Honoring Their Interests: Tutus, Tulle, and All.

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One of my greatest challenges as a mother – and as an unschooling mother in particular – is honoring the interests of my children even when the collide with my own. I'm not talking about the army helicopter model kit or the requests to bring home a Berenstain Bears book from the library. I'm talking about bigger things. Like ballet.

I did not take ballet classes as a child (or dance classes of any kind) so the appeal is lost on me. I was a certified tomboy and the thought of wearing a tutu would have sent me screaming off into the woods to hide in the mud under a fallen tree. As an adult I have seen the gaggles of sequin clad children on our town's Main Street during performance night and wondered secretly "What were their parents thinking?" as I worried for the implication of all that glitter and glitz on girls so young. You could say ballet and Barbie occupy the same part of my brain in that: 1) The kids will enjoy it to the extent of their own personalities, but 2) at what future cost? I worry about my daughter being exposed to body image issues at way too young of an age or asking for me to put make-up on her face when I believe that nothing could make her more beautiful than her own natural sparkle. I worry about a four-year old striving for perfection at a time when life should be about the joy and freedom of play.

What can I say. I am a notorious over-thinker. Ask anyone who knows me well and they'll tell you.

So Lupine danced. And wore a flashy tutu. She climbed up on stage in front of more people than I could count under the bright lights and felt no pressure to be perfect. She didn't even ask for make-up. Though I bought her a ticket so she could sit with us, she chose to spend 1/2 of the big show down in front with her friends – not in the protective arms of her family.

And, um, she loved it.

In truth nothing detrimental came to my child because of a season of ballet and an afternoon of bling. Indeed, she thrived. (Thrived in the innocent four-year-old "we get to wear tutus!" sort of way.) She made new friends. She learned about boundaries through getting to know children very different from herself ("Ask her if you can hug her first next time. I think you surprised her.") The big performance was a blast for her, seeing the older children dancing and applauding their performances "so hard that my hands hurt from all that clapping!"

Yes, Lupine learned a great deal through this experience and those lessons went beyond the arabesque. She has a new best friend whom she never would have met without ballet. She stuck with something, week after week with joy. She is obsessed with France and wants to learn to speak french. (This includes requests for "French knots on all my clothes".) And she found joy in playful dance.

And me? I learned a great deal too. Like to sometimes push my worrying brain aside and trust her to know her own truths and to find her own joy, though they will be different from my own.

These are the lessons of mothehood.

23 thoughts on “Honoring Their Interests: Tutus, Tulle, and All.

  1. Laura Jeanne says:

    I can absolutely relate. I too was a certified tomboy who shuddered (and still does) at the sight of ruffles. I refused to wear pink, or even pastels. (Still true!) And my daughter turned out girly as can be. She wanted to take ballet, and wear ruffles and glitter, and to this day (she is 12) about 80% of her wardrobe is pink. I don’t know where she gets it from–certainly not from her mom!

    Kudos to you for allowing your daughter to be herself. Motherhood always throws surprises our way, doesn’t it? πŸ™‚

  2. Brooke says:

    I am so with you on this one. Our girl wants nothing more than to dress up in pink tutus and twirl around to music… Where as I was a Tomboy and have no rythym! I try to let her be her. Hard at times, but she us oh so cute!

  3. Lori says:

    Good job Rachel for letting Lupine be who she is. So many parents (myself included sometimes) try to shape children into what we think they should be. My Lexi being 7 is also trying to figure out who she is and for me one of the biggest challenges is to step back a reasonable distance and just let it happen. Oh the challenges of parenthood. It is an amazing job.

  4. Jennifer says:

    My Mother was not very girly either, nor am I ,but when I was little I too was drawn to ballet. She took me week after week, year after year despite just wanting me to play and not get into anything to strict. Later in life…. I become a professional ballet dancer! I recently retired to have my sons, but thanks to my mother putting aside her own likes and dislikes she helped me find my true calling in life. I had an amazing career traveling the world dancing on world famous stages with world famous companies. She nurtured what I needed by getting season tickets to the ballet company in our city, she learned what she could about the subject but always made sure I was well balanced and NEVER pressured anything. I think that is what motherhood is about, it is the act of giving yourself to your child despite your own preferences, allowing them to experience the world through their eyes so they too can find their likes and dislikes. Well done Rachel!

  5. Roberta says:

    Good job, Rachel. I don’t know where the love for ballet develops, but I have one two. At TWO years old, my little girl saw a (male) ballet dancer, and knew that was her great love. She loved the Nutrcracker … at two. She started taking ballet classes … at two! And I felt the same way as you through it all — opposed to the body objectification and consumerism that it may engender.

