au·ton·o·my - (n) freedom from external control or influence; independence.
synonyms: self-government, self-rule, home rule, self-determination, independence, sovereignty, freedom
I have always tried to be the loudest advocate for my child. All three of them. But within that philosophy was always the understanding between my husband and myself that we would raise them to advocate for themselves. Speak for themselves, ask their own questions, make their own decisions, and suffer the related consequences. For Scootch, this was easy. Him having food allergies makes teaching points a simple requirement of everyday life. Asking questions about food, sharing with adults that he has allergies, asking for help from others to check about the safety of what he was eating...I have to say in some ways he is the most confident of the three in regards of his own body. This is a more complicated hurdle with Monkey. Having to explain the subtle double standards expected of her is not an easy task. Nor is it pleasant to deal with her response to such conversations. She’s as loud spoken as her Mom, in that respect. But most important, we hope that the message they take away is that their body is their own. Not only does that mean that they are responsible for their body in terms of how it affects others, but also that no other person should be affecting their own body in an unwanted way if it doesn’t feel right to them. Whether its about how they dress, or the colors they like, how they paint their nails, or wear their hair, I'm hoping that giving them the freedom of body autonomy from an early age will strengthen their defenses against the poisonous influence of peer pressure and bullying in the future.
The most surprising effect of this process is not the reactions from my children’s peers, but from the adults. Although I’m sure I probably shouldn’t be surprised. Parenthood is nothing but opening yourself to be a target of criticism, it seems. I see this more and more as my sons go to school with their nails painted, and my daughter brings in bugs she dug up in the garden - to the delight of their peers, and the horror of the parents. No one could believe I never got my daughter’s ears pierced until she let me know she wanted them done at age eight. And similarly, I’ve discussed with Scootch and Little Bear that they have the same option, but both are sincerely not interested. In my thinking its simple; their bodies, their choice.
Over Christmas, my husband decided he wanted to color his hair again. Not a rare occurrence in this household, but novel just the same because of the proposed colors involved. Monkey caught wind of this and announced she wanted to color her hair too. Just the ends, and red for Christmas. The ensuing Daddy/daughter bonding was sweet to see. The two of them combing the beauty supply store for supplies, negotiating about the perfect color, and the excitement and elation of the actual process. And when the first attempt didn’t work out, I was happy to see Monkey discussing that she wanted to try again, but different this time. Maybe doing the under part of her hair instead of the ends. And more prep work involved so the color would actually stick. We are now the proud parents of a nine year old with a swath of magenta hair at the nape of her neck. And the backlash is ridiculous.
I will never understand how other adults feel their opinion is something that is worth pushing on others if there is no harm being done. In a year or two, the pink will be long gone, and probably cut off. Maybe replaced by purple polka dots, or maybe by a pixie cut. We are teaching our daughter, our children, to love their bodies. Push the boundaries of what they can do, and how they go about it. To express themselves, and feel secure in doing it. The whispered comments, and vitriol are not helpful, and not needed. Monkey and Scootch and Little Bear do not require your approval to feel good about themselves. Neither should they ever feel cowed or ashamed of not living by the so called “acceptable” standards because it makes YOU nervous or uncomfortable. As adults, you should know better, and as a fellow parent, you should be ashamed of trying to bruise the feelings of a child. Over hair. Something that is transient, ever changing, and not even guaranteed to be present throughout your entire life.
In the future, if you have a comment regarding our children’s journey of self discovery, please remember that if you have nothing nice to say, it is better to respect my children's decisions about their own bodies, and say nothing at all.