When I was in the fifth grade, I used to hang out with a little girl named Grace. She was a stocky girl with a prominent nose, a New Jersey accent, and beautifully natural blonde hair. Her stick straight hair and blunt cut bangs would swish from side-to-side as she spoke. She had a great laugh. Mostly, we hung out only in school, despite the fact that she only lived a few houses away. Her mother was extremely religious and extremely strict. I recall one day, the only day, I ever got to go to her house to play.
It was interesting to see Grace in a different light. She wasn’t her normal funny, overly chatty self, the one I saw at school. She kept her eyes down, watched what she said and replied with, “Yes ma’am,” and, “No ma’am”. That sparkle and laugh was nowhere to be found.
Sometimes, when her mother wasn’t home, she would sneak over to my house. In these rare instances, it was great fun playing with her and sharing our mutual love of baby dolls.
When yearbook time rolled around, Grace’s mother did not buy her one. One day, as we were switching classes for Language Arts, she swiped a fellow classmate’s yearbook from the inside of his desk. She ripped off the back panel, where people had already signed, so that she could hide the evidence that it was his. I even helped her to hide it on a bookshelf as the teachers looked through all of our desks and backpacks for the stolen book. I was scared that we were going to get caught, but my sympathy for Grace was even bigger than my fear.
My mom used to tell me that Grace was going to go out and get knocked up because her mom sheltered her so much. And I often wonder if she did. We moved from Virginia Beach to Florida and I never talked to her again because her mother wouldn’t let her talk on the phone.
My mother did not shelter us or filter much. In fact, my mother didn’t keep anything from us, really. While I saw MANY adults look upon my mother’s parenting with disregard and an upturned nose, I couldn’t be MORE thankful for her honest depiction of the world, just as it is. A life without being sheltered gave me insight and wisdom others didn’t have. It allowed me to formulate my own thoughts and opinions, and it gave me just enough gusto to handle this life on my own.
I am also not going to shelter my children. And here’s why.
They’re Going To Be Who They’re Going To Be
Sure, maybe you have a very specific vision of the person you would like your child/children to be. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t too. However, in spite of our biggest hopes for them, they have their very own hopes. Ultimately, it is their life and their choices to make. We only get to provide our input for a short time.
They are going to be who they are going to be, whether we like it or not. No matter what we do or don’t do. No matter what we say or don’t say. There is no exact formula one can follow to pop out the perfect kid and I think THAT realization alone is precious. Insert cliche statement, “Expect the worst, prepare for the best.” That can also apply to parenting!
The best and most valuable thing we can do is help them figure out who they are, where they want to go, and do everything we can to help them get there (whether we like the answers or not). Keeping your child trapped under your thumb doesn’t mean they will follow your rules. Just like with Grace.
My mom was always really good about letting us be who we were. When I wanted all of my hair chopped off, she let me do it. Even though I cried my eyes out and regretted it, it is what I wanted and she let me do it. I love this now, even though the pictures are SO embarrassing. She never suppressed our character and I think that’s really important.
I mean, think of the cliché, “wild preachers daughter”. Suppression does not lead to good behavior. Suppression only makes people more curious about what’s on the “other side” that is “so bad”. It truly brings about more curiosity, enticement than just addressing it. I mean, look at the state of Utah where I live. It is no coincidence that most people here are very religious and don’t talk about sex, and in turn it’s literally the number one state for porno use. In fact, just the other day on the radio, I heard an advertisement for the news discussing teen porn addiction here. It is no different than dieting. You fantasize about all of the things you can’t have and only want them more.
We will be who we will be, human. Have some empathy towards your children, people.
A Skewed Sense of The World
Often times when I think of sheltered children, I envision them living a black and white existence and when they finally encounter life as it really is, it begins to show in color. For some, this color is horrifying, as they begin to grasp that mom and dad can’t fix everything. For others it is pure delight, they finally see the world as a huge buffet with a plethora of colorful things they’ve never heard of and can’t wait to try! And I’ll admit, I’ve seen a third kind, the scared kind. The kind that is so afraid of all of the unknowns out there that they only do what their parents did because it was safe.
