The post I wrote last week about little girls in bikinis certainly struck a nerve. While I don’t think any of us should be judge and jury over how others parent, I do think it’s okay to cast a critical gaze on the societal and media influences that are so pervasive in the world today. Sometimes this might create tension, sometimes this might cause us to question ourselves, and sometimes it may mean we make completely difference choices than one another, and that’s okay. Here are some posts from the past few weeks that explore different aspects (and different conclusions) about raising kids these days.
I’m not sure if being a latch key kid played into my decision to be the kind of mom who is always going to be home with her kids. When I became a mother, something just made me decide that my kids were not going to learn about aluminum in the microwave on their own. It sounds good on paper. Be home when the kids are home… be there for them when they need you. Be there for them… every… second… of… every… day.
He is still the same boy you’ve known all along. He will wake up too early because he’s so excited about school! When you lock eyes with him at pick-up each afternoon, his face will light up like a flash of lightning. He will remind you of Moses, who had to veil his face because it was so bright after having been in God’s presence. You fear that he will not have the same enthusiasm with which he has greeted everything in life from Gymboree classes at 12 months old, Monster trucks at age 2, swimming at age 3, mixing his own instant oatmeal at age 4, to preschool at age 5. But you know him better than that.
Speak out when evil runs amuck. Never let fear of reprisal keep you from doing the honorable thing. Be valiant. Protect the weak, the innocent and the needy. Use your voice, your strength, your mind, your vote, your prayers and your money to do the right thing. Never confuse appeasement with peacemaking.
In this day and age of women fighting against stereotypes, working hard to step away from society’s and the media’s strong, imposing opinion on how women should look and behave, I’m not sure how I should be approaching all of this. Playing to the stereotypes, dressing or acting “like a girl” means something different than what it means to me. On one hand, I want my daughter to know that she can dress how she likes, that she doesn’t have to wear pink and lace or be a perfectly delicate ballerina or care one iota what boys, or anyone, thinks about the way she looks. She’s beautiful, intelligent, hilarious, and “like a girl”, no matter what superficial choices she makes. On the other hand, this is the way she wants to be. She wants the pink and lace. She is growing up in a home where dressing “like a girl” is not only not being pushed upon her, but it’s not even the norm. For her, wanting to be pretty and sweet and dainty comes natural. It’s just so weird to me.
No, that sentiment didn’t make me a bad person, but my previous one — that children in a broader, all-inclusive sense sucked universally and without reservation — probably did. After all, I had two children of my own. Even in my current state of twitchy, aggravated exhaustion, I felt the whiff of disloyalty, so I revised my original thought. Upon further consideration, not all children sucked, just Other People’s Children. No, I was not down with OPC, and in case you hadn’t noticed, they were everywhere.
I was led to believe that I could do it all. And yet I had no good role models of it being done in a way that I truly respected. I was told to go for it. And yet nobody I knew was really able to mentor me through it in any real way. I feel like I was mislead. I wish I had known the reality. I still probably would have made the same choices that I did (I don’t regret being a working mother), but I wish I could have gone into it with my eyes more wide open.
We were taught about inappropriate touching and respecting others, but those lessons were never tied to our clothes or our nakedness. It was perfectly normal to see a friend’s mother breastfeeding out in the open- there were no blankets draped over babies heads or removing oneself to another room- or, unimaginable, a bathroom- the mothers simply fed their babies. This upbringing might not be for everyone, but I think partly because of it, I am comfortable in my own skin, and have a fairly healthy body image. Because skin was not something to hide or be ashamed of, it became something of a non-issue. I cannot ever recall looking at the way someone was dressed- or not dressed- and thinking anything value-based about that person.
Sexism is pervasive. It creeps into our daughter’s lives in stealthy ways, before they’re able to identify it and refute it. Before they’re able to understand irony. Before they’re able to separate out the messages we tell them at home from the ones they see on t-shirts or posters on the subway. Man, if only they were one and the same.
It’s easy to blast companies for introducing the sexy wear, but our ire really should be directed at the parents who think low rise jeans for a second grader is cute. They are the ones who are spending the money to fuel this budding trend. They are the ones who are suppose to decide what’s appropriate for their young children to wear, not executives looking to brew up controversy or turn a profit.
In the meantime, though, one small favor: If your child comes home from school and tells you about how some kids talk funny or can’t sit still or can’t keep quiet or don’t like to be touched and those kids get pulled out of the classroom during math and reading and science and asks you where do those kids go? And why? Tell them that gee, you can’t say for sure. But those kids sound pretty lucky.