Thursday 23 July 2015

Since when did parenting become about what society wants?

It was my son's graduation last week. You must think I was incredibly proud of his academic achievements, other than the fact that he graduated, not with a degree, but a hand made certificate with a stick drawing on it.

Yes, my son is four.

Now, don't get me wrong, I get it - I get the cuteness of little people drowning in graduation gowns and throwing hats that are too ridiculously big for their heads in the air. I get the quirkiness, the irony, of a graduation for four year olds....

But really? Is it about them or us?

My son was forced to smile in his gown. I could tell from his face that he half hated it and half wondered what those loonies were doing, making him wear a big black dress. Do four year olds need to be educated that life is not simply about enjoying the moments, but that it is about achievement, reward and status?

Another friend told me recently how all the girls her daughter hangs out with were wearing bras. You may thing it's a coming of age thing when you buy your daughter her first bra, except that the bra is more like a crop top because she doesn't have any breasts.

Yes, my friend's daughter is seven.

Now don't get me wrong, I get it - I get the cuteness of little people wearing adult things with cute patterns on. I get the quirkiness and the irony of little girls wearing bras...

But really? Is this about them or us?

Do seven year olds need educating that having breasts is what will make them more likeable? Do seven year olds need to be taught that in order to be beautiful and desirable all you have to do is grow a pair of double Ds?

And on it goes, through school to adulthood; the things we inflict on our children because that's just what society is. It just is. We make children sit exams and pass tests in order to prove that they are of any worth, just because of something they write on a piece of paper. We teach them they are valued because of what they give and what they look like and what they contribute to society, and we may as well tell them not to value the times when they want to just sit and make up games. We inflict upon future generations the the things will train up our children to simply fit in and follow rules and become just like everybody else. We ask other mums if their son is going on the school trip to France, or if their daughter is allowed to sleep at the new girl's house, as though we can justify our decisions by how many other people are making the same ones.

A few years ago my son's nursery asked me to take a book home and record developments - new things my son had learnt. I lasted a while and then realised that I was getting so preoccupied with writing about what my son was doing that I wasn't engaging with what he was actually doing. The whole exercise, for us, was futile because I didn't even get to keep the book to look back on (not that I'm too sentimental about the first time my son applied a pincer grip). They kept giving me new books that were left blank. They must have thought me one of those parents who doesn't invest into her children, but I'm pretty sure my son was never bothered about recording his developments either. But someone higher up said that that's just what you do to be a good parent and to raise a good child.

But is it really about them, or us?

And so education becomes this tick box system where we have to fit in with certain categories, and, although we can pin point a few people, nobody can really say exactly where it came from. This drive for compliance and conformity seems engrained in society. And we play along with it because, well, that's just what you do for the sake of your children – the things you are made to do just because; the fine you have to pay for the once in a lifetime holiday you took your child out of school for; the homework your child has to do despite his disinterest in the subject; the costumes you have to make or buy for whatever fancy dress day it is next, despite the fact that your child has an aversion to wearing ridiculous costumes (did I tell you about his graduation?). But you do it, because that's what you have to do, and you are frowned upon for doing anything any different but no one quite knows why.

You see, we've already created roles for our children before they've even arrived on the planet and no one quite knows where they came from. We've stopped thinking. We just do what we're supposed to do. And although I act like I don't give a crap what anyone thinks of me or my parenting, I actually do. Most of the time I am just going along with what I am supposed to do because doing something different, something I really think would be more beneficial to my child, is difficult.

Of course I'm not criticising graduation days for infants or saying that children's fashion is necessarily damaging (though, I have my doubts), I'm just challenging this drive for conformity, despite us all being so incredibly unique. I'm challenging you (and me) to look at children through different lenses to the ones we've been brought up with. What is really good for them? What do they really need? Do I enforce a certain way of learning simply because it's in his curriculum? Or find new ways that encourage his unique personality and learning style? Are we prepared to stick our necks out and do something that goes against the grain because we feel it is best for our child? Is this ever really about them, or just us?

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