The truth is, whether you like it or not, your children are going to learn about all of the things you don’t want them to learn about, via friends, the Internet, etc. Don’t let them go into it blindly. You wouldn’t send your kid to school without studying for a test. So why do we send our kids into life without truly being prepared?
Your job as a parent is to provide them with the proper tools to get through it, not to shield them from life’s woes.
How do we really prepare them for life?
Instead of tying their eyes with a blindfold and concerning yourself with all of the outside factors in the world, focus on what you can control, YOU.
Be the teacher, be the leader, be the example in their lives. Talk to them about things like death, bullying, heartbreak, drugs, alcoholism, crime, addiction, and sex (just to name a few!). Share your own personal stories, struggles and passions. Answer the whys they are wondering about.
I’m not suggesting you get out your laser pointer and do a whole presentation, but as things come up, don’t deny them, address them. And, please, don’t doubt their ability to understand. They understand way more than you think! I can’t count the amount of times I felt like I had to play dumb around certain adults. Granted I was a child, but I didn’t like always being treated like one, or being expected to like Disney Movies at the age of 12.
By keeping an open dialogue with your children about these controversial topics, they will feel confident coming to you if something ever comes up. Whether they drank too much and need a ride home, have decided to have sex with their boyfriend, or are struggling with their school assignments—If they know they can come to you, even if you may be a little disappointed, that knowledge is enough to change the course of their life.
This is something I have watched my mother do with us, and I am watching my sister do with her children, and we plan on doing with our son Sterling.
I want to illustrate that I am not talking about losing your authority. I am not talking about “being more of a friend than a parent” or allowing that your children to be reckless. I am talking about the dialogue.
I am talking about gaining respect through an unfiltered lens on life. I am talking about preparing our children for what’s next.
The simple fact remains: We aren’t “in charge” forever, and soon enough, our children will know this. Would you rather they respect you for your honesty or they feel jilted because you allowed them to live in a glass bubble only to fall on their face in your absence?
Tools For Life
My mom had cancer when I was in the fifth grade, the same year I was friends with Grace. This is probably the one secret she kept from us. When she finally told us, I felt okay about it. I had watched her recover from two divorces, fight in a war, and now she had cancer. It was baffling to me that I knew all of these things and yet some kids weren’t even allowed to watch the Lion King because of the heartbreaking death of Moofasa. My mother illustrated more strength than anyone I knew and I just felt in my heart that she would be okay. And she sure was. She kicked cancer’s ass, and with a smile.
However, I remember her telling us, “If I were to die, I know that you will grow up to be a good people. I think I have done a great job shaping you into young women, capable of making your own decisions and sticking up for yourselves. I have every bit of confidence that you will do wonderful things!” She still says that to this day. And I have always believed her and still do. Because she did give us the tools.
Instead of trying to depict the world as a perfect, ideal place where nothing bad happens, she did the bigger thing—she was honest. She never sheltered us just because we were girls. No one got special treatment from a man, because there was no man! My mom pumped the gas, paid the bills, did the lawn work, and gave our boyfriends the talkin’ to. Unlike the Disney movies others tried to cram down my throat, I knew those were just as fake as scary movies, but much less exciting.
I do believe in being treated like a lady, but I also believe in knowing how to take charge of your life and your circumstances on your own, because at some point, you will have to. I think this is an invaluable lesson for the young women in our lives and unfortunately so many young women are too busy being showered with love and princess treatment to have the honor of learning these life skills.
At the utter abhorrence of family members and friends alike, my mom let us shave our legs early, play in her make-up, and watch movies that were Rated R. I think some people thought this might make us “easy targets” for men or teach us that these things were “okay”. However, I beg to disagree.
