“What should I get my child for their birthday” is a commonly asked question in my mommy groups. The answers are always stock – superheroes for boys, Shopkins (of late) for girls, the same books over and over. It is only very infrequently that people ask what the child likes and answer based off of that. I was talking to my husband about it this morning which is when I realized why it bothers me and why it relates here.
My parents always gave wonderful gifts. They didn’t have to ask strangers what to get us, they just observed what we liked and bought based off that. It’s the same thing we do with our kids. We watch what they’re interested in and find gifts that fit in those categories. Mischief gets art supplies, puzzles, games and twirly dresses and Mayhem gets coloring books and stuffed animals. I wonder how much of the confusion about what to get kids comes from the lives that all too many are asked to live.
We send children to school for eight hours of cookie-cutter instruction a day. They come home and do far too much homework of worksheets which look the same whether you’re in California or Kentucky. The children are all supposed to be identical factory outputs – there isn’t too much room for creativity and self-expression in test-prep. If we don’t know our kids, how do we know what they would like. They do the same work as everyone else so they must like the same things as everyone else.
Children need the freedom to find out what they do and don’t like. They need to explore and try on many different hats – see what fits and what is only an attempt to make something fit. If we deprive kids of that exploration, then any gift will do. Judy, Sally and Sarah can all get the same thing because they’re all supposed to be the same people. They’re standardized kids as it were. We’ve standardized everything else about childhood, why not include their personalities in that list.
This is what I’m trying to fight against with my kids. There are some parts of their personalities that I think are just there for a test run and will be gone in a few months. I don’t try and force them to keep it, but I don’t require that they get rid of it either. Mischief has gone through times where she thought Frozen and dresses were ridiculous, and times (like now) when she loves them. It isn’t my job to tell her that’s right or wrong, just to let her know it’s her choice. The hope is if I give her the chance to choose her personality now, she will be more confident doing it when she’s older. She isn’t required to give into the peer pressure of her parents as to her personality so she can learn tools to avoid peer pressure from teenagers. I don’t know if that will work, but it’s a hope.
So, for now, she gives me gift ideas through how she interacts with the world around her. I don’t trust a group of people who have never met her to pick a present to fulfill a gift-giving requirement. I don’t think we could have avoided that if she were still in school and I was seeing what they taught her, but not who she is at her core. That core person is who’s going to be with her for life, I don’t want her to make decisions based on what people on the internet tell her to like. I want to know my child and see the uniqueness of her. I want to do her present shopping by myself, not give gifts by committee.