My first grader Eloise needed to make a Valentine’s box this weekend for her party at school. This is the first year that we’ve been responsible for making a box for the Valentine’s party at home. Eloise loves to craft and create, and our house is littered with kid-appropriate craft supplies that are in constant use.
I knew we’d be creating the box during her little sisters’ naptime, and had been thinking about what we might do. Naturally, I started searching the web for a clever, impressive idea. The internet did not disappoint—Pinterest and Instagram showcased googly-eyed monsters, characters and creations that could be featured in a museum. I dug what we needed out of the big tubs of art supplies in our basement and brought them up to the table, intent to shape the masterpiece.
The moment Eloise sat down, however, her eyes lit up at the sight of the new supplies: gems, felt, ribbon, scrapbook paper, hot glue and glitter. I watched the ideas spark in her mind and realized that the Instagram-worthy Valentine’s box was going to be sidelined for a patchwork smattering of flowers, ribbons, hearts and sparkles. So, I took a seat at the opposite side of the table and manned the hot glue gun, allowing her to craft her own vision.
My own vanity threatens to sideline my children’s creativity more often than I’d like. From what my girls wear to school in the morning to the theme of their birthday party, some part of my identity is inadvertently wrapped up in how my children are perceived, and when I allow my own need for validation to overstep, I’m robbing them of their free expression.
I’ve only parented in the digital age, but I suspect that previous generations didn’t battle with concern over picture perfection the way our generation of moms do. Even before I had children, #toddlerfashion was a hashtag I followed and I would be lying if I said I didn’t judge parents based on how smartly their child was put together. When I let go of the Instagram-expectations and let my kid create what they want, dress the way they want, and just generally be free to be a little less than polished, if I’m being honest, I feel a little bit like I’m not measuring up as a mom.
I’m learning, however, that letting go of my own imposed ideals of picture-perfection is critical to raising children into adults who feel comfortable in their own skin. By giving my girls the space to express, I’m giving my children the freedom to imagine, create and develop their own independence. Each morning that I allow my four year old to dress herself in a weather-appropriate but pattern excessive outfit, I’m giving her the satisfaction of choosing for herself, teaching her that she is capable and free to express her personality, and that she is worthy of love and respect regardless of what she’s wearing.
Carrie Knoch works as the Director of Student Achievement for Wapakoneta City Schools. Her role is focused on ensuring that students are well-prepared for school and life, and she’s noticed a decline over the years in kindergarten-readiness in young children.
As I posted a short video of my children creating their boxes, she reached out to applaud their creative efforts and shared, “When we rush to help we send a message to the child that they are not capable of completing the task. This doesn’t make them feel bad or inadequate because they are receiving that message from a trusted and loved adult. However, they are developmentally capable of doing these things. So, we are sending the absolute wrong message. We do not want to undermine a child’s development because we are impatient, or worse, have anxiety about failure and are trying to protect them.”
I’m aiming to raise smart, strong, empowered women who think creatively and critically, know their worth and feel confident in their identities enough so that they can make a tremendous impact in the world. If the price of that is Instagram perfection, so be it.