I have taken on a post-a-day challenge, so I am going to see how many days in a row I can post. All while trying to write a short story for the CBC and plot out my novel. And work 2 jobs and keep my busy children in extracurricular activities. I may give up sleeping. Anyway, the point is that over the next few weeks, you may get a lot of crap to read, but there is a school of thought among writers that any writing has value as practice and craft-honing. So here is today’s (hopefully un-crappy) post.
I read a very interesting article recently (click the underlined text to see the article) about embracing your child’s weirdness and the value of letting your child express himself as he or she wishes. It gave examples like letting a pink-obsessed boy have a pink bike, even if the other kids will see it. I love seeing the little boys wearing Spiderman costumes in the mall in July. Their parents are comfortable allowing them to express themselves, which is great, within obvious limits.
Most of us worry too much about what others think. As adults, we are more likely (I think) to curb behaviour because of this. Kids don’t have those inhibitions, at least not until their inclinations are mocked, teased, snidely commented or beaten out of them. It’s sad, but it’s true.
I’ve written before about the value of not giving a f#$k about what others think, but I know I still make choices based on what kind of reaction I expect. Sometimes, there are hard lessons, even at forty. It will be a while before I intentionally tell a self-deprecating story after a recent experience when I expected commiseration or a sympathetic chuckle and instead received a thinly disguised “how could you be so stupid”. It doesn’t take much to knock someone down, and it’s bad when it’s accidental, but worse when it’s not. I try every day to express myself, even to the point of setting myself up for failure and mockery, but it’s tough, and it doesn’t take long for kids to figure that out.
And the parents of the toddlers-with-tiaras crowd (which includes the kids whose deluded parents think they are the next Wayne Gretzky/David Beckham or Angelina Jolie/Celine Dion – interesting how so often the kids with real potential don’t need rabid parents to set them up – they shine on their own) do this to their own kids. The line between support and force, between encouragement and demoralizing is not that fine. I actually heard a mom at the soccer game yesterday yell at her kid, “Move it! If I’d known you were going to play this badly I would have stayed home and done something I really wanted to do!” Coming from the people who are the most influential, that is pretty damaging stuff. I wondered if she actually thought she was motivating him. Pretty sure if she ever meets an untimely end, no jury would convict the kid.
All anyone really wants for their kids is for them to grow into healthy, happy adults, and I think that the single biggest factor in the success of that goal is to let kids express themselves however they want. I’m not talking about going to Kindergarten naked, or crossing the street without looking, or cussing out a teacher. I’m talking about wearing a Spiderman costume to the mall in July, or riding a pink bike. We might not like all the choices they make, but if they are safe and moral, who are we to say they shouldn’t?
Yes, there are choices that are on the borderline between safe and unsafe, and kids will learn tough lessons from others. But why crush your own child’s spirit and self esteem over something that will be, in the long run, far less consequential if you don’t forbid it? And when they have started to develop some maturity and insight by practicing on easy, low-stakes things (like bikes and costumes), we can help them anticipate the “how could you be so stupid” comments, and teach them to stand up for their choices, a skill which I have still not mastered but vow daily to practice more.
We can put our kids out there, force them into interests they don’t actually have, or away from preferences that we don’t appreciate or approve of. Or, we can support and encourage them, and let them choose their own way. And you never know what might happen. I’d bet Lady Gaga had a lot of weirdness to embrace. Love her or hate her, she doesn’t care what you think, and she’s a success.