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Monday, June 28, 2010

But all the cool kids are doing it

Last week I read a post from Becca at Drama For Mama about fitting in.  Her five-year-old daughter, Hannah, wanted to paint her nails.  Not only because she thought it looked pretty, but because all of the other girls in her class had their nails painted and she wanted to fit in.

This post really struck me because my own daughter, Miss M, is the same age as Hannah and it bothered me that a girl at the ripe young age of five was already worried about fitting in.  To me, she shouldn't be thinking about that for at least another five years.  She should just be a kid.  No worries, no self-esteem or self-image issues.  Just be a kid.  It certainly doesn't last long.  Becca's post stayed on my mind for a few days, and I wondered if I should bring it up with Miss M.  She is already somewhat mindful of the fact that she is different, because of her disability and the braces she wears on her feet.  I was curious if she felt that way about anything else.  Or if she had ever asked me to do or wear something just because other kids were? 

Then something hit me.  I brought Miss M to daycare on Friday morning and the other children were playing outside in the yard.  The temperature was still a bit cool, so I told Miss M that she should put a sweater on.

No, Mommy, I don't want to.

Yes, Hunny.  I don't want you to be cold.

I'm fine, Mommy.  I don't want it.

But why not?

Look, she said as she pointed outside to the other kids.  Nobody else is wearing one and I don't want to be the only person wearing a sweater!

Wow.  At that moment, I realized it was my fault.  I was worried if she ever felt like she had to fit in, and of course she had.  I had taught her.  I thought back to all of the times when she didn't want to zip her coat, wear a hat, put on sunscreen, etc.  What did I say to convince her?  Look!  All your friends are doing it.  You should too.  Ick.  It wasn't a good feeling.

I told Miss M that it didn't matter if the other kids were wearing sweaters or not, but she convinced me that she wasn't cold.  I decided not to push the issue and left the sweater on a nearby hook, just in case.  I gave her a kiss and said goodbye, and I thought about my past actions all the way to work.  Had I messed up?  Made her second-guess herself?  Made her want to fit in with the other children?

I have decided to let it go.  I will now think twice about what I'm saying as I convince her to do something, but I don't think I will have a conversation with her about it.  She is a very independent little girl, capable of making decisions for herself.  If she brings it up (like Becca's daughter did), then I will talk to her about it.  I think as parents, many of us get desperate and say things that perhaps we shouldn't when trying to talk our children into doing what's best for them.  Miss M is a confident, well-adjusted little girl so I am not going to beat myself up about it anymore. 

This whole "fitting in" thing just really got me thinking.  I have seen a hint of it now, and I'm sure I'll see plenty more as she starts kindergarten in September.  I just hope she holds onto more of my positive reinforcements than my do it because your friends are doing it demands.


  1. Oh wow... I never thought about those times I used others to persuade my kids to do something. Peer pressure, in the parental form... yikes.
    But thank you for pointing this out. Honestly.

  2. I hadn't thought of it that way, either. "Peer pressure, in the parental form" - that's exactly what it is! Oops.

  3. I cringe when I think of things I've said to encourage my little Emily to do things. I like your perspective. There really is nothing you can do about the past, you know? And, as you mentioned, it might be worth noting if your daughter was not well adjusted.

  4. Good point. I think every parent has used this technique at least occasionally, and you're right, it is something to try to avoid. If we want to raise independent thinkers, then we need to allow our kids to think for themselves.

  5. Oh no! I NEVER thought of that. I am as guilty of using friends as an excuse as you. I'm always telling Carter that he should because "so and so" did. I never considered the implications before you just pointed them out here. Such a good point.

    I would imagine your hurdles (for that matter mine too) are only just starting in this dept. It's a catch 22, you don't want them to have to fit in but you also don't want to see them suffering or feeling uncomfortable because they don't. I recently told Jay that I wouldn't ever send Carter to school in clothes that made him feel weird or "not cool". I remember only too well how hard that was for me. But I suppose in thinking that way I'm enabling. Sigh...this parenting gig is so hard.

  6. I think that we do model behavior and have to watch the whole "EVERYONE else is" (since it quickly turns to "if EVERYONE jumped off a bridge, would you?") but I also think that wanting to fit in is much more inherit.

    However, I'm going to be more mindful of my words too.

    So I'm doing both. And agree with you. But it's late and I seem to have lost the ability to explain this coherently. I'm sorry.

  7. Wow, Shannon. This post was a total eye-opener for me too. My older son is only two, but I have already used the "your friends are..." rationale many times.

    This is one of the things I love most about blogging. By sharing our own adventures in parenting - honestly and authentically - we really do inspire and help each other. So thanks to you for your inspiration today!

  8. I missed your Five for Ten "Courage" post but just clicked over. Your daughter sounds wonderful. She seems smart, confident, and thoughtful and certainly one to think twice about her actions. Parenting is so tough! Like you, I worry about the repercussions of what I say and hope my daughter understands my good intentions.

  9. Aw, thanks so much, Stacia! I really appreciate it. Yes, parenting is a tough gig but oh-so rewarding too! I would have replied by email, but didn't have your address. Thanks again!

  10. I feel parenting is hard when it comes to my four year old daughter. She takes everything so literally, so I have to remind myself to be careful how I phrase things. Coupled with this literal sense is her ability to remember everything.

    It is certainly tough, the choices we make and how it shapes our children's decisions. Like Stacia says, you hope that they know it is coming from a good place.