We all want to be woke. Especially parents.
We all want to raise our kids with the right values, free from any of society’s toxic baggage, aware of the systemic inequalities and inherent biases that are afforded to certain people for no reasons besides genetic makeup and the circumstances of their birth.
We all want to raise individuals. But what if our kids are stereotypes?
I’ve written a bunch of posts about gender inequality and feminism and how I want to raise my sons to not only respect and accept women and LGBTQ people as their equals, but also to avoid falling into the unnecessary gender-oriented boxes and lanes society has mapped out for them.
I want them to like pink if they like pink, and to play dress up and wear makeup if they want to. I truly don’t care, so long as it makes them happy and they’re not harming anyone else. But so far my 7-year-old is thwarting my plans. So far, he’s definitely a boy’s boy. And that’s fine.
When kids are young, they are influenced by a variety of factors. Their home environment and the dominant presence of their parents are probably the strongest initial elements; they live with us, and they can’t help but mirror the things we do and absorb the things we expose them to. My oldest is seven and I still have a large impact on the way he speaks – sarcasm city! – and the pop culture he has access to.
But soon enough, their world expands. They start watching TV and have favorite movies and TV shows and music of their own, and when they start going to school, their peers start to have a role in the things they like and don’t like. Peer pressure is a thing, whether it’s just a passive awareness of what everyone else is into or actual judgment from other kids for not liking the same stuff, and that influence from their demographic only grows as they do, and as they spend more time with their peers and less time with their parents.
All that said, sometimes it can be easy to minimize the role their natural personalities and proclivities play in the name of awareness and tolerance.
I’m trying not to influence my son one way or the other. As I said in an old post: “It’s not our job as parents to decide who our son will be; it’s our job to help him become the best version of that person.” I’m not going to force him to do things he doesn’t want to do. But I do want to expose him to those things, and help him understand that he needn’t obey arbitrary rules about who interests and activities belong to. He can like the color pink, he can enjoy dancing.
Nothing is only for girls or only for boys; he’s free to explore anything he wants! And if he honestly doesn’t like those things, that’s fine too.
No matter in which direction his identity evolves, I want him to keep an open mind. I want him to understand that the colors you like, or the activities enjoy, don’t define your masculinity or lack thereof. There are myriad ways to be a man, and to be a boy, but there is only one way for him to be himself, and that’s by being true to his own identity, society’s expectations be damned!
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to grow up to be a guy who likes cross-stitching and My Little Pony and ballet. It might mean he loves football and mosh pits and tough mudder runs. It probably lies somewhere in the middle – in reality, it lies somewhere in the middle for almost everyone – but the point is neither for Mom and Buried and I to make my son into a man’s man nor to force him to subvert those stereotypes in the other direction, no matter how good our intentions.
The point is for him to discover who he is, and if that person ends up embodying macho stereotypes, so be it. Just so long as he understands that no one can dictate his or anyone else’s identity, and to accept other people for who they are, no matter how far afield from – or exactly in line with – gender stereotypes they may be.
It’s all well and good to strive to be enlightened and accepting and “woke,” but we have to be careful that in our aggressive efforts to escape discrimination and intolerance we don’t end up imposing limitations of our own.
Let’s let our kids be themselves, whether they love Star Wars and the color pink or prefer Disney’s The Descendants and poop jokes. Sometimes forcing someone outside of a box can be just as confining.