Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Statue Grows in an Arboretum

This week, I have had several conversations revolving around parenting. I probably always do, but this week’s topics were more interesting.

The thing that never ceases to amaze me about being a parent is how exciting it is. Oh sure the kids give me a workout and I am never bored with them, but it is also such an amazing opportunity to put into action the kind of person you want to be. I have previously described the tugs and inner conflict I have when it comes to being Catholic and a feminist. In my head, there is a constant script running. That script reminds me of all the wonderful things I want to be and to teach to my children and how I incorporate the values I hold important to me in how I raise my children to be upstanding citizens and virtuous people.

When I had my son, I was thrilled to be pregnant. We did not find out he was a boy until he was born. I was elated at the sight of him, and so grateful and honored. It is impossible to put into words. We had been waiting for him to arrive and he is every bit as fantastic as I thought he would be and more. My daughter was sneakier about her arrival. I was Knock-Me-Over-With-A-Feather surprised when my doctor told me I was 6 weeks pregnant when I went in to tell him that we were ready to try to have another baby (God knew when we needed her!) I was excited and I knew immediately that I was having a girl. That is when the weight and the worry set in. I have a daughter. She will be every bit as stubborn as I am (oh, and she is, even at eight months). She will have a more challenging road ahead. I never questioned my ability to raise and be a mother to my son, but I was all sorts of worried about being a capable mother to my daughter. Can I prepare her for her life? Can I answer her questions? Am I strong enough to be the kind of woman she so desperately needs as a role model? I spent the rest of my pregnancy equal parts excited and terrified. When I went in to deliver her, there was a delay and I spent most of that time crying and more nervous than I have ever been as I thought about the type of woman, parent, sister, daughter and friend I am and want to be.

My children are under the age of three and everyday they are being molded. I no longer worry more about how I am parenting my daughter versus my son. My worries and doubts came from a very real place, but the reality is that both our sons and daughters have trials ahead of them. Maybe I thought about it more with my daughter because I am blatantly aware of the kinds of struggles she could face and it seems to permeate a girls’ childhood from day one: bombarded with pink and frills, clothing that fits weird and has elastic bands in weird places, princess culture and the message that beauty is most important from day one.  Overly sexualized clothing (skimpy bathing suits, tops, and in some cases even thong underwear for little girls) is the norm. Advertisers push and market specific types of inactive play to girls, and every doll, TV show or movie showcases unrealistic beauty expectations. We also do this on a seemingly milder scale with our boys: toy guns, violent toys and games, and a general consensus that boys shouldn’t play with ‘girl’ things or like ‘girl’ colors. How then, are we surprised when girls and boys alike view girls as sexual objects? How are we surprised that our girls experience sexual assault at a higher rate than they smoke? Then we continue to put the blame on the victims by saying there must have been something they did or didn’t do to ask for it.

All this being said, if I cannot live my life in one extreme, why live it in another? I do not believe my choices are to either give in to the sexual culture that pits our children against each other or hide them from the world. I choose balance. I will dress my kids in clothes that allow them room to play, and let them like whatever colors they want to like. I will raise my son and daughter to think critically and to experience a variety of what this world has to offer. This might include seeing some things that I might rather they didn’t see.  I know that as they get older the questions they have will be harder, but I am up for the challenge. I see a stark difference between advocating for a childhood that is free from bullying and forced gender roles and advocating for censorship. I cannot control what my children are seeing and doing 24/7. My oldest is 2 ½ and I can’t keep him in his own bed all night! That kind of control is exhausting and sucks the life out of you. I set boundaries of course, but I am my child’s primary educator. I take solace in the fact that I will be the educator and role model that they come to when they have questions, for instance, about a weird statue in the park or something they overhear, or see at a friend’s house. How are they supposed to relax and enjoy childhood if I am so tightly wound up from all the protesting and boycotting I am supposed to be doing?

UPDATE 08/15/2012
Now it is for the courts to decide...


  1. I don't agree with the argument that art only belongs in a museum. By the time my kids notice it, I hope I have done my job well enough as a parent that we can thoughtfully consider it together.


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