I vividly remember a disorienting encounter I had when Drew was a baby. He and I were at church, and a young woman I didn't know came over and started talking to him. She clearly knew him and he seemed to recognize her, but I didn't have a clue who she was. How did this complete stranger know my child? It turned out that she was a friend of his nanny's, and that he'd been to visit her with the nanny. But it was an unsettling reminder that, even at six-months-old, he already had a life that didn't include me.
The separation process that starts at birth only accelerates as children get older. As babies become toddlers they begin to discover their own identities, and to assert their wills on those around them. One of Alec's first complete sentences was "I want chocolate milk!" and he continues to practice the "I want" construction as much as possible. And as much as it infuriates me to hear it, my older kids have both used the phrase, "You're not the boss of me!" when they were balking at a particularly onerous request from me or Adam.
As our children grow, the urge to protect them, and even to control them, persists. This is especially apparent in contemporary society. Not only are we more conscious of safety equipment and seatbelts, but we also limit our children's movements much more than in previous generations. I walked to school by myself when I was in second grade, but in many school districts it's now against the rules for elementary age kids to walk or ride their bikes to school without a parent.
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The desire to shelter your child is completely understandable, but at what point does it become unrealistic? At what point does protection turn into insulating your child from the world? A group of parents recently sued a California school district for surveying their children about sex, claiming that they have "the exclusive right to talk to their children about sex." Across the country, fundamentalist Christians are demanding that school districts teach the so-called Intelligent Design theory instead of, or alongside, the Theory of Evolution, and that sex ed classes be confined to scare stories about sexually transmitted diseases and admonitions to remain chaste, rather than providing information about human sexuality and birth control. Many parents, terrified at the prospect of what their children might be exposed to in the public schools, want vouchers so that they can send their children to religious schools, and some parents choose to home school their children to protect them from any contact with alternative points of view (although obviously this isn't the only reason parents choose to home school or send their children to private schools).
Parents should have the majority of the decision making power about their own children. But as a society, we have a vested interest in educating and training children, and in introducing them to different people and ideas. There's something scary about the notion that parents should have the "exclusive right" to talk to their kids about anything. There's something disturbing about the insistence that parents should be able to dictate the exact content of their children's lessons, and that the most narrow-minded parents should set the limits for all the children in a school. These parents want to control, not only their own children, but everyone else's as well, not to mention all the adults who ever come into contact with their children.
Part of parenting *should* be about control.
Children need limits; they need someone to keep them from eating all
twenty pounds of their Halloween candy in one fell swoop and to make them go
to bed before midnight. But parenting is also about
letting go. One of the most important aspects of parenting
is teaching your child to be an independent, responsible adult, and that's
the part that I suspect some parents have forgotten. It's
as if they equate parenting with programming a computer -- they believe that
they can control the inputs so thoroughly that they can then control the
outputs and determine what the adult version of their child will think, feel,
and do. But the measure of your success as a parent isn't
in how well you've indoctrinated your child, it's in how well you've taught
her to think for herself. If you want that much control
over your child, make yourself a puppet. I don't want
Pinocchio; I want a real boy, smart mouth, rebellious streak and all.
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