The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Some new thoughts on that old nature/nurture thing

I went out for coffee last night with two women who have daughters around Julia's age. As women always seem to do, we spoke primarily of our children, a topic which would seem like an area of common ground for us given our four year olds. But as the night went on, it became increasingly clear to me that our children's age and gender were about all that we had in common parenting-wise.

Their girls are Barbie girls, and their days are filled with make believe and fairies and princess fantasies. "We play make believe all day long," one mother shared. "I do everything for her in character, in whatever role she wants me to play that day." The other mother nodded her head in agreement. "I'm usually a princess," she replied, "which is great because I'm just as into the princess stuff as she is. I go online after she's gone to bed and hunt down new princess things to buy for her so that I can play with them, too."

I tried hard to remain an enthusiastic participant in the conversation, but my smile became increasingly less natural as the night went on. Truth be told, I was a little incredulous, both at the role that imaginary characters play in these kids' lives and the extents their mothers go to in order to reinforce those fantasies. I'm not opposed to a few minutes of role play and banter if it helps Julia to finish her dinner without complaint, but I'll be damned if I'm going to don fairy wings and sprinkle pixie dust on her all day long. And if I'm online after the kids are in bed, it's because I'm hunting down resources for mothers who think, not princess paraphernalia for children who don't. How boring, I thought as they described their daughters' interests. I'm so grateful that I have a daughter who can think beyond pre-packaged and pink.

"Your girls would hate living in my house," I said lightly when they turned to me for affirmation. "Doesn't Julia do this stuff all day long, too?" one of them asked. "Not really," I replied. "She likes to play with her Pollies in her room sometimes and she plays dress up whenever she has a friend over, but she's not really all that into the whole Barbie, fairy, fantasy thing."

"So then what does she like?" the other asked, clearly a little confused. I paused. Julia's interests were obviously so much more interesting and worldly than their girls'. How not to sound like a braggart? "Well, she loves to read, of course," I replied carefully. "and to do mazes and word puzzles. She does a ton of art projects and plays a lot of board games, and builds castles and drives cars with her brother sometimes. She does a lot of pretend play, too, with her dollhouse and dolls, and this time of year we're outside a lot..." I suddenly realized that their smiles were fading as much as mine had a few moments before. Couldn't they see how much more fun I have with my kid? "She's just not really focused on one thing like princesses," I finished lamely. One of them patted my hand. "That's OK," she said soothingly.

That's OK? OK? It's more than OK! It's fabulous! My child has a huge range of interests and she gives each equal time. She and I connect over books and science experiments and games and projects that interest me as much as they interest her. I'm frankly not much in my element when we sit down together with her Polly Pockets, but I'm game to give that a whirl once in a while, too, since Julia doesn't overdo those kinds of requests. I've always felt incredibly grateful to have a kid who I could talk to on a mature level, one who in both interested and interesting. But last night, I realized that these Barbie and princess mommies were every bit as grateful that they don't have a kid like mine.

It was frankly a little shocking to realize that the things which appeal to me most about my child do not interest my friends the least and vice versa. But it kind of made a lot of things make sense. Every mother should take pride in her child, and it was clear from what we'd all just said (and not said) that we all do. Our girls are very different. And yet each of us is firmly convinced that we hit the jackpot with the child we got.

It's not in my nature to nurture a princess. It's not in my friends' natures to nurture an academic. Did nature or nurture make our girls who they are? Probably a little bit of both. But as important as both of these things are in shaping our daughters, I realized last night that nature and nurture probably hold an equal importance when it comes to shaping us as mothers. It's that same magic combination of the two -- a little bit of heredity here and a little bit of unconditional love there -- that makes us our children's biggest fans. And in the end, the fact that we love our kids just the way they are matters far more than how they got to be that way.


At 5:32 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

Oh, that is so interesting. I've always been nothing less than thrilled that Tess is not a "princess" kind of girl. Not a Barbie in our house - - she doesn't even know who Barbie is. Thank you, 'nature'! But then...I've never introduced her to Disney Princess or Barbies either. You might be onto something.

(Though should I admit we really don't do math puzzles either?! Hee!)

At 5:34 PM, Blogger Jennifer said...

p.s. Whoops, sorry about the deleted comment thing. That was me, accidently...

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Steph said...

I'm not sure where M acquired her love of princesses, but I am guessing that she picked it up at preschoool. If it were up to me, we would not own a single princess item. But, alas, she loves them. However, we don't *only* play princess (and I don't think that I have ever role-played as a princess for her). We also do all of the other activities that you do at your house. I am proud to say that (so far) we don't own a single Barbie. :)

At 6:36 PM, Anonymous Gretchen said...

Actually, Rebecca, this sort of gives me hope. I wonder how this correlates with these girls' IQs -- I'm betting that Julia's turns out to be much higher than the other girls'. The thing is that Julia has the intelligence and imagination to make up and populate her own make-believe worlds, whereas a less intelligent little girl needs to have those worlds and characters made up by someone else and handed to her.

I hope my Julia is exactly like your Julia. Can you see me being a princess all day long? I don't think princesses say "shit" very much.

At 9:07 PM, Blogger Liesl said...

I think the most important thing about your post is that we are our kids' biggest fans, no matter what. That's what really counts.

However, I do find the part about looking for princess items online a bit alarming if it's a regular habit. For a special surprise, sure thing. But part of the magic of imaginary play is making it be about whatever the child wants, not about whatever props Mom thinks are cool.

Yay for you for exposing Julia to a variety of activities, both mentla and physical.

At 11:48 PM, Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

I liked being a princess as a kid, and I expect my girls might too someday. But my princesses (and my Barbies) climbed trees, forded streams, fought dragons, rescued princes, rode horses, built castles, shot arrows, fought lions, scaled mountains and never, never just sat around looking pretty. So don't be too quick to judge Barbie-loving girls. Sometimes we're strong and smart too.

At 5:42 AM, Blogger jordan said...

of course you all love your children for what they are - but i caution you against a staunch no wings and fairy dust stance. it is healthy for kids, and mommies, to get out of their own heads once and a while. role playing together sets a good example about not taking one's self too seriously.

participating in role play, no matter if it's barbies or pollies, or g.i. joes, allows a child to think about what it's like to be someone else, leading to a more socially aware and sympathetic child and adult. those who role play are also more confident in front of their peers in childhood and adulthood.

so says julia's drama teacher aunt.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger Susan D. said...

Oh, I *so* hope my little girl doesn't turn out to be a princess-lover! Of course, it's hard to tell at 19 months, but right now her favorite books are Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends, and when she goes to the playground she's all over the dump truck and backhoe toys - yay! I just don't want to foster the whole princess fantasy thing. My daughter will never expect some rich Prince Charming to come sweep her away so she doesn't have to stand on her own two feet!

At 3:08 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

I think your take-away on this one is 100% correct. Other conclusions? I'm not so sure. Nature and Nurture are such easy targets -- but sometimes I think it's neither of those. It's just "how it is"...that, for me, is more comforting than either other option...

At 11:48 PM, Blogger Rosemary said...

I find your question of nature vs nurture shaping us as mothers absolutely fascinating!

For my $.02 - we played math games from the earliest years, we played word games, we told stories, we did science experiments to answer any question they asked, and I also made her fairy princess costumes for halloween -- as well as Japanese princess kimonos when studying Japan. I totally respond to you as a mom. I just wished I'd had someone like you as a friend when I was raising my children.


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