Today I shared this Offbeat Home article,“On being raised as a ‘small person’ instead of being ‘treated like a child,’” on my Facebook page. I resonated with the ultimate message, about the inherent dignity of children, but after having two texting conversations with moms of young kids, I started to really evaluate and re-evaluate my position on the whole matter.
My Facebook status said, “this is my parenting philosophy. Potamus is a tiny person.” But then I began to reflect, on how some adults treat children like mini adults. That they forget the cognitive and emotional place of being 2 or 3 or 4, and how children do not have the same life experience and/or reasoning of consequence and pre-frontal cortex control and development that adults do. If the teens in my class can’t emotionally regulate, or think about consequences in the future, getting caught up in the moment, then how could I possibly expect a wee toddler to do that? I think there are parents who treat children the same way they would adults, and maybe they think this is giving respect to the children, but expecting a 2 year old to have the same cognitive reasoning or emotional control, is actually detrimental, in my opinion (and I’m sure there could be research out there, but I’m just a wee blogger and not looking for a persuasive argumentative paper).
An example, that I could think of from my own life, was the difficult ‘adult’ decision that was asked of the kids in our family when we were faced with an impending move. I was 12, my brother was 10, and my sister 7. We had been living without my dad for a year. He was home on weekends, but spent the rest of the week three hours away working for a radio station in Eastern Washington. My mom worked an early morning school district job, then came home, got us out the door for school, and then went back to work at another school district job. She was exhausted by 5pm, and I picked up a lot of the slack. While not a little child, I was still a kid, and when posed with the rock and hard place choice of “move to where your dad works,” or “live like this for six more years until you graduate from high school.” At the time the choice seemed ‘easy,’ but the emotional fallout of moving to an entirely new culture and making friends and leaving everything I loved behind. Because we had voted, it felt like there was no room to dislike the choice. I felt stuck, and like if I had voted to stay I would have been making my mom miserable, who was stuck parenting solo. I think if my parent’s had just said, ‘this is what we are going to do,’ I would have been angry with them. I would have lashed out and blamed them and been upset. Instead I swallowed my anger and it sidled into depression.
Then, there are the families that I’ve worked with as a crisis counselor, where the tiny people are treated like friends. Where five year old are privy to impending parental divorce before their other parent is. The teenagers who are crying out for boundaries, but met with the wishy washy bubblegum popping mom who sneaks out to clubs in her daughter’s Silver jeans. The adult thinks they’re respecting the kid by being friend-like, but it puts youth in the position of trying to figure out adulthood without an adult role model.
A few weeks ago I read some commentary about body autonomy, and how when they “have children, we’re not going to force them to do things that their body doesn’t want to do,” and I liked that idea, because doesn’t it feel shitty to have someone bigger than you telling you what to do? Like a boss, or the government, or your parents at Thanksgiving who can’t seem to realize you don’t want more turkey. You know? But here’s the thing, when you’re 3, and you have an ear infection, and you don’t want to take the bubblegum liquid, your parents might have to hold you down, and stick their fingers in your mouth, risk being bitten themselves. You might be sobbing, and saying “no mama, no mama,” but you don’t know about burst eardrums or hearing loss. You don’t understand ‘it’s for your own good,’ because you’re three years old and it just feels like you’re being forced into something you don’t want. And that’s a true story, from the Potamus ear infection files over the last week. Because, my job as a mom is to get him to take his medicine, and wear a coat. I might give a lot of body autonomy and freedom of choice over dinner options (yogurt? peanut butter crackers? blueberries?), but we will absolutely not go outside in sub freezing weather in basketball shorts and a Spiderman tank top.
So after I posted, and texted, I immediately thought “oh shit, I don’t believe that article at all,” and yet…yes I do. Because Potamus is short, he’s still a person, and I treat him like the tiny human he is. But I don’t want him to be a mini-adult, and he’s not my friend, (though sidekick, I’ll allow). He’s aboslutely equal on the soul level, worthy of every human dignity, and yet it’s my role to shephard him toward his own brand of adulthood, and that means letting him be a child, not forcing him to grow up too fast.