Do you encourage your children to think for themselves? Be unique? Not follow the crowd?
How much of your own parenting advice do you actually follow?
This is the subject of today’s thought-provoking post by Nina Badzin, whose writing I have always enjoyed. The first Nina post I read was about her putting her foot down and not enrolling her kids in too many activities. I loved that post because it resonated with my own parenting philosophies. Read Nina’s perspective on teaching our kids to be unique…and the inevitable questions that follow.
I constantly say to my kids “be yourself,” or some other version of that advice. Don’t worry what other kids are doing. Who cares if you’re the only one? I must invoke this “celebrate your individuality” message at least once a day. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s working.
This week my 8-year-old son told me he wouldn’t read the Nate the Great books I got from the library. Why? “Nobody in my class is reading those,” he said. The next morning, my 5-year-old daughter, who constantly fights me on getting her hair out of her face, asked me to give her pig-tails because that was how two other girls from her class had started wearing their hair the previous week.
“It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing,” I said. But then I had to look in the mirror. I mean I literally had to look in the mirror because we were in the bathroom doing her hair. I winced as I realized I was wearing what has become something of a uniform for me and plenty other women my age: some sort of Lululemon frock.
Do I, giver of the never-ending advice on “being yourself,” know how to be an individual?
In the important, deeper sense, I think that I do. Being a blogger breeds a sense of individuality by forcing me to assert my point of view on everything from why I think kids should learn to call adults Mr. and Mrs. to non-parenting topics like why I don’t trust most online book reviews, and why I think all the thanking people do on Twitter is not only annoying, but disingenuous.
I can be opinionated, and my opinion is not always popular. In other words, yes, many of the choices I make give me the right to say to my kids, “Be yourself.” But my consumer choices? Not so much. I suspect that almost every item I ever “had to” own bears a shameful resemblance to what every other girl growing up in Highland Park, Illinois in the 80s and early 90s coveted during those years.
I thought it might be fun to reminisce. The list below is (sadly) only a sliver of what I desperately wanted.
7th grade: Wig Wam socks, Farlow jeans, Colors of Benetton perfume
8th grade: Clinique makeup
9th grade: Oversized flannel shirts from The Gap
10th grade: Coach purses
11th grade: Kate Spade purses (It was a fancy suburb!)
12th grade: Bobbi Brown and MAC makeup
College: black pants, Steve Madden shoes with chunky heels
Post-College (around 2000): Juicy sweat suits, absurdly priced denim, Uggs
I could easily continue that list right up to today, but I won’t because it would embarrass all of us. Really, think about all things you want now. I’m talking about types of cars, computers, phones, even certain clothes and other items for yourself or the kids. Why do we want those specific brands?
And we can’t let ourselves off the hook just because we don’t always get the brand name stuff. The hottest items at Target and elsewhere are knockoffs of the same styles. I bought a bright pink “Lululemon-esque” top at Target the other day and was full of lots of self-congratulation for the “bargain” until I saw three other people wearing the same top in the same color the next day.
Why do we all want to look the same?
On one hand, I’m completely horrified that my adult consumer habits are no different from the ones I had in junior high. On the other hand, going far out of my way to establish a unique sense of style as some sort of “I’m an individual” statement feels painfully time-consuming. I have neither the interest in fashion nor the time to scour the town and the internet for items that reflect “me.”
So friends and friends of Gigi, knowing how some of my choices are easily swayed by what everyone else is doing, how do I teach my kids to think for themselves? And am I the only one who remembers the stuff I “had to” own way back when?
Nina Badzin is a writer and blogger living in Minneapolis with her husband and four children. You can find her blogging and tweeting about writing, reading, parenting, and more at NinaBadzin.com,Twitter at @NinaBadzin,and on Facebook.