Were words I heard spoken by a mom to her roughly 3 year old son in the grocery store a while ago. The sadness in his voice and confusion on his face when he responded, “It’s not?” were heartbreaking. I wanted to march over with my full beard and lumberjack plaid shirt, pick up a can, and loudly proclaim that I frequently enjoyed a hearty bowl of that soup too! In case you were wondering what the soup in question was:
Now I may not be 100% up to date on the popular kids shows, but I think the main character SpongeBob is a sea dwelling kitchen sponge that also happens to be a guy. And did you see the shirt and tie he wears! I mean the boy didn’t pick a Disney princess soup for crying out loud! Though, even if he had I would still be aghast at the moms reaction. After all, what was she hoping he would pick…chunky beef and vegetable? Why do people cling to these rigid gender stereotypes? And worse yet, push them down their kids throats. Instead of focusing on learning…whatever it is 3 year olds are supposed to, he will be worrying about if he conforms to what his mom and dad consider tough or manly.
Now perhaps I’m blowing the one comment made in passing by this mom out of proportion, but I do believe it is indicative of a larger issue. Life is tougher for kids now than ever before. There is more input, stimulus, and information coming at them from every direction and medium. What they should wear, what games they should play, and who they should be is constantly being dictated for them by media, social institutions, and their parents. How are these kids supposed to form their own thoughts and opinions when everyone else is doing it for them? Boys can’t be sensitive, girls can’t be adventurous, and you both have to wear only gender appropriate colors or else!
Kids are sensitive creatures by nature. One comment from the adults they look up to and admire can either lift them up or tear them down. I know that you know that already, but it seems like some parents have forgotten. These kids shouldn’t have to develop thick skins to deal with the snarky responses and put downs that their parents use as “teaching tools” before they are even through kindergarten. I see this more and more when I am out running errands. It’s almost like no one has a kind word for their kids, but they can be exceedingly polite to strangers. Baffling. Isn’t the world cruel enough already? I don’t know how these kids cope when they can’t be safe to express their true feelings even among the people that are supposed to love and accept them no matter what.
Now this isn’t to say that I want my daughter to grow up in a bubble completely devoid of gender. She will wear pink, along with purple, green, yellow, and maybe even blue (oh teh horrors!). What we will try and do is ensure that she knows whatever type of game she decides to play, color she picks as her favorite, or soup she chooses does not define her. She can be feminine and tough, gentle and courageous, intelligent and athletic. My wife and I plan to allow her to make her own choices without us pushing her in one direction or another as much as possible. I’m sure there will be times when we influence her decision, but I know we will do so with words of gentle encouragement and not by tearing her down.
Do you see the same sorts of interactions between kids and parents? Have you ever wanted to just give a kid a hug after witnessing their spirits dashed by a loved one?