My 5-year-old outgrew his sneakers just in time for Kindergarten. Time to go shoe shopping! Now, we’ve always said all colors are for everyone and supported a variety of toys and clothes. But when he said he wanted yellow and purple shoes, I hesitated. I knew I could find yellow and purple shoes but I was worried about getting them for him because they’d likely be from the “girl” section. When he was younger I wouldn’t have been as concerned but he’s headed to public school and I’m afraid of him being picked on for wearing “girl” shoes.
I don’t like the genderization of kid stuff and I want to support that changing but, the thing is, I was bullied as a child. Kids picked on me for a variety of things, among them what I liked to wear, and it took me years to recover my self-esteem. As a parent, we want to protect our children from pain both physical and emotional. We want to keep them from going through the hard things we went through and give them the benefit of our experiences. We work hard to do this, sometimes sacrificing ourselves, our values and our goals in this endeavor.
The more I think about this, the more I realize how ineffective it is. My kids are going to have their own trials and tribulations no matter what I do. They have their own life lessons to learn and I can’t stop that, nor would I want to when I really think about it. Also, they may appreciate all I given up for them when they’re older but what will really stick with them subconsciously is how I engage with the world.
So, what CAN I do to help them through life? Instead of protecting them from challenges, I can give them tools to engage challenges through my living example. I can talk to them and help them think critically and feel consciously to make loving choices for themselves, rather than choices made from fear.
It’s not easy to make this shift in approach because our current social mentality is very sacrifice focused, which is also likely what we grew up with. The three key things you need, if you want to make the shift are:
Know your values. What is really important to you in life?
Two of my values are authenticity and family.
Be aware of how you are living these values and where you are in conflict.
My value of authenticity leads me to want to show up true to myself and encourage others to do the same but my value of family leads me to want to take care of my family. These initially felt in very much in conflict when thinking that encouraging my son to be himself would put him in harm’s way but not to do so would be untrue to supporting him showing up authentically.
Take a moment to consider how you can honor these conflicting values at the same time.
I can’t stop people from picking on my son. If it’s not shoes, it’ll be something else. So caring for my son is actually supporting him being himself and helping him process the situations that arise as well as modeling self-confidence. (Not to mention, when I think about it, I’d actually rather my son learn how to handle other’s criticisms now, when he’s willing to look to me for support!)
I ordered the shoes and sat him down to talk. “You know some people will say these are girl shoes.” His response was “That’s not fair!” I said, “I know. But they may. So, what will you do if that happens?” He tells me “I’ll just ignore them.” (Mommy win! Now on to Kindergarten…)