I spent time over the weekend explaining that a fart is a precursor to a poop. See, my niece is 2 and potty training. She has had a few accidents so her parents and I were over communicating all of the signals that you need to go to the bathroom. The hard part for me, of course, is keeping a straight face while talking about farts. As someone who doesn’t have kids (only fur children), I guess I didn’t realize how much you have to explain and teach a kid. That answer? Well, everything. They don’t just “get” silent cues immediately.
That’s a big challenge for fully developed people who already know how to do things like blow their nose and use the potty. It’s hard to slow down enough to describe and teach instead of just be.
This education is both verbal and nonverbal. There’s everything we have to say (do you need to poop?) and an entirely different category for all the things we don’t. The silent cues kiddos pick up on when parents are uncomfortable about a topic or around a person. The list goes on. We say a lot without saying anything at all.
Kids quickly learn – at home and on the playground – as peers casually convey the beliefs they catch on to at home. They don’t say “I believe this.” No, it’s the questions with a tone of disgust: Do you like that girl thing? Why are you like that? You’re gay. The list goes on.
Without anyone telling a child what the “right” answer is, every nonverbal cue hints. I know. I can still recite many of the lines that made me question my beliefs to this day. The casual cues poke and prod made it clear exactly who I should be, even if there was a discrepancy between it and who I was.
It’s the reason I came out at 16, then went back into the closet until I was 21. I knew the “right” answer. I didn’t want to be wrong. I wanted to be loved. That craving for love made it easy for me to lie about who I was. To be mad. To hide who I am from people. I wanted nothing more than to make my family proud of me and if who I loved made them change their minds? I wouldn’t love anyone.
The part parents can’t lie about is that it makes them uncomfortable when there’s a difference between their expectations and reality. Expectations about who their child would love, what they will do when they grow up, and an array of other things we start pondering from the time we know a child is coming into this world. What they won’t tell you in parenting school is that love – especially a parent’s love – requires some level of discomfort. It requires parents to accept reality and adjust this discrepancy all on their own, even if their adult peers or the headlines are hinting it isn’t “right.”
As much as the books will tell you love is automatically unconditional and vast, it’s not. Unconditional love is a willingness to be uncomfortable. Whether it’s your child, your niece, your partner – there’s always some discomfort and it stinks, kind of like that poop cue. But how we teach those parts to understand and heal our expectations makes all the difference for who they know they can become.
I know there are parents and people reading this and a million other headlines. Silent cues that are all trying to convince you of what’s “right.” But here’s what I know without the need for propaganda or persuasion. Loving people – whether you’re related or not – in this way is the only right thing to do. Even if it causes discomfort and stinks a little for you.
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.