Saturday, March 13, 2010

Embracing Our Children's Passions and Likes when they are different from our own

Originally written on Thursday, January 28, 2010

Today at the Thursday homeschool group, one of the moms was wondering if anyone had ever had a daughter who loved Disney princess stuff. Um, yep. Katie loved Barbies. Katie loved Disney. I did not like either and made sure no Barbie's came into our home. I finally let Kelly and Tommy (Barbie's younger siblings who were short, kid-like versions) be accepted as gifts. However, NO Barbies. And of course no consumer driven Disney products that might be made in a sweat shop. Wasn't that something I had heard? Well, even if their products were not made in a sweat shop, they still were totally trying to sell, sell, sell their products and their storylines always had female characters that were not portraying exactly what I wished my little girl to see and think to be like. Wouldn't she then worry about what she looked like and think she had to try to be or look a certain way to be worthy of some man (prince)? I got stories of strong, brave girls (Girls To The Rescue books...which were awesome by the way and Katie loved them and years later still thinks they are great!). One of my friends who felt similarly got these plastic doll figures for her girls which were the same size as Barbie, but they played sports and did other real things besides dress in fancy clothing and have an unrealistic body size and shape. I thought I was making good, responsible choices.

Over time, I read some other opinions on various unschooling groups and began to think differently. I slowly released my fear and control. I realized that not only had I been hoping my young daughter would understand, agree with and live the same values I had (which is unrealistic for a 4-7 year old!), but that I had not giving her a choice (free of judgement) to even explore and figure out if she liked playing with them due to me limiting her choices and explaining why I thought barbie dolls/Disney were bad.

And wasn't the Waldorf type toys its own form of commercialism?

What really mattered if my kids played with plastic legos, little playschool people or wool dolls or barbies? As long as they were happy and feeling creative and enjoying using them it just didn't matter. And those into thrifting can find great deals on toys at garage sales and Goodwill stores and other places where you can get second hand items - handmade, wooden, manufactured, plastic.

Also, the fearful judgemental attitude teaches in unspoken words, that outside forces are more powerful than us. Aren't we powerful to play with Barbie and still grow up to think healthy about ourselves, our lifestyle and body image? If I played with an obese barbie, would I fear growing up to be obese? Kids play with crazy looking dolls and toys all the time. It is plain fun to dress them up and change outfits and hair. Kids do it to themselves, their dolls, their barbies and even siblings! Heck, I even let the kids do my hair for fun! I'd rather teach my kids about realistic body images by talking about that as we live and grow up and see different shapes and sizes and colors, not by making my small kid think that by playing with a certain doll or brand that they will be at risk for becoming fat or thin or a crazy over-consumer who doesn't care about the environment or the living conditions and lifestyle of the people who make clothing/toys. We don't need to project our fears onto our kids.

Here's an exerpt from one of Deb Lewis' posts on AlwaysUnschooled that fits in nicely here: "The point crusaders miss is that having your own personal ideas does not give you the right to form the personal ideas of someone else, including your children. Most parents want to control what goes into the minds of their children so that the kids end up thinking just like the parents. But your child's brain is not your brain and while your beliefs and ethics and choices will influence him you have no special right to program and map him." - snip - and "But there are ways you can live with your kids that help them be happier and ways that can make them miserable and since you were directly involved in your children being on the earth it's your responsibility to help them live well. You can decide if filling them up with fear is the way you want to go but since I know my time here and my son's time here is limited, I've opted for a happier life for my kid. When he's grown and out on his own and if I feel the urge I can use whatever time I have left for my personal brand of radical extremism. (which will make no significant difference) It's good to be nice, to try not to hurt others, to have an understanding of the world beyond your own needs and wants. It's also good to be aware of how you will affect your child's emotional and psychological health by the choices you make. Psychology plays an important roll in health. Emotionally and psychologically healthy people are much more likely to naturally make healthier food choices than people who are worried, afraid, controlled, depressed, lectured, anxious or outraged." I just love what Deb Lewis writes!!!

Healthy buying and eating come from living life and having experiences and discussions and freedom to explore each of these thigs for oneself over one's life. We definately talk about all subjects as they come up. However, kids can't figure out what is good or okay for them if we create an environment where they doubt themselves, fear liking certain things that they would otherwise like if not for our judgement and think the shouldn't trust their natural liking for certain toys or foods, or whatever. And if they even think we'll be dissappointed in their excess candy bar or hydrogenated cookie consumption, don'tcha think they'll eat those things anyway and feel guilty about it? Aren't we trying to give them less baggage about food? Don't you think if you provide a wide array of healthy food that your kids will eat what feels good to them and that they'll decide when and if and how much of what to ingest just by trusting themselves and knowing and listening to their bodies (and by having years of experience doing so and by knowing we trust them)?

If I continued to talk about how "bad" I thought Barbies were, would my daughter think that I was judging her as making a "bad" choice if she still wanted to play with them? Would she say she didn't want to play with them just to please me or to prevent me from thinking she was making a poor choice? I would think so. When I was thinking from a place of fear, I was judging her choices (consciously or unconsciously) as good or bad and I would bet that she knew it whether or not she expressed it.

A turning point came when I realized that I didn't have to fear my children's passions and likes. I could embrace them!

Our neighbor Eileen (whose son worked for Disney) lived downstairs from us and gave Katie a Princess Aurora doll...yes, a combination of the two things I feared (Barbie type doll that was Disney!). I told Katie we could thank her of course because she meant well, but that we couldn't play with the doll. It just stood for everything I was against. I saw Katie's little face look so lovingly at the doll. Katie held it on and off. She had thanked Eileen for it and put it back like the kind of easy-going child she was. But I didn't feel so good now. I had a realization! My child's happiness and trust and our relationship was SO much more important than my ideals of how I wished our world to be. This doll didn't have any power over us. It was simply a doll. A doll my child wished to play with. A doll my child adored. By me preventing her from playing with it, I was harming my relationship with my child and teaching her by example that this doll has some sort of evil power. Could Katie even wonder if it was wrong for her to like something that I didn't like? Maybe she thought she was wrong for doing so? Because she trusted me to make good decisions, she might have actually wondered if she could not trust herself and her own likes and dislikes.

Gosh, if it were books, wouldn't we say to our kids, "Sure sweetheart, I'll go get you those frog books just like Jenny and Todd have." But because it is something Disney (princess books, dresses, dolls, etc) we think or say, "Oh, ...those? You want ...those? Hmmm. We'll..I don't know. I will think about it." And then we might share some horror stories with them about consumerism and plastics and pollution, etc. Things they fully can't understand, but things we might use to justify our position that we are in the right for denying them that which feels right to them.

Gosh, what a relief to have realized that I didn't have to live in a place of fear regarding Barbies or Disney products or whatever my child liked! I happily say now that we have wonderful, thoughtful kids who do care about the welfare of other people and animals and being kind and thoughtful. They are all still growing and learning about what they think about how our world works and making individual choices based upon their own values. I am learning right along with them and doing my best to honor their choices as I hope they will honor mine. We continue to share with each other what we think and why about various topics such as vegetarianism, slavery, environmental issues, child labor, freedom, public elementary school, homeschooling, how people treat each other, etc).

Years went by with Katie playing barbies with a special neighbor friend. We eventually moved and she gave the disney barbie doll to our new little neighbor after noticing how much she liked it. :)

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