My mom talked with us about child predators, sexual abuse, and strangers. If you ask me, that is much more valuable than just saying, “You can’t wear make up!” without ever really explaining why or providing the tools to appropriately encounter what you MAY fear. She made it very clear how we were expected to behave and that movies are not tools to mimic our lives with. We didn’t want to go shoot up a town or use the f-word because of something we saw in a movie, we knew better.
I will use the analogy of a knife. Let’s say you tell your child, “You are not to touch this knife!” Naturally, they are curious about the knife and wonder why they shouldn’t touch it. One day, you leave the knife on the counter and return to an injured child.
Think about it, had you shown them how to properly use the knife and explained the consequences of using it improperly, maybe they would have had a bit more insight into why they shouldn’t “touch it”. It doesn’t mean they are always going to listen, but at least they know where you are coming from. Same case in point with parents who don’t want to talk to their teenagers about sex or provide resources for contraception. This leads to kids not knowing what they’re doing, not having anyone to talk to about it, and getting knocked up.
There is a difference in condoning behaviors, and explaining your stance on things. Your stance is probably valid and explaining it to your kid would be highly valuable to them instead of just saying “NO!” to everything.
As parents, it is vital to realize that we can’t possibly protect them all of the time. In essence, it is our duty to give them the proper tools to protect themselves.
[thank you mom]
They Are The Future Of Our World
In the words of Anthony Robbins, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. ” And quite frankly, we ain’t doin’ something right!
We are living in a time that is a bit crazy. We are eating chemical foods, shipping our trash to other countries, and in the midst of a technology/social media boom. I won’t even attempt to touch on the financial status of our country. We need some serious change and our children are the answer. However, it is time to take a new approach to parenting.
We need to be honest with our children about the issues going on in the world. If we can open their awareness, and at a young age, I truly believe this can create change on massive levels.
Most people are so busy putting limitations on children (i.e. “but she’s just a child” or “he’s only 21 months, you’re potty training him too early”) that we don’t realize we are actually holding them back. I am not talking about dumping the world’s problems on a first grader. But it’s time we talk honestly with our kids about the problems we need to fix. Believe it or not, most kids would like to know these things and are very excited to think of ways to help to make a change.
Simple things can make a big difference. For instance, when you see a homeless person, instead of turning your head or brushing it off when your child asks about it, why not talk to your child about it? Why not devote a day to taking them to a soup kitchen to really understand it? Kids love to help and they love to be informed, despite what we often believe they can’t “handle”. I handled a lot as a kid from pure life alone, and I still really enjoyed spearheading my own projects like cleaning up trash around the neighborhood, or sweeping the hair salon after I got a haircut. I loved to help and so do our kids. We forget in our busy lives, but it feels good to be kind and helpful!
Working in a private school, I get to see first hand what a difference it makes when you take the rules away from education and truly allow children to think on their own, with the appropriate tools, encouragement and guidance. Most of us, unfortunately cannot afford a private school education. But these changes should really start at home, from us, the parents. We can’t possibly expect a public school education to teach our kids everything they need to know about life. If we do, things continue just as they are in the world.
As parents, it’s time that we ditch the “Because I said so!” mentality. We need more than that and so do our kids.
There are way bigger things in life than following rules. Who made these rules anyways? I challenge you to question your own rules and parenting style. And if ever the reason why you do something is “because of what others may think”, you should probably reconsider your motives. Kids see right through these things. Don’t feel too much pressure to follow the crowd when it comes to your parenting. We only get this one chance to teach them to be good little people. Start today.
Start by thinking of those bigger life-related solutions you want them to take away from living under your roof, things you would’ve liked to have known about. Let this be your parenting guide, not hiding the ways of the world from them.
Teach them how to make their own bed, do their laundry and fry an egg. Tell them they are going to experience heartbreak and let them know that you’ll be there the whole way. Show them why it is important to be kind. And allow them to experience grief shall it ever come their way. And for God’s sake, whatever you do, be a better parent than Grace’s mom!
“We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child’s spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active. We may even suffocate life itself. That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.”
― Maria Montessori