“What are you dressing up as for Halloween this year?” the sales-woman asked. Levi looked at her, then me, and walked away. Typically, I gently encourage him to converse with the people talking to him, but in this case, I knew that I would have to answer on his behalf, since he had no idea what she was talking about. In the moment, though, I wasn’t sure how to answer, either.
“Actually, we don’t celebrate Halloween. I despise the holiday, actually, and while I think dressing up little kids in various costumes is cute, I wasn’t planning on doing it with my children this year.” I wasn’t sure if I should go ahead and divulge this information on the unassuming woman, and I had a split second to decide. Under the stress of the social conventions of it all, I quickly made up some lame story about how I had been so busy planning on vacation, I hadn’t bothered to plan for Halloween, all the while feeling a bit convicted for my white lie.
I just didn’t want to go into it with some well-intending stranger at a store.
This sort of thing has happened before; that people asked Levi questions he couldn’t answer, questions based on the assumption that our little family is completely immersed-in and well-versed on American culture. Like the man who asked if had been a good boy and was expecting any great gifts from Santa. Or the woman who asked Levi if he preferred Big Bird or Elmo. Or the kindhearted stranger that asked him if he enjoyed going to preschool and playing with other boys and girls. It’s all rooted in assumptions.
This has happened with me, too, as a grown adult. People have asked me where I am currently employed, which hospital I had my babies in, when I chose to sleep-train my children, and when did they finally wean? All of those questions require a, “Well, actually…”
It is amazing to me the unquestioned expectations placed on both parents and children, expectations that are established in a culture that I find I’m continually straying from.
I Guess We’re Counter-Cultural?
I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a black-sheep, but I’m finding I might be one, at least when it comes to American culture. There are a lot of things we do differently than “everyone else.” And I’m finding that to be more and more true every day.
I hope I don’t come off as a Christian-bubble-weirdo who labels everything that’s not sacred as “pagan” and shuns fun-filled traditions like trick-or-treating so I can pat myself on the back for being ultra-righteous. Or that I come off as a have-it-all-together, naturalist Mama who condemns common parenting practices from my high horse. Dear, Lord, I pray that I don’t.
I just have my own values system, and I assess and make decisions for myself and our family based off of those values. And a lot of those values deviate from American values. So, yeah, I guess we’re living counter-culturally.
I shouldn’t be entirely surprised that I’m not fitting in with the crowd. There are a lot of aspects of popular American culture I am critical and wary of, especially in light of my personal convictions and life experience. Things like ceaseless entertainment, technology, the glorification of violence, the thrill of fear, overt sexuality, materialism, unhealthy independence, obsessive use of social media, gluttony, greed, workaholism, self-medicating with substances, wastefulness, and, perhaps that which is central to all American values, the pursuit of pleasure. These things frighten me, now more than ever, since I am trying to raise two little ones in this crazy world.
I’m not saying that all American values are awful. I do think they need to be evaluated, though, especially knowing that our children are little sponges, soaking up everything, even things we didn’t intend for them to.
I guess what I’m saying is, it is helpful for all of us to stop and think: What do we, as a family, value? What do I want my children to value? Who do I want them to be? Then, it’s a lot easier to make decisions about how, and with what or whom, we encourage them to spend their time. It will also determine how we, as parents, spend our time, too.
It’s Ok to be Different
For us, Halloween (or at least, how I perceive it) doesn’t fit into our family values.
Are my kids going to feel like they missed out on life because they weren’t given the chance to go trick-or treating or believe in Santa or watch gobs of TV or get to ride on a school bus every day?
I don’t know. Maybe. I hope not. But I don’t know.
What I do know is for now, I get to make decisions about their lives. At some point, as they grow and mature, they will be given the chance to make their own decisions, to make their own assessments. If they have children some day, they may choose to parent them differently based off of their own experience. And that’s their right.
For now, though, it’s my right to make decisions in their best interests. And I am following my own values and convictions about what I think is best for them.
Is Disagreeing Judging?
So what about when my parenting decisions differ from yours? Does that mean that I judge you?
Well, that’s a complicated question. I’d love to say with complete confidence, “No! Of course not! You do you!” But there are times when I do pass judgement on other parents. I can’t lie. I try very hard not to, and have found that most of the times feelings of judgement stew in my heart, it’s a result of my own insecurity more than anything else. It’s my own feelings of inadequacy that make me want to roll my eyes and think, “I can’t believe they do that.” And I have to watch that. We all do.
I will say this: Kevin and I do things a certain way because we feel passionately about it. We have thought through our decisions, even changed our decisions, because of what we believe (not anyone else) to be best for our family.
Each family has a different values system, situation, set of convictions, and beliefs. So it’s no surprise that people are going to parent differently.
Are people going to disagree from time to time on how to best parent? Yes, of course! But we have to remember that we don’t have the right to assume that we know what’s best for another family.
The best way to avoid judging others, I believe, is to be secure in our own parenting decisions. That doesn’t require comparison to anyone else; it only requires comparing our decisions to our own values.
Maybe I should have been more open with the store clerk, in a transparent, yet respectful way. Maybe I could have engaged in a meaningful dialogue with her. Maybe I would have opened up about the horrific memories I had from helping my grandmother hand out peanut-butter crackers to ghouls and vampires as a six-year old. Maybe I would have opened up about my fear of fear, how I don’t appreciate anything that glorifies being afraid. Maybe I would have told her a little bit about our family values and how we hoped to provide other meaningful memories with my kids. Maybe I would have learned about her family and their Halloween traditions and about their love for the holiday. Maybe we could have had a judgement-free, interesting conversation about what matters to us.
In any case, I can’t be ashamed of our family’s choices, even if they are a little counter-cultural.
And you, dear reader. Be confident in your own parenting decisions, be secure in your own values. Don’t allow others’ assumptions or opinions put you in a place of doubt. Other people may disagree with you, may judge you, but only you know what’s best for you and your family. And when you feel put in a box, don’t be afraid to smile and offer, with respectful transparently, “Actually…”