Friday, October 25, 2013

Create Space for Growth, Change, and Trying New Things

One of the members of the Brave Girl Alliance Advisory Board is the website "Princess Free Zone." And while this mom's heart is in the right place, supporting her daughter who wanted to be like dad by writing a book about a super hero girl who wears a tool belt and takes on bullies, my girls grimaced at the title of her website. We are aiming for inclusion, not exclusion, and if you want to end bullying the most effective solution is creating a sense of community. The blog posts on the No Princess Zone speak to inclusion and acceptance, and yet the over all message is that it's really better if you aren't a princess.

I was discussing this with my daughter's boyfriend and he made the observation that while it's great to support your kids just the way they are, there can be a danger in becoming overly invested in who they are when they are very little, because kids' preferences change. He pointed out that he wore more "girls clothes" than "boy clothes" when he was little, including dresses, up until he was somewhere around the age of 8. He now prefers t-shirts and jeans.

It's awesome to support our kids in being who they are, but we also need to be open to change. We must guard against pigeon-holing them or putting them in a box and then resenting them or getting upset when they want to paint their box a different color.

If we as parents embrace who our children with enthusiasm that's great! But we also need to let them know that we are open to them changing their opinion or opting for some new definition of self. If the daughter of the Princess Free Zone mom hears message after message about how she shouldn't be a princess, if her mom makes it really clear that princesses and the color pink are not as desirable, or are down right despicable, what happens if one day she decides she wants to wear a tiara? Is she going to say that out loud or is she going to keep that to herself because it doesn't fit with her mother's highly publicized view of who her daughter is and what is best for little girls?

One of my daughters loves the color blue, is athletically gifted, and enjoyed playing with blocks and kinesthetic activities when she was young. Fortunately, as parents, we didn't label our daughter a tomboy, or try to define who she would grow up to be by how she dressed and what her interests were before the age of 11. Even though her sister made her play the boy roles during dramatic play when she was small, she has grown up to be very feminine. As a teen, she has given up soccer for dance and musical theater. She still loves the color blue, but she also wears pink and many other colors. She exclaimed, "This is my toy store!" when we walked into Tiffany's while visiting New York City. She wore a tiara when we went to see Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway. She is a living princess, and she's fierce, smart, and capable of attending 7 hours of musical theater rehearsal without complaining.

People change. Our children, who are new to this world, constantly learning new things and making new discoveries, may try on many different styles, activities, and interests. Some kids seem to know who they are from birth, pursuing their one true passion with laser like focus. Others need to try many things, dabbling or jumping in with both feet, only to discover the latest passion was a passing interest and then they are on to try something new.

As their partners in exploration, it's important we remember that how our children dress, what they do with their lives, and how they express themselves, is not a reflection of our self-worth as a parent but a reflection of who our child is. We must be secure in ourselves and be their support system as they figure out who they are. This includes accepting that people change. We must try not to paint them into a corner or define them with labels, but give them the freedom to create and embrace their own identity.

This includes their gender identity. We need to let our children explore how they identify, and not get annoyed, frustrated, or generally be obnoxious, if they change how they identify. Some people seem to be "all boy" or "all girl" from birth, but gender isn't binary. And for many people figuring out how they identify, or how they want to express their gender, is a process. This is particularly true if they haven't felt free to be who they are from the start. Gender identity can also become more of a focus as kids explore their gender more fully as they reach puberty. We need to be respectful of that, with all people not just our children. How someone identifies is how they identify, if that changes it changes. No judgement needed, no criticism necessary, we need to accept people as who they are that day, one day at a time.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh Jenna, I love this! I've been thinking about writing something along similar lines. I see how my children change all the time and I also resist the urge to "classify" them - especially when they are so young (but hopefully I will resist for the duration of our relationship!) Really good stuff...

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