    So far (four years later) she’s still herself, self-directed and self motivated.

    I really, really relate to your post. Thanks!

    And Jennifer, thank for your post from the perspective of a professional dancer. It is wonderful to hear from someone who had a positive experience dancing through adulthood.

  6. denise says:

    As my boys get older I realize more and more the early years are the insular protection of family, and as they get older they explore and delve into the world more and more. And we cannot keep them from it, but must know that our home life is still the cushion and cocoon, and that they are stable, sturdy and prepared to find interests of their own, outside of ours, and they deserve that! πŸ™‚ Cute girl you have there.

  7. Ami says:

    Having hated(and mutilated a few) barbies and pink and anything girly as a tomboy growing up, it felt like divine retribution when my 5 year old(now 7 year old) son insisted on a barbie. Not just any barbie, but one decked out all in pink. But the physical revulsion I felt was quickly followed by a silent joyful realization that my boy was embracing play that expanded outside of the confines of gendered play. And no one has told him otherwise.

  8. Kim Miller says:

    Always glad to see kids being true to themselves and others celebrating their choices. I remember meeting the 4 year old daughter of a coworker and being surprised that my colleague dressed her daughter up in dresses because that wasn’t at all how she dressed.

    Fast forward several years to when I had daughters of my own and suddenly it became clear- a dislike or love of dresses and frills has nothing to do with the mom’s likes. My colleague wasn’t dressing her daughter up, she was letting her daughter express her 4 yr old self in a way that felt right to her. I’m a jeans and t-shirt girl and my daughters when they were younger loved dresses. Now one is more of a tom boy but the other still likes a bit of sparkle to her clothes. It is interesting to watch them grow up.

  9. Rachel Wolf says:

    Funny how that shakes out. Ive had those moments too. I once said, If I saw me I think I might just judge my parenting based on what my kids are wearing and doing! They shape us by their adherence to their own rules.

    ~ Rachel

  10. Danielle says:

    HOnestly, the bows and the tulle and the ballet and all the girly stuff were some of the reasons that I was terrified of having girls. (somehow I managed to have two boys, so I’m still safe) I just don’t know how I could support a young person interested in all the things that I am so NOT.

    I know that I’m not going to come away from this whole parenting adventure without being challenged by my boys, I know they will.

    For now, I am soaking up the time I have where my two-year-old wants nothing more than to paint pictures, bake, sit at the sewing machine with me, etc. I’m sure it won’t be long before he starts to find his own path and interest.

  11. Julie says:

    strangely glad to know I am not the only one who has to remember not to grimace when one of the kids pulls a Berenstein Bears book off the library shelf.

  12. Rachel Wolf says:

    Danielle,
    I have one friend who felt the same way and got two boys. How do you do that? πŸ™‚ Each child brings their own collection of challenges/blessings/gifts our way, dont they? Mine is just really frilly.
    ~ Rachel

  13. Kerry says:

    I’ve been learning a lot this year about how encouraging my kids passions can take me out of my comfort zone. For me, it has been considering the idea of backyard chickens. My little ballerina has big dreams of becoming a farmer and loves the idea of raising chickens. Not something I ever thought I’d be considering.

    Nothing could give you’re daughter a better self image than having a family who loves her, supports her and respects her. There are a lot of things that influence little girls these days and I honestly feel that tutus and barbies are not the main causes of poor self image, just easy targets. It’s important for girls to have the opportunity to explore being feminine, in age appropriate ways of course, and I think that we should embrace that.

    You’re little ballerina looks amazing in her tutu and I’m sure she lit up the stage expressing herself through her art.

    Now I’m off to prepare for a day of pampering and primping and making up my beautiful little ballerina girl. (who wants to be a farmer and, any other day of the year, is sporting jeans and t-shirt and usually a bit of mud while refusing to brush her hair πŸ˜‰

    P.S. I love your blog, not sure if I’ve ever commented before. I tend to be a little shy at time, but I’ve been enjoying it since the Babywearing Celebration.

  14. Kerry says:

    Love this! I hope to be able to give my kids just the right amount of encouragement without pressure and the freedom to explore, so that they can find the path that makes them happy and successful in their own life.

  15. Rachel Wolf says:

    Kerry,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. It sounds like your little one is well balanced! I can see her in a grand plie as she scoops up chicken eggs from the straw. πŸ™‚
    Rachel

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