Opinion Columns & Blogs

Children can be anything they want

Raising triplet toddlers is an exercise in chaos management. With six feet running in three different directions, 30 diapers a day to change, Cheerios and graham crackers to dig from the carpet, it’s hard to see any forward progress in parenting.

In the past two years of bedlam, I have focused on finding sleep, quiet and cheap diapers.

I am relieved by each developmental milestone met and each day gone by without a runny nose or scraped knee.

We recently celebrated our daughters’ second birthday amidst reams of pink wrapping paper, countless toy dolls and ever-present princess paraphernalia. Looking at my little girls, I pondered what kind of women we would raise. Will our daughters be divas or insecure wallflowers? Will they value their femininity while embracing their strength? What role can I play through environment and example to teach these young women to define for themselves their own image?

With role models like the Kardashians, Snooki and Paris Hilton, it’s a daunting responsibility.

Without question, the pervasive attitude portrayed in the media is that youth and beauty are a woman’s ultimate goals. Women in their 50s don’t get the top roles in films; female news anchors must be younger and thinner than their male counterparts; actresses and models are near starvation.

In a delicate balancing act, parents try to create a positive environment while remaining realistic. The “you can achieve anything” mindset is a fine goal, but when life inflicts unbendable restrictions, the discouraging reality can be devastating to a young self-esteem. Rather than unrealistic goals, encouraging challenging albeit achievable aims will help instill a sense of confidence from a job well done.

So many women are raised striving for perfection. Perfection is a myth. Happiness and completeness should be our children’s ambitions.

Obsession with our own looks, weight, and age doesn’t go unnoticed by children. They see how we judge our own bodies and those of others. This model of behavior can create a two-headed monster – one with self contempt who bullies others.

Our children must learn that they are special, unique, and irreplaceable. But so is everyone else around them. And therefore, respecting others is as important as respecting themselves.

Much of this depends upon our daughters’ abilities to simply ignore what is being fed to them in the media. That a woman’s value is based upon her beauty, youth and sexuality may be the loudest voice in entertainment, but it must be completely contradicted in our actions at home. In some cases, this may mean vigilance in monitoring our children’s exposure to media. Easier said than done, this is an effort that involves the parents and the children.

And, yes, I am referring to our sons too. Our boys need to be instilled with the same sense of intolerance to gender bigotry. They are capable of enacting wide change if they learn from an early age to value women’s abilities and accomplishments. Teaching them that women are complementary additions to all aspects of their lives, not just their romantic relationships, will show them that they too are beneficiaries of equality for women.

Teaching our children to empower themselves is critical. There is no longer any excuse for ignorance. With vast amounts of information available through a wide array of resources, anyone can be as educated as they are willing to be.

A child is the result of generations of genetics and environment blending in an absolutely unique combination which has never before and will never again exist. Our job as parents (or teachers, aunts and uncles, friends) is to help children become who they already are.

Kris Coyner is an activist for immigration justice and civil rights. She and her partner are raising 2-year-old triplet daughters near Shelton. A member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel, she can be reached at kriscoyner@gmail.com.