by Julie at ProgressiveKid
Like other parents of young kids, I find myself talking about parenting a lot. Dropping off and picking up my four-year-old daughter from preschool, attending birthday parties, watching ballet classes, hanging out with siblings and friends, I’ve heard the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between. We all have our trials, our laughs, our fears and hopes. The wisest among us work hard to help our children develop into mindful, empathetic beings capable of thinking beyond their own narcissistic urgencies. We want our kids to be self-confident and humble, strong and kind, independent and interconnected, fierce and loving.
We parents these days are an anxious bunch. Perhaps it’s that there are 7 billion of us now on this fragile sphere. Maybe it’s that we are spending less time with our kids because we work more. It could be an overresponse to the fairly self-involved parenting many of us received. It may be an effort to combat the continuous barrage of unwholesome messages delivered by the Capitalist media. Or perhaps it’s that we have lost confidence as we’ve drifted apart from the basics of life—growing and cooking our own food, interacting with the natural world, spending time with immediate and extended family, building a fire, tending animals, taking a walk, writing a letter.
Whatever the source of our anxiety, it manifests itself in ways that are often unhealthy for our kids, and ourselves. It is easy to get confused about what our role as parents should and can be. Some of us tune out, while others micromanage our kids through overscheduling, overdiscussing, and overcontrolling their experience.
One parent I know was distressed that kids in her son’s preschool had picked up sticks on a nature walk because she viewed them as potential weapons. I thought about how 24 kids at my daughter’s castle birthday party had, among other things, made flags with sticks and joyfully streaked around the community center waving their flags without incident. We joked about children running with pointy objects but let them do it because, well, it’s what kids do.
A friend of mine was chastised by another mother for allowing her child to bring to school a four-inch plastic sword he was wearing as part of a Peter Pan costume, saying it exposed her son to concepts of violence that she wanted to shield him from. My friend’s son loves costumes and seems destined for the stage, and from his point of view the plastic sword was a theatrical prop that made his Peter Pan more real. Another mother I met told me how she had stopped reading her child the Magic Tree House historical time travel books because she was upset that one featured ninja warriors in old Japan. I read the same book later to my daughter and we both enjoyed the decidedly benign account of the ninjas.
As with the recent outcry over the inclusion of the word scrotum in Susan Patron’s Newbery-Medal winning book The Higher Power of Lucky, there will always be people who are terrified to say scrotum in front of their kids, which can only come from a deep fear and loathing of the human body. I don’t worry about my daughter hearing the word scrotum or playing with a stick or knowing there were ninjas or seeing a plastic sword. She, more than anything or anyone, reminds me of the full spectrum of human nature in us all: the yelling, interrupting, selfish, farting, grabbing, rigid, conniving, demanding person AND the gentle, affectionate, funny, generous, curious, kind, happy, imaginative person. She understands intuitively the good and bad in people, and that is why she and countless children across time and culture love fairy tales—the arrogant kings, the cruel stepmothers, the lonely princesses, the passive fathers.
She needs to know the ways of the world because it is the world she is inheriting. It is her world—the good, the bad, and the ugly—whether I wish it for her or not. Like most kids, she will let her parents know what she is ready to hear. And it is our job to gradually tell her the truth, in ways she can understand and reconcile. It is our job to try not to be afraid, for our children and for ourselves.
©2007 ProgressiveKid. May not be reprinted or redisplayed without permission.