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.