06 February 2011

See the lies right in front of you

It's not a secret. When I was 3, 4, 5 years old, I wanted nothing more in the world than a princess dress. I dreamed about that dress, asked for it for Christmas (and of course, never got one). In later years, when I learned to sew, I bought scraps of coat lining and fake satins, and sewed tiny little ball gowns for my dolls. I used lace trim to fashion bodices. I never cared much for drawing, but when I drew at all, it was to create frothy dresses for dancing and parties. A neighbor gave me some of her old costume jewelry, single earrings dripping with rhinestones, and I would take them outside at night to watch them sparkle in the floodlight that was rigged to illuminate the backyard.

The rest of the time, I was climbing trees, playing kickball and digging to China. I grew up to write about all sorts of things, with a strong emphasis on science, medicine and engineering.

Deb sent me a link to a story on NPR, Saving Our Daughters from an Army of Princesses. I think more correctly it should have been called Saving Our Daughters from Themselves. It pushes a new book by a woman who contends our daughters are in danger of being eaten by a "new girly girl culture."

As the mother of a daughter, please allow me a single comment:

Bullshit.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and to write a book about it if s/he chooses. But honestly. What crap. Sure, every parent should be vigilant about what's being marketed to his/her kids. Parents do have the ability to limit some of the influences that they don't want their children to be exposed to. Parents have the responsibility to talk to their offspring about how advertising works, and why it is bad...and sometimes positive. But positing that something that a child finds appealing (pink, princesses, army men, whatever) is going to cause some sort of long term damage is just nonsense. Unless, of course, the parent in question is wholly ineffectual.

To this argument, I offer as proof my own children: the son, 17 today, who is currently playing a game on the Xbox (as a female character, I might add. His choice, I might add. Because it's roleplaying. He is a PRINCESS in this game. And as straight a testosterone-laden male as there is. So there.) and the daughter, soon to be 14, who has been exposed to Disney princesses her entire life, and who eschews pink by choice, who plays basketball, who sews tiny clothes for the GI Joes that she puts in her little movies about subversion and resistance TO THE "NORMS" BEING SHOVED DOWN EVERYONE'S THROATS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

My children are who they are. I have allowed them the gift of being themselves though I have imposed upon them the desire to demonstrate good manners, respect and humanity. This doesn't make me special or wonderous, but maybe a little smarter than the parents who try remake their children in their own images or shove them down whatever road their own culture dictates is correct. Children want fences and boundaries. I've provided that and necessary discipline, but I've allowed them down time to explore the world and their place in it as well as the interests that call to them. I've been rewarded with a valedictorian who just presented me with a near perfect PSAT score (no swotting required. Take that, Tiger Fool), and another one in the running for valedictorian who finishes what she starts and isn't afraid of the hard work required to reach her goals.

My children aren't perfect and they occasionally need redirecting. I'm far from perfect, and I often feel like I'm fumbling in the dark because I'm not doing what everyone else is, but following a path that makes more sense to me. And yeah, I wonder if I'm doing it right.

My reward? My reward is two kids who are showing every sign of their own successes. My reward is two kids who thank me for being firm but very loving, for allowing them to be who they are rather than who I want them to be. And anyway, what I want them to be is goal-oriented. I want them to be content in themselves, kind to others, determined to make a better world in whatever way they can. It's meaningless to me whether they become doctors, filmmakers, or farmers. It's everything that they find their own happiness, and can take care of themselves and those around them.

"You're such a good mom," my daughter says with a tiny wail.

"You don't know any better," I chide her. "You have Stockholm Syndrome."

"I see other parents," she tells me reprovingly. "I see how they treat their own kids."

I'm NOT making a case for my style of parenting here. What I am making a case for is listening to your own kids. If you've got a kid, you know John Locke was wrong. There is no tabula rasa; children are born with a personality. And whether you like it or not, that personality may love pink and princesses, whether Disney gets a toe hold in there or not.

Go listen to some good music: "Open Your Eyes" from the album Killer Lords by Lords of the New Church. Since my children were born, I have seen so much parenting garbage and absolutely none of it has any basis in common sense. I (and my kids) have friends who span a multitude of cultures, so we've seen some amazing (and frequently not in a good way) methods of "motivating" kids. So many children are not allowed to BE children. They are little automatons, self-esteem machines who have no reason to feel good about themselves, and many of them seem to know deep down inside that they are real losers. And my experience is that if you raise your kids to be doormats, they'll cave to peer pressure. If you teach them how to make choices and you allow them to make their own mistakes, they'll do ok.

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