We all say we want our kids to be special and unique and to be themselves. But is this really true? What if their true selves are jerks? Or rude little punks? Should we let them be “themselves” then? If I am honest with myself, what I really mean (other than “civilizing” the primitive cave-man out of them) is, “Be yourself within these socially acceptable parameters.”
A few months ago, my MIL and I got into a rather heated argument on whether or not I would allow Cookie Monster to wear sparkly necklaces to school (the necklace symbolizing all “feminine” accoutrements such as dresses, heels, jewelry, etc.). My MIL was adamant that allowing Cookie Monster to wear a Mardi Gras necklace to school was cruel because I would be setting him up for teasing and mockery. That it was OK for him to be playing with these dress up items in the safety of our home, but that Cookie Monster doesn’t know any better and it was my job to make sure he knew what was and was not acceptable.
I think I nearly blew a gasket.
My MIL was shocked that I would let Cookie Monster go to school with the Mardi Gras necklace on. She said she would talk to Hapa Papa to make sure that didn’t happen. I was honestly surprised that the Mardi Gras necklace would be such a big deal. But to my MIL, it symbolized all the ways that children can be cruel and she couldn’t understand why I would knowingly allow my child to suffer. I was furious that my MIL would want me to suppress Cookie Monster’s natural inclinations in order to “fit in” and why she wanted to instill my son with fear about what others thought of him.
Both of us (well, I can’t speak for my MIL, but this is what I think was going on) were so riled up because of two main issues:
1) The cruelty of children (and by extension, society at large) towards anyone who is non-conforming – particularly in proscribed gender roles.
2) The desire to let our children grow up to be themselves without feeling shame about what they wish and who they are.
Now that I have had several months to cool off, the reality is not so cut and dried. After all, I may not mind Cookie Monster going to school with a harmless (to me, at least) Mardi Gras necklace, but would I be so nonchalant if he wanted to go to school in a hot pink tutu?
If I let him and he got made fun of, should I warn him? But then if he changes his mind because he doesn’t want to be teased, have I failed him and turned him into someone who cares overly about what other people think? Or is that just a glimpse of the Real World where there are always consequences (good or bad) to our actions?
If I didn’t let him, would I be crushing Cookie Monster’s pure little soul and forcing him to conform to what American society deems socially acceptable for males (a VERY narrow band, incidentally)? Would I be providing fodder for self-loathing and therapy in the years to come?
Where would I draw the line? If I did allow him and it was not allowed at the school, would I make a big stink about it so that my child would be free to be himself? What type of lesson would my kids learn if I did make a big deal? That they should fight for what they believe in? Or that rules were meant to be flouted if they made my kids feel bad or “oppressed”?
Hapa Papa says I’m a hypocrite because I am fine with Cookie Monster doing things that seem girly, but I seem far more ruthless about not letting Gamera do those things. Incidentally, that is full of crap because I let Gamera do PLENTY of “girly” things – I just don’t want her to play with Barbies for you know, reasons. Scientifically backed reasons, by the fucking way. Not that I think you’re a bad parent if you allow your kids to play with Barbies. I think the majority of little girls who play with Barbies grow up to be awesome, empowered women. It’s just my personal preference. Backed by SCIENCE. (This dig is aimed more at Hapa Papa, who reads my blog, more than any of my other readers.)
I don’t mind Gamera playing with her baby doll, but I don’t exactly go out of my way to encourage it, either. I supposed I don’t exactly encourage her to play with cars, planes, Legos, and blocks, etc. either, but I approve of it more so. What is so wrong with her playing with dolls? When I think about it, it’s super cute how Gamera puts her “baby” in time out, has her baby cry and need hugs and band aids, and breastfeeds her doll when it is hungry. She’s using her imagination to nurture and take care of her baby. That’s a wonderful thing!
Have I bought into the lie that anything to do with the home or traditional gender roles is bad?
I don’t think so. I am fine with her dressing up as a “Prin-us” (how she says, “Princess.”) with heels and sparkly everything. I am even fine with Cookie Monster doing so. (I bought some sparkly Hello Kitty shoes in HIS size because I knew he’d be so crushed if he couldn’t fit in them and would watch Gamera enviously when she wore them. That way, I also get more mileage out of them for Gamera, too.) I love it when she and Cookie Monster cook in their toy kitchen or push her cars in her toy stroller.
Sigh. Sorry, I think I rambled a bit there and I’m too tired to go back and edit this into a more coherent piece.
At any rate, how do I balance the two seemingly conflicting desires of wanting my children to be who they are yet not suffer from their peers? I suppose I have no control over how their peers or society react to and treat my children so I will just have to help my kids be as themselves as possible. I hope I have the wisdom to know when to intervene and when not to. Seems way more complicated than when I was growing up. Back then, our parents just threw us to the wolves.