking them) is teaching them a revenge mentality – which isn’t healthy. It’s much more beneficial in the long run if you can keep your cool and explain to them why throwing a temper tantrum is bad, they can start to see that aggressive expressions of emotions are not good. Aggression + aggression = more aggression, whereas aggression + calm = frustration and acceptance. You ever heard the “bombing for peace” cliché? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.
“Do as I say, not as I do” was pretty big when I was a kid. It probably still is, I don’t know – but it’s not healthy. Your kids are either going to view you as a liar, or they’re going to emulate your actions. After all, you’re their first role model – are you being a good one? Naturally, we’re always going to do some things that we don’t really want our kids to know about, but it’s better if you explain to your child what you learned from your bad decisions – and, of course, stop doing the bad things. Your kids can’t learn from your mistakes until you do, so expecting them to not repeat your mistakes when you’re still repeating them yourself is… Well, it’s a bit ridiculous.
8. Comparing them to someone else.
This is one that’s going to hurt your kids right away. Your child is their own person, and they shouldn’t be compared to anyone else – even in a positive way, because this can create expectations that they might not be able to live up to. Praise them for the things they do well, and reprimand them for the things they do wrong, but never use another child as your point of reference. This can create a mindset where they will always compare themselves to others – creating an unnecessarily competitive world.
9. Silencing their emotions.
Let me preface this one with a little story: Growing up, I was told that I wasn’t allowed to cry in front of my dad. In fact, I was only allowed to cry in my room, with the door shut, into a pillow. Yes, crying makes people uncomfortable – but being told that your emotions are bad is more uncomfortable. This leads to a life where you’re continually suppressing your emotions out of fear of rejection – and at almost-26-years-old, I still haven’t learned how to cry in front of other people. I was taught at a young age that showing emotions meant showing weakness, and that was bad. Don’t do that to your kids, please.
10. Fighting in front of them.
If you’ve got a problem with your significant other, that’s fine. Relationships aren’t perfect. But if you put down your partner in front of your child, he or she is likely learning that relationships don’t require respect (which they do) or that it’s okay to treat people badly (which it’s not). Disagreeing is one thing – attacking each other’s character is another thing. (Of course, you shouldn’t be fighting with your partner like that anyway, because it’s not good for your relationship… But we’re talking about your children here.) The same thing goes for putting down their other parent, if the two of you have broken up. No matter how you feel about your ex, he or she is half of your child’s support system – and talking down on that person will feel like a personal rejection of your child. Don’t do it.
11. Doing their homework.
I bet you’re surprised to see this one here, right? It’s hard to see your child struggling, and it can be tempting to step in and finish their homework for them if they’re stuck. But what you’re doing when you do it for them is teaching them that cheating is OK, and that challenging themselves is bad. Kids need to be challenged – it’s how they grow. If you really want to help, walk your child through the problems. This turns something that could otherwise be quite frustrating into a bonding experience – and they’re probably smarter than you’re giving them credit for.
12. Not keeping your promises.
Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, we make promises, and then when the time comes to follow through, we can’t do it. But still, we make these promises, even if we know we might be lying. (Yes, a broken promise is a lie – see #2 above.) Kids have better memories than adults, likely because they’ve got less useless information clogging up their brains, so even if you might have forgotten your promise by the time it comes up again, your child most likely hasn’t. Do not promise things if you’re not 100% sure you can follow through. (And even when you don’t promise, try to follow through on your word as much as you can.)
13. Shushing them.
We sort of addressed this with #5, but it’s worth repeating here: Kids can be annoying sometimes. It’s part of being a kid. But part of being a parent is not letting them know that they’re bugging the hell out of you. Even if they’re getting on every last nerve, it’s important that you talk with them, and respond to them. When you tell your kid to shut up (or a nicer-worded variation of “shut up”) you’re teaching them that what they say doesn’t matter. You’re teaching them that their thoughts are not important. If you have a really good reason to not want them to talk at that particular moment (such as a raging migraine, or an important phone call), then explain to them why you can’t talk right now, and ask them to bring it up later. This is much better than silencing them completely.
14. Pushing them to fend for themselves.
We all want our children to be independent and mature. But if you’re leaving them to do their own thing while you do your own thing, you’re not teaching them to be independent – you’re teaching them that they’re not worth your time (even if that’s not the message you’re trying to send). From a psychological standpoint, your kids are much more likely to be independent at a younger age if you lead them. Have them help you prepare food, show them how to do their chores the right way, and walk them through things. There’s a reason that kids have guardians until they’re older – you’re supposed to show them the ropes. If you don’t, it’s neglect, whether you want to believe that or not.
15. Trying to be their best friend.
It can be really tempting to try and be your kid’s best friend, especially if you’re a single parent, but this is not the right way to go about things. Just as you shouldn’t leave your kids to do everything on their own, you shouldn’t try to take away their right to a parent, either. If they do something wrong, they need to be taught that it’s wrong. They need a leader, an authority figure (preferably two or more). In time, as they grow up, they will see you as more of a friend – but that shouldn’t come until after they’re healthy, well-adjusted adults.