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According to the 2016 census by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, at least one in ten Australian families are children who live with a single parent, a non-biological parent, a step-parent, step or half-siblings, or grandparents. This figure continues to rise as we live in a world where blended and diverse families are becoming more common.

Thankfully, the societal conversation has slowly been shifting towards accepting that there is no “family norm”. However, as parents we have to ensure that this trend continues.

It is important for children to understand that every family, be it blended, diverse or LGBTQIA+, is valid. Divorced, remarried, shared children, blended, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation, the family norm is varied – and every family is mainstream and unique.

As parents and carers, we should not shy away from having the hard conversations about diversity and inclusion with our children just because it feels challenging.

It’s necessary to realise that usually it is us that are uncomfortable, not our children. They see and hear everything, and in many cases they can recognise that their family may look different to their friends’, or that their skin colour is different to some of their classmates. Teaching our children love, acceptance and inclusion should never be hard conversations.

Here are five tips on how to have these conversations.

1. Self Reflection is a Crucial First Step

Your children are always watching what you do. They see how you handle stress, how you treat other people and how you deal with your feelings – they soak it all in like little sponges.

Before you start having conversations with your children, consider how you have behaved in front of them and ask yourself the following questions:

• How am I talking to my kids about our own blended family or blended families we know?

• Have I asked them what they understand of our family?

• Do I undermine my ex, family members, or in-laws to our kids?

• Do I purposely try to alienate my childrens’ step-parents to serve myself?

• Am I being a healthy co-parent, or am I creating a divide that negatively impacts my kids?

• How am I currently talking to my kids about diversity in families?

• Am I educating my children on the various ways you can have a family?

• Am I talking to my kids about racial diversity, differently-abled children, and LGBTQIA+ people?

• Have I equipped my children to engage with their peers in a comfortable, healthy, and respectful way?

2. Love is the Common Language

To help our children understand family diversity positively, we can use love as an anchor in our communication.
Help our children understand that all families may look different, but the love they share is the same.

The foundation of a healthy family unit is unconditional love and that can come in different shapes and sizes. Every family should be proud of their own unique values as well as understand, respect and accept other families uniqueness.

Whether it’s “natural conception” with a man and woman, or through artificial insemination, egg and sperm donation, adoption, or surrogacy etc, a family is a family.

Talk through your family values with your children and give them an understanding of diversity and inclusion. Always remind kids that no family is different, they are all unique and the love we feel for our families
is the same.

3. Be Mentally Prepared for Open Conversations

Kids are inquisitive and will ask questions, so make sure you answer them in an honest and age-appropriate manner. You might not always have a chance to plan ahead for these conversations as they can happen unexpectedly. So, take some time to mentally prepare yourself, it will help you feel confident about addressing these topics.

Avoid shutting down a conversation and don’t lie or ignore questions. It is important for children to feel encouraged to have open conversations with you about families and their uniqueness. Afterwards, always reflect back on your conversation and think about any improvements for next time.

If you feel that you might struggle, it is always helpful to source age-appropriate books or TV shows that explain family dynamics in a fun, less intrusive way.

4. Tell a Story Through Your Own Family Tree

A rainbow would never be as beautiful if it were all one colour. It’s the different colours that come together that make it so beautiful. The same is true for families and friends. It is important for our children to understand that some kids they come across might look different to one or all of their parents.

It is important to explain to kids that skin colour and physical “sameness” does not equate to family. Talk openly and positively about different cultures, communities, and traditions of family and friends.

Do your research and clue up on your family heritage, then share it with your children. You’ll be surprised at how much interest they show once they see it’s
something you are passionate about.

This will also help instill a sense of pride in their own background, as well as respect for others.

5. Let Your Children Decide on Your Title

We hold on to the titles of “mum” and “dad” so tightly, especially if children are biologically ours. We need to let go of possessing the titles. In instances where there is a toxic parent or parental alienation happening, it can be extremely damaging to a child and develop further into adulthood trauma.

It’s time to change your mindset. Parents are parents. Whether they are biological, step, adoptive, or otherwise. Forcing children to decipher between them, using first names or differing titles, is not necessarily what’s best for them.

When it comes to step-parents and non-biological parents, let your child decide. Children are much more in tune with what feels natural to them than we give them credit for. They will thank you later for not forcing them or choosing for them.

At the end of the day, we are all just parents who want our kids to feel loved and safe. No one parent is more vital to the child than the other.

Jennie Guay

Jennie Guay is a first-time author. Formally a career woman working in Financial Services, Jennie made the decision to leave the city and move to the country to support her step- children and write the Howie Blend Playdate Adventures with Family and Friends series. Howie welcomes children to join in his everyday playdates with each of his five friends; validating ALL family dynamics and experiences and providing a mirror for millions of children who cannot currently see themselves in their everyday reading and play. Currently available on Amazon, Booktopia, Kindle and Kobo.