When I decided to have children, I made the choice that no matter what, I would never place my own personal biases on them. I never want them to feel like they have to conform to my idea of what they should be. However, as my daughter grows, I find that it’s harder to uphold this ideal than I thought.
The other day my sister was having lunch with us, and wanted to give my daughter a hotdog. I feed her nearly exclusively on organic products, and hotdogs are about as far from our typical diet as you can get. When I said that I didn’t want my child to eat this sort of unnatural crud, my sister responded with ‘you can’t shelter her forever. What if she WANTS to eat a hotdog – what happened to letting her make her own choices?’ Keep in mind here, my daughter isn’t even a year old. But, at the time, I had no answer – I didn’t know how to respond because she’s right… I DO want my daughter to be a vegetarian (or an ‘almost’ vegetarian like me) and to eat organic and locally produced foods whenever possible. I want her to WANT those things because in my opinion, they are responsible, both nutritionally as well as socially. But, am I projecting my own ideals onto my daughter?
Today, in a book loaned to me by my mother in law, I found my answer. I’m trying very hard to find a job in the child welfare field, and so being a senior member of this profession she loaned me her copy of The Field Guide to Child Welfare. As I was reading it, I came upon the section where the authors talk about the ethics of social workers. While this was nothing new, the section on freedom was something I hadn’t encountered before. What, they asked, do we make of the fact that one of the basic rights of all people is to have freedom, when we are dealing with children? Certainly we cannot allow children complete freedom of choice; their developing minds simply aren’t equipped to properly make sound judgment calls. The answer, they said, lies with parents. It is our responsibility as parents to provide our children with the freedom to grow and develop as they were meant to, so that one day they CAN make those choices for themselves. For children, freedom means the right to safe and stable families, basic care and nurturance.
So, regarding my hotdog question… my role as her mother is to keep her safe and to help her develop the tools to make smart choices. My education tells me that hotdogs are not a nutritionally sound choice. Therefore, I would be remiss in my parenting if I allowed her to put it into her body. No matter whether she would LIKE a hotdog or not, they are not a freedom that need be granted to someone so small. If, through the lessons that I teach her and the tools that I equip her with, one day she decides that a hotdog is a freedom she would like to enjoy, then that is her right. But for right now, my baby girl will be limited to organic veggie ‘dogs’, because I, as her mother, said so. 🙂