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Why, yes, you ARE wrecking your kids

November 12, 2011

Suebob and Princess Peanut
One of the wrecked kids, back when she was a little peanut.

Erin (Queen of Spain) wrote a post about getting criticized for letting her children dress themselves for school picture day:

This is important Erin, every family member will have these photos on their mantle or fridge. Don’t you want them to look…you know…normal?

I hate to tell Erin this, but those critics are right. She is wrecking her kids by letting them behave however they like.

We want them to express themselves and know they should feel pride for picking out what makes them…THEM. Not some watered down, matching, scratchy, uncomfy, looked like they stepped out of some catalog version of them their own parents wouldn’t even recognize.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Erin, you’re doing your kids a disservice. They’re never going to fit in to decent society if you let your kids think that their individuality is important. Take a look around. Why do people absolutely freak out if a house is painted orange or purple or bright blue? Because those people don’t FIT IN.

Your primary job as a mother should be to train your children to go along and get along. Then they can make a good amount of money, not cause trouble and be admired by many. They won’t be kicked out of school or march in the streets or ask questions that will get them in trouble with authorities.

When I lived over in the Conejo Valley, I observed the phenomenon of executive wives and thought a lot about those people. These were stay-at-home wives of rich and powerful men, and they were remarkably uniform.

They had a style that was completely artificial, but had to appear natural. It also required huge amounts of time, energy and money to upkeep. First, no matter what their age or body type, they had to be thin. Bodacious curvacaceous women need not apply. They had to actually be very thin, the kind of thin that requires constant work and maintenance, and constant dietary restriction.

They had colored hair if they were at an age where grey might appear, but it had to look natural, not platinum blonde or copper red. Likewise with their makeup – it had to be perfect, but not look “done.”

And their clothing was the most restrictive, uncomfortable uniform ever. No flowy fabrics or obnoxiously bright prints. Everything had to be tailored, tight without being sexy, clean and pressed enough to look like it had never been used before, and expensive. Definitely high heels. No comfortable footwear.

At times, it felt a little eerie, a little Stepford-ish. I remember asking one of them a question as a reporter. She was gorgeous, in that way. Her teeth were blinding white, her hair a honeyed blonde, blown out to perfect smooth straightness. Her recently acquired breasts perched on her chest like perky, oversized cupcakes.

But when I asked her a question, panic flickered across her eyes. It was an simple opinion question about how traffic was around her kid’s school (terrible, by the way). She stammered, “I don’t…I can’t…” You see, having opinions was not part of her gig.

These executive wives have an agreement, and that goes like this – I will provide my husband with a picture-perfect partner. I will not stand out in any way. Any touches of individuality I have will be within a certain carefully defined framework. I will choose my look, my activities, my whole life, from a small selection of what is appropriate for someone of my station. I will never rock the boat. And for that, I will be richly rewarded with a lovely home, all of my material needs met, opportunities to educate my children, travel, club memberships – and if my husband tires of me, I will get a good divorce settlement.

Everything about her is an advertisement for the fact that she’s not going to be a speck of trouble to anyone. This is marketable. This is desirable. This is what most of the world wants and requires.

Meanwhile, her husband has made the same kind of agreements. He can wear plain or striped shirts, but not bold stripes or rainbow stripes or even plaid. He can advertise his commitment to fitting in by spending a huge pile of money on an expensive watch that performs exactly the same function as something that costs $19 at the corner chain pharmacy.

“Look how much I want to be one of you all – I could have spent that $6000 on something I actually wanted and that would be fun, but I dropped it on a status symbol, see – that’s how important this status is! You can be sure I won’t do anything to damage that. Please keep letting me be one of you.”

And it’s not just wealthy people. We all carve out our niches, have our “drag,” whether it is teacher drag or truck driver drag or biker drag. (Have you seen “Paris is Burning”? One of the most brilliant exposés of costuming and fitting in ever.)

We telegraph our status by our choices and when people don’t play by cultural norms, it can be very disturbing and threatening to others – witness the outrage when someone paints their house purple or lets their little boy wear nail polish.

So Erin, it’s true. I believe you are warping your kids. If you let them do what they want now, they will never learn the importance of hammering their malleable little selves into society’s molds so they can fit in.

If you aren’t careful, they’re going to become artists, question-askers, musicians, dreamers. And who wants THAT?

  1. November 12, 2011 14:18

    My GOD what HAVE I DONE???!!!!!! You are so right, if I’m not careful, my children just might change the world.

    And they can’t wait to see their Auntie SueBob this weekend, who will, undoubtedly, help them change the world when they are good and ready 😉

    • November 23, 2011 23:25

      I just had an image of Erin’s kids taking us out to lunch when we’re old. I bet they would, too. 😉

      • November 24, 2011 07:15

        They will make fun of us, but that’s ok. That’s the Circle of Life.

        • November 24, 2011 07:29

          My kids better have been raised well enough to NOT make fun of you all…unless Aaron got a too much of his DNA in them. Then all bets are off and you guys are screwed at lunch.

