A friend of mine shared this experience she had with her son in a mom’s group we are both a part of, and with her permission, I am sharing it with all of you. Here is her story:
“I was upset to find out from my son (age 7) that kids at school have been teasing him about his nail polish. He made a firm request that I remove it last minute before we dashed out the door this morning.
I have contacted his teacher, the after-school director, and a trusted after-school counselor who has been wonderful with matters related to challenging gender norms. As I removed the nail polish, I told him that his Daddy used to wear it, too. Most recently, at age 26 or so. I also told him that a friend had recently shaved her head and had hair shorter than Daddy’s (though not by much). We will likely be having more and more conversations about what is ‘pretty’ and what is ‘handsome’ and how narrowly these ideals are constructed, and whether we should strive to have others find us (rather than to find ourselves, in our own authentic way) pretty, handsome, attractive, what-have-you.”
I think it’s particularly important to be talking with our children about issues of gender and personal expression as we enter into a new school year. I don’t want a single child to be teased or bullied for their appearance. Perhaps you have a boy with long hair or a girl who hates to wear dresses. Maybe this bothers you. You might be thinking he needs to cut that hair. You might be yearning to see her in that pretty dress. Perhaps you are worried it is your child doing the teasing.
As parents, it is so hard to detach ourselves from the image we carry of our children. We see them as extensions of ourselves and worry sometimes that they won’t be understood or accepted by their peers. All of this is normal, of course, but can lead to problems for our children when we allow our own vision or fears to control them. In the words of Dr. Shefali Tsabary, author of “The Conscious Parent,” “When you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a ‘mini me,’ but a spirit throbbing with its own signature. For this reason, it’s important to separate who you are from who your children are. Children aren’t ours to possess or own in any way. When we know this in the depths of our soul, we tailor our raising of them to their needs, rather than molding them to fit our needs.”
Whatever type of child you have, it is necessary to teach respect and kindness for all individuals. Children learn very early on that everything is coded in gender. There are “girl colors” and “boy colors;” “girls’ toys” and “boys’ toys;” “girls’ activities” and “boys activities” … and it goes on and on.
These gender constructs limit all of us in far-reaching ways. As parents, we have to push against this tide of conformity to give all children more freedom of expression and choice. I took a small step in this direction recently when I allowed my kids to pick out their own outfits for a formal family portrait. It was hard not to manipulate them into choosing what I wanted them to wear, but I held my tongue and admired their choices. I reminded myself that the picture we got would be a reflection of their personalities at this stage of life. And that’s what I ultimately want to look back at and remember – their true spirit shining out from the photo. I try to remember this as fall approaches. My kids are getting older. How they look and present themselves matters more and more to them. I will be having conversations with them before school starts about how important it is to give that freedom to themselves and others. I hope you will have similar conversations in your home.
Julia Cadieux, a PCI Certified Parent Coach and Capital District mom, helps other parents look within for the answers they seek and believes there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to child-rearing. Send you questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.