Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Control At Any Cost...

"Do you feel safer now? Do you think you will anytime soon? Do you think duct tape, and Kleenex, and color codes will make you safer?"

When you’ve just brought a little one into the world, I know the instinct is to shield them and protect them from pain. You start with the simple things, like wrapping them in warm blankets when they sleep at night and placing plastic covering over their carriages on days that have extreme weather, but quickly it escalates, and suddenly you’re trying to keep them away from anything and everything that could possibly do them harm. It’s a noble cause, really, but I must warn you that it will inevitably backfire. At least it did in my case.

I know what you’re thinking right about now: you have it under control, and you’re not going to let your desire to keep your kids safe become an obsession. My parents probably said the same thing, but what you define as safety, someone else will inherently define as overly cautious. At first I wasn’t allowed to play in sandboxes because of the potential to pick up germs, disease, and rogue hypodermic needles (that’s probably a regional worry, though). Since I grew up in a major metropolitan area, I didn’t know what I was missing by not being allowed access to the closest comforts of the beach that I could get. Naturally, it got worse, though, when my parents (well, namely my father) saw how easy it was to dictate what a small child could or could not do. Even the smallest taste of power will leave a man drooling for more, like a vampire getting his first drop of blood.

Next up was processed sugar: I was the kid whose parents brought in the healthy snacks when it was their turn to supply the pre-school class. When others would have their birthday parties, I wasn’t allowed to share the cupcakes or pound cake because the parties were before lunchtime. I didn’t taste my first Cheeto until I was eight years old. Needless to say, once I got a taste of the forbidden stuff, it was all I wanted to have, and I binged. Cocoa Pebbles became a treat I was allowed once a week for breakfast, and now it’s the only cereal I keep stocked in my cabinets at all times.

What was worst, though, was that we didn’t have cable television when I was a child—partially because of the expense and partially because my parents thought I would watch too much TV in general, and too many of the programs would be ones which they couldn’t screen first to make sure they were “acceptable." The rabbit ears offered quite a few options, but my father shut most of those down, drunk on power of withholding. I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons or Married With Children because of the “adult content,” though most of my friends could (and would) screen and then discuss them the next day in schoolyard at lunch (and most of the “adult” jokes went over their heads anyway). While watching the episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel… you know, I laughed out-loud when Ross told Rachel she just rolled over the juicebox, and she said: “Oh thank God!” My father turned to me with a raised eyebrow and asked how I knew what that meant. I just shrugged; I was ten, and I had assumed she thought he had peed his pants. Only a couple of years later when catching a rerun did I finally understand what she really thought had happened.

All that homemade censorship never felt like it was “for my own good” but rather a very gym teacher-like way to grasp the little importance he might have had, and again, when I finally controlled the remote for myself, I never let it go or turned it off. It's why I still gobble up everything I normally wouldn’t have batted an eye at if I hadn’t been deprived of it early on (reality tv, I'm calling YOU out!). I, too, just wanted to prove I could, and look at me now: spending hours claiming research as I recline on my couch with my laptop watching, writing, and watching some more.

So parents, a piece of advice: dial back your neuroses a little bit. Your obsessions will indefinitely carry over to your children, only they may manifest themselves in slightly different ways. My father didn’t want me to learn anything about life through television-- afraid it would send me the “wrong message," and that's exactly where I ended up turning to when I was looking for important answers. I certainly didn't feel comfortable going to a control freak like him instead, so if you care about to what your kids are exposed, maybe you should take a good, hard look at yourself first. If you want your kids to trust you when you tell them you’re only protecting them, you need to trust them a little bit, too; like respect, trust needs to be earned, and children can be far more intuitive than for which they are often given credit. If your motives are pure, they will know, and if your motives are self-serving… well, they’ll know that, too.

No comments: