Having your own kid is sort of like entering a game but being able to write your own rules. Sure, untold numbers of people have played before you squared up to the table, but this is your round now! There may be ways that things have always been done, but as the captain of this ship, you are under no obligation to stay the course. You can go rogue and do whatever works best for you and your family—it’s actually one of the perks of parenting.
Now, you’ll hear a lot about what other people think you should do, what they did, what they expect you to do, and how doing things their way has worked so you should just keep doing it. And you know what you need to say to those people? Not a damn thing! Your kid, your rules. You don’t have to do things ‘their’ way, friends.
Despite what your parents or grandparents or well-meaning busybodies have to say, you can 100% live by this list of social norms that parents can avoid.
Forcing physical affection
This is one that seems to grind a lot of people’s gears! Particularly older generations who are sort of accustomed to young whippersnappers doing what they’re told out of some level of commanded respect. But no matter how many times your Great Aunt Linda demands that your affection-shy toddler give her a kiss in exchange for whatever gift or treat she’s using as a bribe, your kid doesn’t have to do anything they aren’t comfortable doing, and you don’t have to force them. Parents of this generation are really starting to come around to the idea that kids, regardless of their age, are their own autonomous being and can (and should!) set boundaries with which they are comfortable. So if your kid isn’t a hugger or a kisser, that is totally and completely fine. And people can just deal with it, or come with another way to greet them.
Talking about your kids’ body or physical appearance
You know what a lot of us who’ve struggled with body image issues and disordered eating have in common? We were deluged by comments about our bodies from immediate and extended family, from as young as we can remember. It is NEVER ok to comment on somebody’s body, and this is especially important when the somebody is a child. So if you hear that coming from friends or family members? You have my permission to shut that ish down immediately. It’s more than ok to hold the people in your kid’s life to a higher standard than the people in their lives were held.
Telling kids to smile
Do YOU feel like smiling all the time? I didn’t think so. So why do we expect kids to always put on this happy face, regardless of how their insides are feeling? Kids have feelings, a lot of them, and big ones at that. Sometimes they don’t feel like smiling, and that is fine! Forced happiness or excitement can result in the emotions they’re actually feeling being suppressed and ignored. And a generation of people who have finally embraced mental health and therapy can tell you that’s not a great idea (for anyone). Maybe it’s just me, but when I catch a glimpse of one of my girls’ beautiful smiles, I want to know it’s genuine and not being forced.
Enforcing gender ‘norms’
A lot has changed since our parents and grandparents were kids, and thankfully so. More and more parents are starting to embrace just letting their kids be KIDS, and not boxing them into roles or expectations based on their assigned gender. Girls can be rough and tumble and play with trucks and wear the good shorts with all the pockets and play any sport they want. Boys can be artistic and emotional and eschew footballs for pointe shoes and cry and squeal in delight. There are no girl toys or colors or boy toys or colors—just toys, and colors, and clothes, and emotions. Let them explore and discover and find what they like, and not just force them into the box that matches their gender.
Cleaning their plate
And no, I don’t mean teaching your kids how to clear their plates and develop life skills like picking up after themselves and participating in keeping a clean home. Because that I’m all about. I’m talking about the whole ‘You can’t leave the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate’ kind of cleaning. The kind that forces a kid to eat food they don’t like, eat past their point of satiety, eat despite not being hungry anymore. I am all about encouraging kids to try new foods and develop healthy eating and food relationships, but this ain’t it. You can absolutely teach your kids to be open-minded and adventurous when it comes to food, without forcing them to eat and punishing them for not doing so. We want our kids to love food—we don’t want them to have an unhealthy relationship with it.