I want to start off by saying I'm not an expert. I remember buying Crystal Light because when I was younger I would watch their commercials featuring adult women who really had their shit together. They were laughing and drinking it and I thought, "Wow, that's how it's done.". The same day, I picked up a few copies of generic parenting books from the library because it's not like I could purchase them after I blew all my money on fancy lady drink mixes. I quickly realized that A) I basically bought sugar packets for water and B) those books weren't meant for me. Maybe they were for me because in that moment I was so desperate and anxious to be good. A good adult, a good mother. Almost 10 years into being a mom and I am no less anxious and I've traded Crystal Light for coffee, but I at least have some experience to share since then. In this case, it's about raising an independent, self-aware child.
Is she drinking pee?
Once you've snapped out of the survival mode that is the new parent stage, you start thinking about their mental and emotional well-being which of course, includes the development of their individual identity. It sounds contradictory to both parent and teach autonomy. How do you encourage independence when they are still dependent on you? You have this gelatinous blob of a human slowly growing into themselves. As their caretaker, you make sure the blob doesn't get hurt, but they still need their own time to harden into the shape that they will be. I think the key is boundaries. You recognize them as their own sentinent being while also making sure their immediate safety isn't threatened. You're basically just trying to get them into adulthood in one piece and hopefully, just hopefully, they are prepared and confident.
Way before Tiny Bangs and way before we were ever recognized on the street, we used to live in the Koreatown neighborhood of Los Angeles. It was smack-dab between downtown and Hollywood and there was even a train stop down the street. It was PERFECT. We rode the train a lot and I started noticing how adults were with my children. There is almost this unspoken understanding that kids are communal. Not in the cute "it takes a village to raise a child" kind of way, but in a public property kind of way. People would pat them on the head, hug, grab their cheeks, and sometimes even try to kiss them.
As a woman, I'm borderline numb to this entitled behaviour, but it wasn't until I was a parent did I realize that children also go through this. It wasn't exclusive to strangers either, family and friends would unintentionally demand the kids' attention, time, physical affection, and even try to dictate what they could wear or say. I started to think about the impact it has on them and even the impact it had on me when I was younger. I was essentially taught that what I wanted or who I was didn't matter. It only mattered what everyone else wanted from me and I wasn't allowed to say no to them. Consent is very much entwined in this conversation. I hate to break it to you, but by taking away your kids' agency you're putting them on a very scary path. Advocate for them and better yet, teach them how to advocate for themselves.
I had mentioned in my first blog post that my daughter was pulled out of school when she was being bullied. It's important to note that I had asked her permission to write about that because again, autonomy (I'm not messing around). What had happened was that kids would pick on her for the crazy colors of hair she chose or the hobbies they deemed too strange for a girl, even the staff would join in on the ridicule. After spending the time she was homeschooled reassuring her that she's a boss, I was still scared when she started her new school. Weeks passed and I got a call from the counselor's office. The guidance counselor told me there was a physical altercation. Boys had stolen a ball from her and she had spoken up and was hit by one of them in the stomach. She told me that Naomi yelled for her friend to get an adult while she stood there facing them down. The counselor had asked Naomi why she had done that and she replied, "This happened before and I'm not letting them get away with it. I am not a princess that needs to be saved.". Listen, I don't get every thing right as a parent, but you better believe that moment went down in the books for me. She knows who she is and may God have mercy on your soul if you try to take that from her.
This feels like a good time to bring up that HOLY BANANAS, literally everything surrounding a child is telling them how they should be. From the moment their parents opens a cute, wrapped box and pink or blue balloons pop out and even continuing throughout adulthood, they are told to be soft and magical or tough and smart. My kids and I are super into fashion (who would've guessed, right?) and you better believe we noticed what the mainstream retailers tell children. They've even gendered animals, y'all. Just try to find a kitten on a shirt in the boys' section, I'll wait. We get asked constantly when we will start offering "boys' clothes" which makes my eye twitch every time. I understand the question and I try to reach into my empathy bag to realize, okay, there are people who still see clothes as one way or another and want a traditionally masculine thing for their child. It still bugs me though. Especially as a mom with a son that is just as comfortable in basketball shorts as a sundress, I wonder what people like that will say to him and if they will try to force his beautiful gelatinous self into a jello mold that doesn't fit him.
If I were to conclude this behemouth of a topic, it would be with this: let your kids be whoever the eff they are unless they are assholes. Practice your own autonomy since kids really do learn from example, respect their autonomy, and in turn, they will respect others'. The world is kind of a dumpster fire right now, but I have faith in this generation of caretakers and the generation we are raising. Empower your children and watch amazing things happen!