It can be tough not being like everyone else when you’re a kid. Some kids seem to easily embrace their difference, but most want to just blend in. I remember as a kid not having the brand name clothes that everyone was wearing–Keds shoes, Champion sweatshirts, etc. Money, or lack thereof, was the reason for that. We bought everything we could generic, and at the discount stores. We also didn’t have cable until I was well into my teens, didn’t watch shows my parents didn’t approve of, didn’t sleep in until mid-afternoon, and got grounded if we talked back. We were different, and a lot of times, I hated it.
Now that I’m raising a family of my own, I get the feeling of not wanting to be different, especially when my child already has so many ways he stands out of the crowd. He is bi-racial in a mostly-White area. He is being adopted from foster care. He moved to this town only a year ago. His mom’s single and a pastor.
However, I still think it’s important to establish and maintain family values. My son doesn’t wear many name brands. I shop mostly at thrift stores and places like Target (but not Wal-Mart, ever). Partly this is due to money, but it’s also due to the fact that in most cases, I think buying big name brands is paying extra for their advertising and their executives. They certainly don’t give that extra money to the people making their products. Buying used is also more environmentally friendly. The reasons continue, and I try to explain them to my son, rather than just make a flat “I’m not buying you Nike shoes, end of story” statement (disclaimer: I did just buy him Nike basketball shoes).
This subject is on my mind because E and I recently had an argument which reflected this tug-of-war parents can have when their values don’t mesh with those of the majority. E had made a Christmas list, and put it in an envelope to mail. I told him that we weren’t mailing it to anyone, and that I needed to see it, not only so I could share with my parents, sisters, his bio mom, etc but so I had some ideas for myself! He told me he had written a list specifically for his bio mom. Remembering some previous comments he made, I told him he couldn’t ask for expensive or big items just to “make her pay” for her past mis-steps. He replied that wasn’t it, but he was asking for something he knew our family wouldn’t buy him.
A video game system.
Not long after E moved in, I bought a Wii. I went with the Wii for two reasons. First, it made it possible to stream Netflix, so we could watch movies and seasons of tv shows together. Second, many of the games require the player to be up and moving around. However, we only have a few games, and we actually don’t use it that much (especially since we now have a “smart” Blu-ray player which streams Netflix). All his friends have Xboxes. They bring them when they come over to hang out here. E wants one too.
I told him he couldn’t ask for a gaming system. He didn’t like that. I knew he wouldn’t, but this is one of those things where I seem to divert from other parents. I am just not a fan of playing video games, even if we exclude the really violent ones (which, bless his heart, E did ask permission for his friends to play at our house–he knows how anti-violence I am). There are so many other things to do besides sit for hours in front of the television with a game. Read. Play outside. Practice an instrument. Write a story. Play a board game. Learn a new skill. But if the choice is between any of those things and the video game system, guess which one will win?
I’m not sure why some parents seem to feel like they don’t have choices when it comes to things like this. “That’s all they’ll wear.” “They spend hours on the computer.” “They don’t like this, that, and the other thing.”
I AM THE PARENT. I am the one who sets the values for our family, and it’s ok to set limits that my kid doesn’t see as fair. I tell E that when he is an adult and on his own, he can decide to have a tv in his room, to buy a video game system, to spend his money however he sees fit.
I try in my own head to frame decisions around our value system. I think what I might even do is sit down with E and write out some of our values, so we can refer to them when needed. Here are some of the things I can think of off the top of my head:
-We value good, healthy, local and organic food
-We value time spent doing things together
-We value gratitude and generosity
-We value sleep (no, seriously–early bedtimes in our house, and it makes a HUGE difference)
-We value having animals in our home
-We value learning
-We value our faith and our church
-We value living “green”
These values affect the decisions we make, from how we spend our time and money to what we eat for breakfast. I find it helpful to do a little reflection and examination of myself and our family every once in a while. What are our values, again? How are they prioritized? And, most importantly, Does reality match? If not, what needs to shift so that we are living the way we want to?
I think I’m going to take the next month doing that examination, and involving E as well, especially since, at 13, he is rapidly heading towards the time when he will have to decide and live out his values for himself. Then, when 2014 arrives, we’ll be ready to celebrate our accomplishments and make a change or two to shift ourselves closer to where we want to be.