Stop Encouraging Subjectivity
Alright, I know I’m probably about to ruffle some feathers here, but I just had a pretty common parenting situation that I realized had far more significant repercussions than the isolated incident. It hit me so hard that I literally stopped my morning routine to collect my thoughts about it. Here’s the gist of what happened.
My husband recently returned home from his annual Navy training in California, and he brought all of the kids t-shirts as souvenirs. One of them had a picture of a bear next to a surf board. My second child said excitedly that he liked the dog on the shirt, at which point my oldest child pointed out that it was a bear. Naturally, the dispute came to me. I acknowledged that it was, in fact, a bear, and I even explained the connection of the bear to the California state flag, etc., etc.
My son broke down into tears. He wanted it to be a dog so badly that he told himself, “Well, I’ll just say it’s a dog.”
This was a critical juncture for me. I could have just allowed him to convince himself of this subjective “truth” and avoid what would’ve become a greater meltdown. It’s tempting and easier to do so.
Here’s another common scenario: you want your kid to try a new food, but you know she won’t try it if she knows what it really is. Want her to try that different-looking food? Call it chicken. Except it ISN’T chicken. Try it anyway. If you don’t like it, fine, but I’m not going to convince you that the world is a subjective place relative to what pleases you. It isn’t.
I see this as a larger societal issue where people often ignore hard facts in favor of more comfortable subjective opinions – I refuse to call them “facts” or “truths.” They aren’t. And I have to think that there’s some correlation. Vaccines do NOT cause Autism. The world is NOT flat. It IS warming up. I could go on and on …
These objective truths may make us very uncomfortable. We may want to throw a fit and even break down into tears. Like my son, we may insist in spite of evidence and reality that things are actually how we want to see them and walk merrily away from the truth. Facts may be very difficult to accept, but oh well. That’s life.
I could have turned to my oldest child and said quietly, “It’s fine. Let him think it’s a dog. He’s not hurting anything.” Except what am I encouraging? What am I modeling to either of them? As long as you throw a fit, things are the way you see them in spite of facts? I don’t think so.
So what did I tell my defiant son? “No, it’s a bear. And if you’re going to keep crying about something so silly, don’t wear the shirt, or go to time-out.” He wore the shirt, satisfied that the bear was not a dog. Because facts are facts. Get over it.
I completely agree that science is not subjective. However, where children are concerned, going along with a fantasy or wish is not going to harm their understanding of the world but it will give them comfort & connection with you in the moment. The negative thinking about children as defiant & needing to “get over it”, cold hard facts, and so on doesn’t benefit the child or the parent. Let it just be a dog for him, mom. It isn’t necessary to crush every bit of joy out of our children to make our point or teach a lesson, sometimes, often even, it’s best to just let it go & play along.
Thank you so much for your comment. I assure you, his joy was not “crushed,” but I value your concern. Part of the MANY roles of motherhood that I enjoy is getting to create and take part in that joy. It’s actually his favorite shirt now, and he now knows and acknowledges that it features a bear.
I respectfully (and I’m sure unsurprisingly) disagree about allowing him to believe what he wants, but that comes with its own exceptions (he has an incredible, creative, boundless imagination that I will never stifle). But I don’t believe in withholding truth from them when they are old and mature enough to handle them. The bear was a tiny challenge, but it was one he nearly immediately overcame. Who knows how many it will save him from in the future?
Thank you again, and I appreciate how you’ve modeled respectful disagreement. It’s sadly rare!
But she isn’t talking about a fantasy. She is talking about a tangible picture with definitive traits. Two completely different things. And this was a great teaching moment. “No, that’s not a dog, it’s a new animal, a bear, and in California, they use the bear because it means…” She attempted to turn it into a positive learning experience.
The child didn’t seem to be seeking “comfort and connection,” especially not with his mom, since he argued with the sibling before the discussion was even brought to the writer of this post. He was seeking something that wasn’t even there. Not imagining something, but shaping the world to fit his pre-conceived notion. Again, HUGE difference.
How is telling the kid the way things are “crush[ing] every bit of joy” out of a child? You’re going to have to explain to me how you got from point A to point B on that one, because I don’t see it.
I agree. I don’t think she’s saying they can’t be imaginative. I.e. That cloud is a rabbit, but on more obvious things like oh that’s a rabbit no honey it’s a squirrel.
I love the uber lesson. A teaching moment presents a time and place for the child to expand their understanding, and the parent to edify their own moral platform and core belief system.
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