Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Odd Kid (and Parent) Out

“How come we don’t have cable TV?”
“Why won’t you buy Doritos?”
“How come I can’t have a game system?”
These questions are most commonly followed by, “Everyone else has them!” and sometimes, “Why do you have to be so weird?”

I’ve given up imparting my reasoning for all of these parental decisions, because my kids have heard it before and all it elicits is groans and eye rolls.

My husband had a conversation with my daughter this weekend that led to the unveiling of a reason even more compelling than my desire for my kids to grow up physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. To my mind, these are perfectly logical reasons for cleaning the cupboards of junk food and not allowing someone else’s idea of “entertainment” in to my home, but to my children they are simply more evidence of my questionable mental state.

This weekend, frustrated by the snack and entertainment options, my daughter cut to the chase and asked, “Why do we always have to be so different?” My brilliant husband replied, “Do you want to be like everyone else?”

First off, my daughter is not like other kids for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with our diet or media habits. She is a strong, beautiful, independently minded, creative soul. Even if we lived on lunchables and streamed non-stop Southpark, she would still stand out amongst her peers. Of course she replied, “I don’t want to be like everyone else.”

To which my husband retorted, “We don’t want to be like all the other parents either.” This was a more rational reason in my daughter’s heart than “we want you to eat healthy and avoid watching mindless and overly violent programming.”

Parenting, for most of us, is swimming in unfamiliar and occasionally shark-infested waters. We do the best we can. Sometimes that means doing “what everyone else is doing.” If most other parents are doing it, then it must be okay. In such an instance, I recently caught myself asking my kids, “Do the other parents visit the Middle School during American Education Week?” instead of deciding for myself whether I needed to watch my kids and their teachers in action.

Many of the kids in my son’s fifth grade class already have cell phones. He, rightfully, believes he should have one too. I can’t imagine giving a cellphone to a fifth grader, never mind that there’s no room in our budget for it. But that’s what everyone else is doing, so it’s tempting. My three kids share the “kid cell phone” which has a limited data plan that prohibits any unnecessary surfing, but allows unlimited calls and texts.

I’ve heard tales about the content of texts between teens, but found that the threat of your siblings reading everything you write, keeps unsavory texts to a minimum.

Don’t get me wrong – I know it isn’t easy being an Achterberg in 2013. It’s hard to watch your friends with all their cool devices and it’s frustrating to be left out of the conversations that center around what was on TV last night. My kids are at a definite disadvantage when they are handed a wii remote. I have momentary panic attacks when I worry that I’m setting my kids up to be ostracized, left out, or worse yet, picked on. I truly do.

But I also believe that my kids have a well of creativity that runs deep because they haven’t had the opportunity to watch unlimited television or play endless video games. I believe they are capable of entertaining themselves when the power goes out or their bank account is empty. As a parent you have to hedge your bets. I’m betting on my kids.

Back to the question at hand – “Why do we always have to be so different?” Because being like everyone else is boring. It’s uncreative and hollow. I may be depriving my kids of things that they should rightfully have as children of this century, but I’m modeling something powerful. I’m showing them that there is no reason that they have to be like everyone else.

My kids might cringe when I explain to a new guest that we don’t use paper napkins at this house, we use cloth even when it’s not a special occasion because we don’t want to waste trees. They might be even more embarrassed when they pull out the homemade hot dog rolls or organic ketchup. But they know, beyond a shadow of anyone’s doubt, that their parents are being true to their beliefs and not doing anything “because everyone else does it.”

In my limited view, there is already too much of that going around. For all our American ideals of independence and self-reliance, we are very much sheep. I hope that someday the only thing my kids ever do “because everyone else does it” is be kind and considerate. Wouldn’t that be an awesome trend to follow?

And someday when my children are sitting in therapy complaining about the homemade yogurt and their mother’s refusal to buy Mortal Combat, they’ll also recall that their parents weren’t afraid to be different. In fact, they seemed to like it.   

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