Preventing the Perfect Life

Yet again, I have failed to even kind of consistently blog. This time though, it’s whatever. Every time I sit down to write my brain just feels like such mush I can’t even get more than a sentence or two of coherence out. I feel like the mom from The Middle:
Or maybe it’s just the weather.
Actually, it’s probably more of a procrastination issue because there’s so much to do. I really need to rework some of the format on here, I have at least 20 posts just waiting to be finished off, and lots of pictures sitting, waiting to be edited. This definitely isn’t just laid back hapless typing, although I suppose it could be if I wanted it to.
After all, that is what I wanted to talk about today…the ability to just let stuff go. Or at least, to allow your house and your life to be less than pinterest-worthy. Although, like many of my posts, my title is slightly misleading. Ok, let me just get right into it.
See, I’ve noticed this kind of trend where parents are really obsessed with figuring out every thing in their children’s lives. Most of it makes sense…you should tell them what to eat, to save their money, to wear nice clothing on Sunday or at a wedding. But a lot of it is also very intrusive. 
We have a neighbor who is the same age as my son. He comes over and plays with my kids. They’ve all developed the same interests together…Rescue Bots, Star Wars, Super Soakers….but he wears a lot of shirts with adult subjects on them, like Duck Dynasty, although when asked he says he doesn’t really like it, or has never seen the show. He once told me, unprompted, that his room is decorated with Avengers but he doesn’t like them, he likes firemen.
Now, of course, knowing kids, he may easily have liked The Avengers at some point and has since moved on to firemen, but he is far from the only child I’ve met whose room has been decorated by his parents. Or the first whose clothing reflects things his parents like. 
And I get it, you want to incorporate your children into family interests, you can’t always let them dress or design exactly what they want….but I think many times parental influence encroaches on allowing children to form their own identity.
While this is somewhat important for your physical surroundings, it is even more important when you get to things like children’s learning. Dr. Roger Hart, the director of the Children’s Environments Research Group in New York, talks about how in school, “a lot of supposedly participatory projects had a distinct air of tokenism. Children were being put on display, so to speak, as though they were actively participating, but they were not taken seriously.” It absolutely drives me bonkers when children who clearly don’t want to are encouraged to perform “tricks”….repeat witty things they said, show off their knowledge, perform some feat for someone. 

While it’s alright if a child enjoys showing off, most don’t, and while it may seem only embarrassing, as Dr. Hart points out, it leads to a mentality of tokinism. Child and childrens things, their interests, what they’re learning in school, become merely a device by which to impress adults and hold no value of their own. As he points out, “A lot of adults are genuinely trying to be helpful, but they don’t maximize a child’s chance to contribute in a way that allows the child to prepare and be confident and give an opinion that is really likely to be listened to. They don’t involve them, because they don’t think the child will contribute anything serious that will really make a difference.”

Hart developed a ladder to demonstrate the levels of children interaction with adults:

You can check out Dr. Hart’s bibliography to read some of his books here.
Now at this point you’re probably all like, “Wait, so decorating my child’s room and asking him to show his grandma how well he can write is demeaning?”
Kinda. Like so many other things, fostering independence has a lot to do with context and individuals. As I said, some children may honestly not care what they wear, so it’s up to parents. However, some may really genuinely care, but yet their opinion is stifled because, “but this shirt is so cute!”
This is really terrific news for parents because it gives us a huge break. The realization that children can actually be competent, have valuable insights and interests, and be capable of controlling their own life to an extent, is enormously freeing. Most Americans tend to have a view that we are already loose and easy with our children and that more discipline is needed, but as Dr. Hart points out, “People think American children already have a lot of voice. I thought the same thing when I first came here. But having rights implies being listened to, as well as speaking, and being taken seriously. Being listened to is even more important than having the freedom to make a lot of noise.” In fact, if children are listened to, they are apt to make less noise.

There’s this really great article on Huffingpost in which a mom, Bunmi Laditan, asserts, “We do not need to make our children’s childhood magical. Childhood is inherently magical, even when it isn’t perfect. My childhood wasn’t perfect and we weren’t rich by any stretch of the imagination, but my birthdays were still happy because my friends came over. It wasn’t about the party bags, perfect decorations, or any of that. We popped balloons, ran around in the backyard, and we had cake. Simple. But when I look back on those times, they were magical.”

The era of pinterest and helicopter parenting has given us the erroneous assumption that adults are better at everything, even play. But play, while something that can be enjoyed by adults, belongs in the realm and control of children. Allowing children to develop their own personalities and independent sense of self is what leads to those “magical moments” Laditan talks about. We do not need to make our children’s lives magical. We just need to stand back and allow them to create the magic themselves.

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