How Much of Our Beliefs Should We Give Kids?
We may never understand if we’ve done right by our kids.
Last week, a small cardboard tube showed up at my house. It was the latest in a series of deliveries sparked by some remodeling and decorating in my home. I knew what it was and let it sit on the dining room table for a day or two.
My teenage daughter, ever the curious being, wandered over to it, picked it up, and asked, “What’s this?” I told her it was a new print for the large wall in the living room.
There’s no way she was going to let that sit so she carefully opened it and unrolled the colorful picture inside. “Nope. This is mine,” she said, as she started walking back to her room grabbing the matching frame on the way.
An hour later, I walked by her room where she was giggling and trying to focus on a Zoom call for her AP World History class.
The picture was perfect against her dark, navy blue wall. A simple, colorful image of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, distinguishable by the justice’s iconic black-rimmed glasses and dissent collar.
It made me happy. It wasn’t just that my teenager was well aware of who the Supreme Court Justice was but that she shared her mother’s understanding and appreciation of exactly how important she is in the lives of women.
I’ve raised my daughter to think for herself even when it scared the hell out of me. Her decisions are her own and I’ve always felt it was my job to teach her how to make good ones. When she decided, as the district middle school long jump champion, to join the softball team with the worst record in the state instead of the track team with the best, I know it was a mistake but I let her make it anyway.
I know I’m lucky if that was the most trying moment of motherhood for me. Many parents are faced with excruciating times that try every fiber of their being. She’s an easy kid and always has been.
The best and the worst part of raising my daughter has been that I gave birth to a carbon copy of myself. She’s goofy, stubborn, headstrong, and procrastinates more than a person should. The cat box I asked her to clean out on Sunday is still a mess.
I’ve called my mother numerous times and apologized for having to raise me as a teenager because I have to do it every day and the teenage version of me can be annoying as hell. My mother agrees on this point.
My ex-husband and I are very different people. Inherently, we believe in the same principles in life: treat people well, love when you can, speak kindly often and firmly when it’s called for, apologize and give what’s possible. When you get into the details, it’s very different.
He goes to church and gave his stimulus check to the congregation. I abhor organized religion. His voter card says one thing, mine says another. At his house, Saturday afternoons have called for John Denver. I’ve been known to wake my daughter up with Waylon Jenning and Willie Nelson warning mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys.
My daughter's ideologies mirror mine. She believes in social justice, attended the Women’s March, and mourned with me when Elizabeth Warren dropped out of the presidential race.
When I look in her room and see that picture with the white letters under it spelling out “RUTH,” I wonder if that’s because of me. I don’t mean that in order to take credit for my daughter’s belief system but to question it. Have I imposed my beliefs on her? Is it a discredit to her dad that she doesn’t want to go to church anymore?
I want her to be a free thinker because I believe in the Atticus Finch adage that the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
But, how would I feel if that free thought resulted in a Trump-Pence flag in her room instead of a rainbow flag with her name painted on it? To be very honest, I would struggle with that in much the same way that her dad may have struggled with her “Nevertheless, She Persisted” necklace.
My concern grows from whether she bought that necklace because the message really means something to her or because she overheard her mom in the living phone banking support for Warren and pictures of the candidate’s local headquarters were emblazoned on my social media pages.
I had to explain the context of the quote she wore after she bought the necklace. She didn’t know. She just liked it.
I’ve always taken the stance that hate is indoctrinated. It’s taught. It infuriates me when I see kids standing in a crowd holding signs admonishing same-sex marriage. I have held that these kids are fed limiting ideas based in fear and shame. I can’t abide that.
Then there’s the picture in my daughter’s Instagram feed of her with a sign at the Women’s March urging people to protect women’s reproductive rights over gun owner’s rights.
I am certain there are plenty of people that would look at that and tell me that I’ve indoctrinated my child in the same manner. How dare I instill in my daughter a woman’s right to choose instead of honoring a life at any stage and at all costs? I’m sure there would be judgment of me as a mother.
I don’t have the answers. I just hope I’ve done what I can. I’ve been honest with who I am and what I believe. She knows and understands the core of me. She may not completely understand why I believe what I do because I believe in boundaries and there are things she doesn't need to know about her mother’s life. Yet. Maybe years from now we can have those discussions.
I am going to continue to let her shape her mindset and I hope her dad understands. I don’t think either of us could have created a mold for her. She had to do it on her own. In the end, she grew to be more in line with her mom. I’d love her just as much if she were a mirror image of her dad.
I like to think who she is is just inherently how she’s wired. There’s only so much someone can do. When she was born, she was born with her mother’s empathetic and tender heart. I don’t want to break that heart by telling her how she thinks is wrong. I just want to let her be.