  2. November 12, 2011 14:38

    Status symbols as telegraphed messages of commitment—brilliant. And Paris is Burning does provide perfect context for understanding Stepford costuming. Now I’m going to be voguing my way through the weekend.

    • November 13, 2011 19:38

      You calling an idea of mine brilliant has officially made my year.

      Hope the voguing went well!

      • November 23, 2011 23:23

        I love this. All of it. Three of my favorite people all in a row being perfectly brilliantly who they are.

        I’m so happy the internet happened.

        (Deb is right. As usual.)

        • November 24, 2011 07:16

          WWDD. My life’s guiding principle.

  3. November 12, 2011 15:47

    School picture day is Monday. I just told my 1st grader that her t-shirt with the cat on it was NOT ok to wear. Her grandparents will want copies to hang on the wall. What will it look like in 20 years? And then she lost one of her front teeth. Others had to be pulled over the summer, so now she has this 1 lone tooth. Right before school pictures. What kind of kid will she look like?

    Thanks for the kick in the pants. I clearly needed it. I think we’ll work on the outfit together. And I’ll keep encouraging her to be the best darn kid she can be. She is pretty awesome. When I give her the freedom to be herself.

    • November 13, 2011 19:38

      I just think everyone is most gorgeous when they are truly happy. That being said, I could have used some good fashion advice as a kid.

      • November 14, 2011 13:26

        Oh fashion advice she has plenty of! She has an aunt who loves her and LOVES to shop, and can afford to buy her the nicest things. Her wardrobe cost FAR more than mine.

        We settled on one of her favorite shirts that i was ok with. Purple with a big sequined star on the front. And an adorable grey skirt. She was happy and I was happy. We did tell her to smile with her mouth closed though. 😉

  4. carolnab permalink
    November 12, 2011 16:27

    My ex accidentally (or perhaps passive-aggressively) put my daughter’s school photo outfit on backwards and I had an absolute fit. I realized later how funny it actually was and she still looked cute as a button.

  5. November 12, 2011 18:33

    Ah, my kids PUBLIC school is in uniforms. We dont even have to worry about hammering them into that mold, the school is doing it for us.

    (I let them rebel with mohawks)

    • November 13, 2011 19:40

      I think uniforms are actually kinda cool for parents. It makes picking out school clothes easier, and it levels the playing field in a time when brands are SO important to some kids.

      • November 14, 2011 13:29

        I LOVE that they have uniforms at my daughter’s school. Hers are pretty loose, a solid colored polo shirt or a school ‘branded’ t-shirt with black, khaki, or navy pants, shorts, or skirts. It makes the day to day SO much easier. Long sleeved or short sleeved, pants or skirt, ok here.

        They do allow them to wear whatever they want for picture day, as long as it’s ‘appropriate attire’.

        • November 23, 2011 07:40

          I could almost go for a uniform. It would make MY life so much easier!

  6. carolyn permalink
    November 13, 2011 09:16

    I once took my niece out in a pink tutu, rainbow striped toe socks and a sparkly shirt. I love that her parents let her be herself. My niece wears a uniform to public school, but she accessorizes with crazy socks, patterned tights and one of kind headbands. It’s nice to see her personality shine through despite the uniform.

    • November 13, 2011 19:40

      I once walked through Central Park in a tutu, and despite what people say about New Yorkers, they did indeed notice.

  7. November 13, 2011 22:02

    Some people choose that life and are happy in it. It takes all kinds, sister.

  8. November 14, 2011 09:14

    I think you might be right. I have older parents. I am the youngest (way youngest) of three. I was not planned or even expected. I just showed up in their lives and by this time, my parents were getting tired of being parents. The result is that I was raised by apathetic parents who pretty much let me run amok. They let me be myself for the most part. Which was fine until middle school. Then it got hard.

    But you know what? All that struggle to remain true to myself has completely paid off. There’s no such thing as perfect.

  9. November 14, 2011 11:53

    I wonder if you’re not being a little hard on the executive wives. I’m not very familiar with the Conejo Valley, but it sounds like they are stuck in a mono-culture and are conforming to the dominant culture in their world.

    But that said, you’re making me feel pretty OK about my morning dog-walking costume of madras plaid pajama pants, whatever T-shirt I wore to bed, a warm sweater and any old scarf I can grab to keep my neck warm. Plus purple crocs.

  10. November 16, 2011 16:32

    As vanilla as I am in real life (or at least I appear vanilla externally) it terrifies me to think of my children growing up like those Conejo Valley people. What kids wear doesn’t matter – what they learn does. I feel sorry for the people that don’t understand that.

    • November 23, 2011 07:39

      The weird part is that people move there to raise their kids because it IS so safe and uniform. But while I lived there, SO many kids (I think it was 5 one year from one high school) get killed driving around too fast, just for something to do. A couple weeks ago, a high school boy with a bright future OD’d on heroin. Just living in a place with low crime doesn’t make kids safe.

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