Talking Point: Body parts and parenting dilemmas
I think one of the kids has been studying body parts at school. I know this not because she’s brought any home nor because she’s been asking me embarrassing questions at bath time. No, I know this because of a drawing I found left on my desk. It’s a head and shoulders sketch of an unidentified being whose body parts have been carefully labelled.
I love finding drawings like this; they are such a window into a child’s world and understanding. I found this one particularly charming, not only for the quality of the self portrait, but for how it had been labelled.
The girl with no neck
Look closely and you’ll see this being does not have a neck; she has a Buff, one of those multi-function headscarves. It’s strange how it appears to have become a part of her – as much so as eye, head, mouth, teeth and eye ball.
Although maybe that’s not so strange given how attached the kids got to them in Iceland last year. We had five of them and after a long fight over who should have which one, they put them on and rarely took them off, using them as neck warmers, hats, helmet liners, wind protectors, hand-warmers, pillows and iPod protectors. Which I guess is how one comes to see it as a part of oneself.
Is this a part of me or a part of you?
Anyway, this got me thinking about how easy it is to make mistakes about what is and isn’t a part of us. And how as parents we may innocently give our kids things, to keep them warm, which they may come to see as a part of themselves, when in fact they are not. Of course I’m not really talking about a Buff or even an iPod (that’s another story). I’m talking about subtler things, like hobbies and interests, values, attitudes, life goals or even career aspirations. Let me give you some examples.
- Last Sunday one of the kids didn’t want to get up to go and play rugby. I figured he thought it too cold and wanted a lie-in. But was he really trying to tell me rugby is my thing, not his?
- I know as a kid I loved learning instruments and playing music but when I take the kids to band on a Saturday is it because I enjoyed it or because they do?
- I know I’m passionate about biking and big family adventures but do I ask enough if they really want to come, or do they come because I don’t give them an option not to?
Now, I’m no dictator (honest) but that Buff has got me wondering how well I strike the balance between pushing my own agenda and really listening to and pursuing theirs, no matter how ridiculous it may look to me.
To love what you don’t know could be a great adventure
Of course as parents we all try to pass on what we know and love; it’s part of the job and important too. But maybe learning to love what we don’t know and maybe even don’t like is just as important and perhaps a greater adventure.
Of course we have an interest and responsibility to influence, nurture and get kids onto what we think is the right path, but in truth we have no absolute right or power to dictate what that should be. Kids need to live their own lives, chase their own dreams, follow their own passions. And as parents our job is to help them identify them, acquire the skills and confidence to pursue them and then let them free.
Not a bad lesson from a Buff eh? Now, do you think I should get it surgically removed?
How well do you strike the balance between sharing your own passions and encouraging others with theirs? And what should we do about the Buff? Leave it on? Give it a wash? Have it removed?