I read a post a little while ago about a woman who received criticism for allowing her 6 year old daughter to choose colorful, outlandish outfits to wear in public, even to school. Her clothing choices weren't inappropriate in any way. They didn't restrict movement or break any societal rules, like... she wasn't wearing a bathrobe and a batman mask to kindergarten or anything. She picked things like rainbow knee socks and fluffy tutus. People told the mom, "You're making things hard on her by encouraging her to stand out." And also, "It's your job to do everything you can to protect her from being ridiculed."
This happens a lot during a young person's life.
When mommy and daddy tell their daughter not to dye their hair blue, get pierced, choose not to participate in school sponsored activities, listen to such dark music, make such dark artwork, be so loud about anti-racist point of views in the middle of Mississippi, date African American boys, hold hands with girls, read banned books, become an atheist, whatever. (Can you tell I'm being auto-biographical?)
Those things, for the most part, aren't forbidden out of a sense of animosity. Parents don't want their kids to make unpopular choices out of a feeling of love. And also, mostly, a feeling of fear.
We love our kids and we want to protect them. We're actually required to protect them. It's part of our job as parents. However, we have the equally important job of deciding what to protect our children from.
All too often, we push our fears and limitations onto our children in the name of protecting them. When your daughter decides she wants to wear rainbow toe socks and a tutu to the playground, there's no actual danger involved in letting her do those things. You might be afraid that other parents will look at you funny, or that another child might question your daughter's choices. I mean, so what?
When your 8th grader decides she wants blue hair, or that she suddenly identifies with a music and fashion scene that seems strange to you... why are you really discouraging it? What are you afraid is going to happen to your child? She might not be well liked? She might be criticized or judged? Is that really HER problem, or a problem built into a flawed society that is full of sickness and meanness?
Should we really endeavor to change our children, to suppress their imaginations and senses of self-expression so that nobody will take a second glance at them, or challenge them to stand up for the things they believe in? I don't get it. What is that really teaching them?
Our children must be small and mild and neutral and agreeable. After all, we want them to be accepted, right? We want them to have an easy life, right? We don't want them to have to go through the torture of being different.
What about the torture of feeling like you can't be who you believe you really are, inside? What about when your parents, who are supposed to support you and encourage you, no matter what, suddenly side with a bunch of strangers and give them the power to decide how you should look, what you should care about and enjoy, and who you should love?
What about the fact that kids who choose to shove themselves down inside, who comply, who have an easy life and the approval of everybody? What happens when those kids wake up one morning and they're 30 years old and they feel sad all the time, but they don't know why? They feel like, despite growing up and achieving the things they were supposed to achieve, they have no idea who they really are. They lived in a way that made everybody happy. They didn't make unpopular choices, they didn't push any limits or break any invisible rules. They wake up and find out that they have no passion and no bravery and no real reason to keep being themselves.
It seems to me that our kids are people. They're not us. They're also not just a piece of society that we should manipulate and make decisions for. They have their own thoughts, their own tastes, their own ideas. Instead of trying to mold our children into something that will allow them to glide through an existence in a crappy world full of crappy people who believe stupid things, we should encourage our kids to be what they want to be, who they believe they really are. Maybe if they're big enough and bright enough and brave enough, it won't even matter to them that a bunch of stupid people think they're weird or unacceptable. Maybe they'll even be able to become something decidedly NOT STUPID and help other people to be less afraid to tell the truth about who they are, too.
It's my job as a parent to protect my kids from harm. There are so many harmful ways of thinking being shoved down everybody's throats all the time. I consider it my duty to try as hard as I can to help my daughters build a solid sense of self, to love who they really believe they are, so that they'll thrive in spite of, or maybe even because of the opposition of a mindless society full of boring, pointless conditions.