Here’s how representation works - we get exposed to media, images, and stories and it unconsciously impacts our behavior, thoughts, and belief systems. A year ago after reading “Shrill” by Lindy West, I filled my Instagram feed with plus-size models. Now I care less about losing weight, and more about making sure my eyebrows look good (#redirection, but I digress).
Representation is why after binge-watching 8 seasons of “Shameless,” I’m a significantly better parent. Let me ‘splain.
I’m scared for my kids all the time. All the time! I’m scared that they’re going to get bullied. I’m scared they’re going to fail their spelling test and get kicked out of school. I’m scared they’ll fall down the stairs and crack their heads open. I’m scared they’re going to be abducted from the playground. I’m scared that if I don’t rinse off the berries (even though they’re organic!) there’s going to be feces on them from a distribution center worker, who is bitter and resentful of his job and pooped on the berries to “show his boss,” and my kids will eat those berries and get some exotic parasite and die a terrible, painful death!
(Note - this is a new fear. We had friends over a few weekends ago, and one of their kids came running out of the bedroom shouting, “Mom!!! Lily’s eating unwashed fruit!!!” So now I have this one. Awesome.)
I didn’t realize how much those fears had been impacting my parenting, not only in what I’d been doing to prevent these terrible things from happening, but in the messages I was sending to my kids about their general safety in the world.
For the record, Fear isn’t a bad thing. It’s my job as their parent to keep them safe. Healthy fear is really just our intuition alerting us to potential danger, which is wonderful when it’s balanced and flowing. However, my other job is to help them become highly functioning adults, and my fear had been getting in the way of that. I was overcompensating with “too much” parenting, and I was failing my kids by doing everything for them.
If you haven’t ever seen “Shameless,” it’s about an alcoholic father of 6 kids living in the south side of Chicago. Frank is a terrible father - he’s selfish, he’s mostly absent from their lives, and when he is around he puts his kids in danger for his own self-interest.
As I watched 96 episodes of cringe-worthy parenting, it sloooooowly seeped it's way into my consciousness,..... and I just started....... letting the kids do more stuff. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just happened. And the result has actually been really wonderful.
For Valentine’s Day I bought a box of cards each for Lily and Zosia, put them on the kitchen table and told them that if they wanted to give them out, they’d need to do it themselves. I didn’t follow up once, or sit with them to make sure they did it properly. And it got done. Or it didn’t, I don’t really care.
Lily yelled at me a few weeks ago because she had failed her spelling test because “you didn’t practice with me!!!!” I explained to her that homework is her responsibility, and that I’m happy to help but she’ll need to let me know when she has some.
If Ander doesn’t eat breakfast I don’t worry anymore. The kids on “Shameless” eat Pop Tarts everyday, and Ander gets fresh fruit and veggies. He’s fine.
Shameless gave me a view into “too little” parenting that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The result has been this really beautiful “just right” place, that feels great and is actually helping my kids.
The other day the girls and I were at Superstore grocery shopping when Lily had to pee. The bathroom was way over on the other side of the store and I was on a tight timeline to get home, so I told the girls they’d need to go by themselves. I gave them clear directions, I told them to stick together, I told them what to do if they got lost, and where I’d be when they came back.
You’d think I had just asked Zosia to jump out of a moving train, she looked so terrified. I asked her what she was scared of, and she told me “What if someone tries to take us? Or what if we can’t ever find you again?”
With my heart breaking, I gave her a huge hug and told her that she could do it. I told her I know how scary the world can be, but we have to take some risks. I told her that fear doesn’t always need our attention, and this is one of those moments.
She went, and she was fine. In fact, she was so proud of herself she danced through the vegetable aisle.