If there was a Halloween costume for Father of the Year, this dad would be wearing it. When Paul Henson’s young son Caiden told him what he wanted to be for Halloween, his reaction was incredible. Not only did Henson support Caiden’s decision to dress up as Elsa from Frozen, but he proudly posted a picture of his son’s costume on the Internet.
Parents, if you’ve ever wondered how to handle those sticky parenting moments that will inevitably arise, it may be time to start taking notes. Only days ago, Henson, a 28-year-old dad from Virginia, posted a picture of his little guy wearing a Disney princess dress to Facebook. The adorably candid shot received more than 26,000 shares in just three days:
As you might have guessed, people had plenty to say about his young son’s unexpected costume choice. Thankfully, Henson got more than a few pats on the back for being such a supportive and open-minded dad. Other parents predictably criticized Henson for confusing his child’s gender and opening Caiden up to schoolyard bullying.
There are a few do-or-die moments that we encounter as parents, where our child’s emotional wellbeing will be directly impacted by how we react, and this is one of them. Instead of shaming his son for choosing a popular girls’ Halloween costume, Henson passed this parenting test with flying colors.
For the rest of us, we can learn a thing or two from this doting dad. While most modern parents would consider themselves tolerant, living in a progressive, post-marriage equality world, it’s one thing to “like” a status about same-sex parents or a transgender child. It’s quite another when it’s your kid who is challenging gender norms.
The honest truth is that there are plenty of parents who would feel uncomfortable with their child making atypical choices like this. Even with the best intentions to cultivate individuality and allow your child to be their true self, you may have to take a beat and reassess the first time your son asks to paint his nails, or your daughter wants to join the football team, or your child has a crush on someone of the same sex at school.
There’s absolutely no indication that a little boy dressing up in a girls’ costume may be gay or transgender. (HRC experts say plenty of kids express signs of gender nonconformity at a young age.) But so what if he is? That’s really not the point. The point is how this father reacted, and how he has positively shaped his son’s world view, even at a young age.
We know by now that you can’t “make” your child gay. But you can “make” your child more tolerant, compassionate and socially aware by using these parenting challenges as teachable moments and reacting with acceptance, as Henson did. It’s easy to talk to your child about accepting differences when it relates to a TV show or something that happened at school. It’s much harder to practice what you preach and accept your own child’s differences when they act in a way that makes you uncomfortable.
It’s at these moments when you’re really a parent. When you’re walking the walk and accepting your child for who they are, you’re teaching them to treat other people the same way.