I, like most parents, have this vague philosophy by which I’m attempting to raise the product of my uterus. Currently, it amounts to something like this: I don’t want to merely protect my daughter from the world; I want to prepare her for it. I don’t want to fence her in with electrified barbed wire and white pickets made to look like ‘love’, I want to expose her to the world she was brought into, the one she’s going to have to find her way through on her own someday. You know, with a yard that isn’t fenced in and windows we crack open at night in the summer, or some other equally obscure metaphor.
A few years back I made a ‘play date’ (man, that term always brings home ‘white-middleclass’ in the worst possible way… /cringe) with a co-worker. I had been putting off this little adventure for quite awhile; I just knew our parenting quote-unquote ‘styles’ would not mesh well. Also, her little girl was a spoiled bitch —just saying.
Anyway, back to being white and middle class.
The little girls (about four when this amazing story took place) were all decked out in their flouncy princess dress-up gear and wanted to watch The Little Mermaid. I jumped at the chance to stop pretending I cared about scrapbooking, and we all shuffled into the pristine living room (am I the only one who doesn’t trust other mothers who have immaculate homes? Eh, probably another deep seated psychological issue.). We settled in and proceeded to watch, in total, less than half of this movie.
This woman, we shall call her Jennifer, wielded the remote control like a surgical knife. Vague hint of conflict? Fast forward! A touch of unrealistic Disney romance we all know so well? Fast forward! The part where the evil octopus lady meets her just, watery end? Fast forward! I mean she pretty much cut the movie off in so many segmented pieces that I didn’t even know what the movie was about anymore. My childhood laid scattered across her, admittedly, really nice plush rug. When the crazy ride was over I sat gripping the arms of my chair, speechless. Jennifer took note, of course, and smiled at me smugly as my daughter and I exchanged confused glances.
“We don’t want our children exposed to those sorts of things.”
I know I raised a quizzical, probably more than a little sarcastic, brow at her. Exposed to what things? I wanted to ask. Reality? No, scratch that, not even reality. The watered down, pretty damn delusional, version of reality that is the world of Disney. Also, her poor kid has no idea how a classic childhood movie ends! Injustice atop injustice!
Seriously though, level with me here, is this common practice nowadays and I completely missed the mass mommy memo? It isn’t as though I sit my impressionable child in front of, say, True Blood, but hey, she’s been exposed to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and a variety of superhero movies pretty much since birth. Now, these aren’t exactly a reflection of reality, per say, but they do contain a variety of realistic concepts and emotions. Love, pain, loss, grief, evil, cruelty, vengeance, pride, honor, passion, violence, dishonesty, loyalty, good, selflessness and sacrifice; all pervasive aspects of the world moving and churning around us, all things our children are going to come in contact with.
Of course I want my daughter to always be happy and perfect and awesome, but those aren’t realistic aspirations, or even what is best for her. She needs to fail. She needs to experience pain and conflict and loss. She needs to understand the fragility of life to appreciate the substance of every single day. Now, I’m not saying she needs to watch violent murders or graphic death scenes, but I refuse to stick her in a vacuum where nothing can touch her. I refuse to hold her hand through everything, but I will always be there. I’ll be just behind her to catch her when she stumbles; I’ll be there when she needs a supportive push or an understanding smile with a nod of encouragement. That’s me, I’m the woman on the sidelines, offering advice, guidance and support, but ultimately they are her steps. They will be her choices, ones that she will have to live with and that I won’t be able to change or make for her. My ‘job’ is to help ensure that she knows which direction to walk in and that she is prepared to handle whatever life throws at her along the way.
Call me crazy, but you can’t fast forward through the difficult parts of life or skip past the uncomfortable, aching moments that shape who we are. What sort of children are we raising if we solve all their problems for them, if we completely remove negativity and hardship? In my opinion, we are creating a generation of adults who will be unable to handle failure or the challenges of a growing world that doesn’t slow down for those who fall behind. It’s irresponsible and dangerous as parents to pretend that these things don’t exist. We should strive to introduce the harshness of reality in a controlled environment where we can ensure they understand the consequences for their actions and offer knowledge and understanding because someday we will not be there. Someday they will have to do their own laundry, make their own meals and decide who is worthy of their trust and love.
A personal example of a violent reality: I’ve told my daughter previously that she has a right to protect herself. That violence should be avoided whenever possible, but that if she is physically assaulted, she has every right to defend herself and I will always stick by that. Recently, my daughter was shoved down on the playground by the ‘troubled’ boy in her class (meaning he has been suspended for fighting twice this year and he is in 2nd grade…) and she did exactly what I told her to if a man/boy assaults her. She kicked him square in the balls. Both my daughter and the little boy were brought to the principal’s office where a teacher, apparently too slow to react, confirmed that the little boy had pushed her down and was laughing at her and teasing her with one of his friends. The school wasn’t too hard on her, or anything, but I was called and they told me they had explained to her that she needs to tell a teacher next time instead, which I understand but still kind of disagree with.
Because, back here in reality, there are no teachers to tell or parents to come to, no one is going to step forward and defend her if she won’t defend herself. We can try and protect our children from the whole world, but eventually it’s going to seep in through the cracks and if we insist on blatantly ignoring it, it will take our children over in the exact ways we sought to avoid.
The world is going to offend and bruise my daughter, it will break her apart someday, but I plan on teaching her how to put herself back together. I plan on teaching her to roll with the punches, to seek a sense of self that will withstand the constant battery that is thrown her way by a world that largely doesn’t care. I will teach her to be strong, to ignore the connotations of the word ‘bossy’ or ‘bitch,’ and be herself because she understands that, to achieve anything of any real value, one has to overcome conflict and trial. Not fast-forward through the hard parts.