There were no books for kids that reflected my LGBT blended family – I wrote one

Have you ever sat down and read through your children’s books, or watched the cartoons and shows your children watch daily?

I mean, really paid attention to the content from your children’s perspective? 

I hadn’t. Children’s literature wasn’t something on my mind when I first moved to the UK from Canada in October 2012 – single and one-track minded on my career, ready to take on a corporate job in the city.

I was swept up in the fast-paced London life with nights out, weekend getaways and boozy brunches.

Then, I fell in love with an incredible woman who I knew right away I wanted in my life. We married after being together for five years and I gained not just a life partner but also an amazing pair of stepchildren, aged six and eight, who my wife shares custody of with her ex-partner. 

My life changed completely: I resigned and moved to the countryside to care for my stepchildren. I became a part of something much bigger than myself – a blended family.

It wasn’t until we entered a pandemic and my wife and I began homeschooling that I really started to notice a lack of representation in the books and content that our children were consuming. This realisation left me shocked and a little horrified.

Can you believe that Rumpelstiltskin is still being read in school? It’s a very old story – well past its time if ever there was one.

It’s a story filled with misogyny, greed, and abuse; selling a daughter for financial gain, holding that daughter captive until she performs an impossible task, and all for the benefit of men. If that’s not a terrifying message to send to our kids, I don’t know what is.

Gone are the days of the normalised nuclear family – a mother, father, brother and sister. According to research, stepfamilies are currently the fastest growing family dynamic in the UK and it is estimated that one in three of all families are now stepfamilies or blended families. 

Despite what many books and TV programmes show, the reality is that families come in all shapes and sizes! Whether a family is created through a man and woman, or through artificial insemination; through egg and sperm donation, adoption, surrogacy or divorce and remarriage, a family is a family. 

The problem rooted in the past, one we continue to fail in, is creating content for children that reflects this reality. As a lesbian parent, this problem was also made incredibly apparent when simply shopping for a birthday present for one of my kids. 

I struggled to find a representation of our family, nor the families of millions of others, in any of the books or toys available on the high street. 

What I found were shelves filled with books about hetero-normative nuclear families. Most of the families in the books were also white; lacking in real representation of the multi-cultural society we actually live in.

That’s not to say they didn’t mostly have positive messages, it’s just that the package that those messages came in, all looked the same – confusing the message of the books. I really had to dig deep online to find books that showed familial differences and diversity. 

It was this harsh realisation that our kids were not being exposed to their norm that made me wonder what the psychological and emotional effects – both at present and in the future – would be in the long term, especially as they are at such an impressionable age. 

I couldn’t make sense of not just why, but how, such a huge population of society could be so underrepresented in child development, when we are all exposed to blended and diverse families on a daily basis. 

This is the reason why I created Howie Blend – Playdate Adventures with Family and Friends in 2021. It’s a ‘six stories in one’ children’s book that aims to fill the gap for blended and diverse families, giving parents who are concerned their children do not see representation the option to find books that reflect themselves and their lifestyles on mainstream bookshelves. 

Each of the six characters come from blended and/or diverse families. While there is of course LGBTQ+ families represented, it is not an LGBTQ+ focused book. Nor is it a book about race or abilities specifically.

Howie Blend is a book with characters that represent a variety of different people and families; driving the message home to its readers that ALL of our differences and families are mainstream and valid.

Since the book launched, I have had incredible reactions and interest – not just from parents and kids, but from schools and the media. Increasingly I have been asked by schools nationwide to speak about ‘Difference and Diversity’ as part of PSHE lessons. 

I have seen a huge difference in my own step kids as well. Now that there is a book that they and their friends are reading that represents them, they are more confident. They have a sense of pride in who they are. And more importantly they feel seen. All of this is imperative to their emotional and psychological growth during these formative years.

I have come to learn that there is a huge appetite, from children, mental health organisations, schools, teachers and parents – not just in the UK but worldwide – to discuss how we can shape our children’s learning platforms so they are equipped with the right information to engage with their peers in a healthy and respectful way. It’s so that they feel comfortable in their own skin.

It’s often us, the adults, who feel uncomfortable having conversations about diversity and inclusion, not our children. 

We often teach them not to point out and identify the differences in others instead of speaking to them about all the wonderful ways we are all naturally different and how this connects us, not separates us, creating the space for harmful messages to filter through to our kids. 

That being said, there has been some progress made in children’s TV and literature in terms of racial, gender and LGBTQ+ representation. This can be seen in mainstream TV shows like Doc McStuffins, Mira, Royal Detective, and The Bravest Knight. But we are merely scratching the surface. 

There is definitely room for improvement – which is why I envision Howie Blend to not just be a book, but also a TV series, an app and even a line of toys so it can touch all aspects of children’s reading and play.

Talking to our kids and teaching them love, acceptance and inclusion should never be a ‘difficult’ conversation.

If we, the adults that our kids look up to, aren’t providing our children with the right information about blended and diverse families, then someone else will – whether it be uninformed peers, outdated school books and lessons, or any of the millions of negative messages they are bombarded with while online.

And that’s a worrying thought. 

The message we must express to our kids is that people and families may look different on the outside, but the love they have on the inside is the same. There is nothing complex or controversial about it. It’s simple, but starts with us.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

Share your views in the comments below.

Source: Read Full Article