Wisteria commented on yesterday’s post:
Yet, when the children are around other children, I sometimes have a tug of guilt about the things they don’t get. I still have that nagging sense of measuring up. Though I know we don’t need the stuff, or possibly even want it, I always wonder if the children are deprived of some sense of common experience.
I think she is not alone. And, of course, the manufacturers of all that stuff rely on us feeling that way to sell it to us. But knowing that doesn’t help with the deep emotions she speaks of here, and that many of us have experienced.
This is an important feeling. We all want to belong. And we also don’t want to mess up our children’s lives. Those who hold strongly to principles of liberal individualism (which isn’t really me, but is many of you) also feel strongly that you shouldn’t impose your values on others. While we all want our children to take on our values, many of us want our children to choose those values freely for themselves. How we get there is obviously fraught.
First, I think we sometimes have to step back and really notice whether being deprived of what their peers seem to have is considered a deprivation by our children themselves. Sometimes it is. But often it is our own fear of being different, of being left out, of being teased, that is being projected onto our children. I am constantly amazed at how much my daughter and some of her friends really don’t care about some of the popular things.
An example: Last summer a friend’s child (also homeschooled and a friend of Tigger’s) was invited to the birthday party of a neighbour. It was a Hannah Montana themed party. Hannah Montana is extremely peripheral to the lives of my friend’s family. They have heard of her but that’s about it. Same in my house. So my friend worried a bit but they came up with an outfit and the daughter went to the party. My friend was really worried that she had done her daughter a disservice by not making sure she was knowledgeable about this particular piece of pop culture. She felt bad that her daughter could not join in the party as fully for this lack of knowledge. She wondered if she should do something to actively counter this lack of knowledge. But when she asked her daughter about it, the daughter really didn’t care. She had an okay time at the party. She had zero desire to know more about Hannah Montana.
Another example: Back in about 1998 when Tigger was in day care and I was working full time and the Teletubbies were at their peak, I noticed that lots of her peers had Teletubbie dolls. I also overheard parents talking about “having” to have them to be part of the group, etc. These kids were about 1 year old. The idea that the children themselves would desire these toys in order to belong seemed ludicrous to me. It alerted me to the fact that sometimes it is the parents, not the children, who are more concerned about being left out.
I have always avoided things like clothing with licensed images on it. I have all kinds of issues with Barbie. And I’m pretty open about my opposition to marriage. I have, however, both purchased a Barbie as a gift for Tigger and made her a wedding veil for the dress-up box. In discussions with a friend, we agreed that sometimes it is better to get one of these things and let the desire for it burn itself out rather than feed the desire by repeated refusal. This seemed to work both for Barbie (that one and all the ones she received as gifts from friends when she was in school were given away years ago on the grounds that she never really played with them) and the wedding veil.
The licensed images thing I talked to her about from a young age. And she accepted very early on that those were things that I just wasn’t going to buy. She was also well aware that I didn’t particularly like Barbie, though I don’t think I ever went into lots of detail or made a big deal of it. I do not support the idea of lying to our children about our values and our views on these things. But there is a place in the middle where we can still provide (some of) these things while making it clear that we are not keen, without making a big deal about it.
As our children get older, I think it is much more reasonable to have real discussions with them about our values and why we are not buying all of these things. Maybe we will compromise and indulge in some of them, particularly if they are identified as being particularly important for our children, even if we don’t understand or completely accept why. But those discussions might also reveal that our children don’t really care about some of the things that their peers care about and that we are worrying for nothing. And maybe some of these discussions will lead to us changing our minds about some things. Some popular culture really is worth knowing about and learning about it from our children is probably a really good thing for our relationship with them.
In my case, I think that one of the reasons that I’m homeschooling is because my kid wasn’t very good at playing that fitting in game. She wasn’t happy to adapt to the system the way it was and get on. She asked to stay home and do harder work with me! She had friends at school. But she didn’t always like the same things. Her taste in movies runs more to documentary film than Disney animation. When she was in hospital age 6 one of her school friends bought her a doll. I remember the dad saying he had wondered if that was an appropriate gift and the daughter having reassured him that Tigger really liked dolls.
So, although she asked me to fill a stocking last year, there were no requests for things that I wouldn’t be comfortable getting for her. This year is similar. She wants a big set of coloured pencils with lots of colours, for example. Last year, her big request was for a watch. My biggest issue is Playmobil. She does play with it, with her friends, and there is a lot of very valuable imaginative play going on. However, there is also just a spirit of acquisition in her desires. I’ve talked to her a bit about this. And I think there are signals that we have to do a better job of communicating why we do things the way we do things.
And maybe that is the big thing we all need to think about. I think we all tend to think that our values are very obvious. But it is difficult to pass them on. They just become the way things are for our kids without a lot of understanding of why. For example, despite going to church weekly as a child I still have a very poor sense of my mother’s faith. In fact, what I learned from the practices I was involved in was that it was very important to dress well and attend regularly. It seemed to be more about social position and keeping up appearances than faith. I’m pretty sure that for my mother it is not that. The point is that just involving me in the activities that she thought expressed her values (in this case her faith) was not enough to pass on those values. Even when it is hard to articulate them, I think we have to do the hard work of trying.
That probably doesn’t help. But I think that this issue is an important one and I’d love to hear your thoughts on this difficult emotional terrain.