I observed my children (Aug 4 1/2 and Ar 6 years old) discussing the topics of death, re-birth, and gender the other day. It went something like this:
Aug: “When I die and get born again, do I have to be a boy?”
Ar: “I don’t know. Our bodies just kind of choose. Actually, not just our bodies choose, our minds also choose. There are two kinds of choosing.”
Aug: “Well, my body and my mind is choosing boy right now. And I think I would choose boy again.”
Ar: “My body chose girl, but maybe I will choose boy now too!….. No, my mind is choosing girl too. I thought it might be fun to choose boy, but my mind says girl.”
Now, in this unprompted dialogue, I witnessed the ability to have them comfortably discuss the fact that they will die, that what happens after death is uncertain, and that gender identity is not simply a biological imperative to biological sex.
They then saw me listening in, and asked me to join the conversations. I did not give a collegiate lecture on gender beyond the binary, the high incidence of intersex persons, or the nature of death and re-birth. But what I did do is continue to talk to them about what they understood about themselves and the encouragement to explore beyond the conventional assumptions.
Too often I see parents get worried about “scaring” children with talks about the reality of death, or a fear of “confusing” them with conversations about gender, sexual orientation, etc. Our children can handle these topics! What happens is that our own adult fears about death, our own confusion about topics that are wrought with societal judgments or assumptions of “moral” or “normal” get in the way of allowing our children to talk about their own experience and investigation. My invitation is this: Encourage your children to question. Encourage children to develop their understanding through free dialogue. Guide their thinking without demanding adherence to your own opinions. Of course, as adults we need to monitor their developmental level and help to provide some scaffolding, and we can also trust in our children’s ability to be able to handle difficult topics.