I debated writing this post. In many ways, still am.
While I love sharing so much of my world publicly with all of you, I’m very protective of the people I love. Recognizing this is not a journey they asked to be on.
I share this with you today to not open up a discussion about my child (who if one day chooses to, can speak for themselves), but rather from my experience as a mother. In hopes that maybe another mother reading this today will feel a little less alone. So I ask that you tread softly with this post. I recognize that my words on this page matter and have effects, and I trust that you feel the same. So we’ll both go softly, me and you.
When I first became a mother I think I subconsciously had ideas of who my kids would be – the athlete, the student. My only girl, being the dancer. The day I found out I was having a girl, there were already responsibilities placed (subconsciously, but nonetheless there) on her and the role she’d play. I didn’t know better.
As years went on, our children quickly began showing me who they were, and I realize that they in fact did NOT need my input or thoughts on who or what they should become. Because they already knew.
Instead, they needed space. To grow into the whole, complete, perfect individuals they already are.
My role as a mother now, above all else, is to do everything in my power to help them never abandon themselves.
To protect them from ever feeling like they can’t trust their inner knowing. And then stepping back and giving them space to figure it out. Helping them learn to trust that THEY know who they are, THEY know what’s best for them. THEY know what they like, and who they love.
They know who they are. Not me.
My hardest lesson in parenting so far has been realizing that it was never about me. They aren’t “mine”. They are 100% completely “theirs”. I’m just lucky enough to be along for the ride, and hopefully, witness as much of it as I can.
I share this with you now because it’s been an important part of my evolution as a mother.
As my children have been growing and discovering who they are, I’ve equally been forced to face a lot of who I am. And in turn, changing.
Becoming more sensitive and aware. Especially around my words. Around labels. Assumptions. Language. What or who I expose them to.
I have heard people say this before, but it really is so true, my children, especially one little guy, have been my biggest teacher. And has made me rethink everything I thought I knew.
Without sharing a lot of Sloan’s story, because it’s not mine to tell, I will share that Sloan does not fit the “traditional” boy mold (whatever that even means, I even hate using that language). I feel comfortable sharing that with you because it’s something he comfortably shares. Often saying “I know I’m different”, but we never push for more. The rest is for him to discover and share as he uncovers on his own time.
He loves colors, words, and art. He wears as many colors in a day as he can, as many necklaces as he can find. And will talk your ear off about feelings, colors, and even better – what color his current feelings are (my favorite is when he wakes up saying he feels like “rainbow sparkles” inside, then I know it’s gonna be a good day)
He’s a special soul and just being around him gives you life.
As Sloan’s parents, JP and I have grown more conscious of the words we use in our home. Especially when it comes to identity, gender, or sexuality. There is no such thing as “girl” or “boy” things, just “people” things. We use partner instead of wife/husband. And openly discuss how families and love can look like a million different things.
At first, it was to ensure Sloan never second-guessed anything about how he expressed himself, but then it grew. Instead, it wasn’t about just Sloan, it was about all of our kids. It was about everyone.
The language and sensitivity I use around Sloan is the same language and sensitivity I should use around EVERYONE. It just took parenting Sloan for me to see it.
A few weeks ago we were at a department store shopping for new shoes for Sloan. How he expresses himself is very important to him. You should have seen his sweet face light up when he found the perfect pair. Purple and white high tops. They were made for him.
As we stood patiently waiting for the salesperson to find his size, another mother approached looking for shoes. Sloan standing there with his little hand in mine. The woman, just a foot from us, quickly reached down and grabbed the purple high tops. I could feel a pit in my stomach almost immediately, as I knew what was coming next.
When the salesperson returned carrying Sloan’s shoes, the woman, standing just a foot away from us asked…
“do you have anything like this, just not so girly?”
Sloan’s little hand fell from my grip, his gaze now on the floor. I knew what he was thinking. Don’t notice me.
I am not one for public confrontation, but my mama bear instinct took over and I immediately spoke up…
“Actually there’s no such thing as girl colors. That doesn’t exist. All colors are for all people.”
She said something back to the extent of how her son just doesn’t like feminine things. But it didn’t matter. The damage was done and my interest was not in this woman. I give her a small smile, nodded, grabbed Sloan’s hand and we quickly walked away to wipe tears in private. He would never get those shoes.
It sounds silly. And maybe it is. But I knew instantly in that moment that someone was going to walk away feeling shame. It was either going to be Sloan for liking purple or that woman for a poor choice of words. And I refused to let it be Slaon. He’s not abandoning himself under my watch. That is my only job as his mama – to protect him from abandoning who he is.
My goal certainly wasn’t to make that woman feel bad. I never want to make another person uncomfortable. But I knew Sloan’s eyes were on me, and he was waiting with bated breath to see how I would respond.
Would I defend him? Was I ashamed of him? Or would I voice in public what I voice in our home? He needed to know he was safe in my presence. He needed to know; I see you. You’re perfect. And I love you. Purple shoes and all.
That afternoon as we shopped, we had two other incidents at stores where comments were made about either his outfit, shopping in the wrong section, or how “I bet your mom would be relieved if you picked out a swim shirt from the boy section instead”.
And we wonder why people feel insecure about being themselves.
He’s eight. It’s a color. And it’s 2022. How in God’s name are we still here?
I’m not sure what made me want to share this story today. I think it’s because I’ve seen so much heartache in our world these days. It feels like so many of us are hurting in some way or another, and maybe I’m simplifying it, but I think so much of our collective heartache could be alleviated if we could all be a little more conscious and aware of other people’s feelings. And it starts with our words.
Our words matter. They are so powerful.
Whether we realize it or not, we look to each other for validation. To know we belong. To feel safe and accepted. And we do this with our actions, but equally with our words.
This is so much bigger than just gender or sexuality. This extends to religion, race, class, bodies. Language matters. How we label people, the assumptions we make, the generalizations we use – it all matters.
We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go (me included).
I believe deep down humanity is good, and I know you believe it too. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing.
To feel seen, to feel safe, and to feel loved.
That, we know how to do.
But it starts with us recognizing that we could do better. All of us.