*This post originally appeared on Breegan Jane’s blog here.
As a coParenting mom of two boys, I’m determined to raise sons who will grow up respecting and appreciating women. I want to give my sons space in their maturation to be the sweet, carefree black boys they naturally are.
I watch them both with each other and their friends. They run along the water’s edge at the beach, laughing and screaming out in excitement. They strum their guitars making up silly songs with their heads thrown back, eyes closed, having the time of their lives. They watch skateboarders from their seats in our cargo bike as we ride along the boardwalk, eyes wide with wonder. I’m realizing that while they’re my littles, my babies, they’re growing so quickly. It won’t be as easy to refer to them as babies very soon.
They are forming their own opinions about everything, and they often ask me questions while doing so. My answers will inevitably shape the way they think about the world. It can often feel like a ton of pressure.
When my oldest son expressed a desire to wear black nail polish, I let him. I want him to be curious and to feel comfortable expressing himself in whatever ways speak to him! As long as he’s safe, I don’t feel the need to clip his wings before he’s even learned to fly.
Unfortunately, my ex disagreed with my choice. He immediately categorized the polish as “just for girls.” We argued. In front of the boys. It wasn’t good.
Despite the way I handled that coParenting moment, I stand by this: If we want to raise our sons and daughters to be open-minded, kindhearted and tolerant, we must own our responsibility and role in that process. I’m finding that this often involves the proverbial holding up of a mirror so that we quite literally “see” ourselves. We have to self-monitor our reactions and responses to things that our carefree sons and daughters haven’t yet attached a meaning to.
No matter where you stand on more controversial issues, a little boy showing interest in polishing his nails or toenails while watching mommy, is one example. A child asking questions about bodies appearing in different sizes or colors is another. None of this is a reason to clam up and be embarrassed; it’s indicative of a natural curiosity and tendency to compartmentalize. That’s something we’ve all experienced at that age. Boys and girls deciding on favorite colors, hobbies, friends, and clothing sometimes proves nothing other than they’re breathing, learning, keen beings. That should be celebrated, not suppressed. My son’s interest in nail polish didn’t mean anything until my ex made it mean something.
But he’s their father. And whether or not we allow our son to wear nail polish or dye his hair purple is NOT something we should be working out in front of the kids. For the sake of our coParenting relationship, this is the kind of thing we definitely need to handle in an adult conversation.
It is so important that we let children be children. I believe that adults have to stop projecting their fears and ideas onto little ones who are too young to cognitively process that which they do not understand. Many of us are blessed to have children who are untroubled and unaffected by societal ills. I think it’s crucial that we value that and allow our behavior to follow suit.