God gave parents a huge responsibility. It’s not just that we have to clean, feed, house and tote the children around like luggage, but we must train them in the way they should go. Which can be hard, since often we are not going that way.
I wish now that I had done better for my own. I had a pretty clear picture of what I wanted for them, how I would raise them up in the way they should go, but I gave in to cultural and peer pressure. I wanted an alternative life; I wanted to farm and live without television and worldly culture. I thought it was a good way to bring up children. But it wasn’t long before television, cartoon related toys, and the world in general invaded my organic patch. If I’d had more backbone, I would have resisted. I probably would have run away from the pressure, and done a better job parenting. Hey, sons: Forget the first twenty years, will you, and be good organic farmers, like I meant you to be, okay?
Now, I see the same pattern happening in another generation, perhaps even at a younger age. Why should a twelve-year-old girl be a fashion expert? Who wants to listen to a twelve-year-old tell you what you should be wearing? It gives me the shudders. How narcissistic are we? We seem to need our children to reflect what we want to be, instead of being the people they need us to be. We need to be good, positive, Christian role models, not reflections of television and films.
I am sick to death of the television tie-ins I see on small children. (And some older ones.) No child needs to wear Winnie-the-Pooh and Tigger too on her clothes. Clothes are to protect your body from the elements, not give you an identity and ready-to-wear personality. It’s just the start of brand awareness, of expensive taste, of caring more for things than for people.
I know I wear a sort of uniform that identifies me very prominently as a practicing Christian. It may be a kind of “branding” itself, but that is only because the concept of brand identification exists. Otherwise, the black dress, white cape and apron, and prayer cap would be just my clothes, practical things to cover the body for warmth and modesty. Because we now associate personality with dress, other people make assumptions about me and who I am. Someone who has known me for months, seen me in church and gone to a theatre with me asked if I was mennonite. It rather surprised me, because by now, in those contexts, I would expect to be recognized for who and what I am.
Are we trying to mold our children into mini-mes? The answer I get from grandparents and observers of culture is “yes,” but not in the positive, community-oriented way it used to be done. We don’t fit into the culture the way we might want; we are not rock stars or famous actors. We are ordinary people, doing ordinary things, living in ordinary houses. So why do we want Louis Vuitton handbags, Seven jeans, Chanel perfume? Why do we make up our faces and talk and walk as if we were fabulously wealthy and the ordinary rules of life do not apply?
Why do we then impose those impossible false standards on our children? And at the same time, these children are not developing tastes and personalities and individuality; they become clones of the culture.
One of the principal tasks in raising children is to make them accountable to their own conscience, to the community, and to their Lord. Can we do that if their only sense of accountability is to look fashionable, to be an extension of some designer’s ego, or a clown in cartoon dress?
Doomsday scenarios are very popular in contemporary literature and film, and on television. And that seems strange to me, since most of the people who watch television and films are oblivious to the need to learn how to take care of themselves and the earth. They couldn’t hoe a patch of beets without direct supervision; they couldn’t plan a year’s growing season. Designer clothes will not feed you in the midst of a famine. Truth be told, these people are pretty helpless. Do they all think they will be on Ark 4 when the world comes apart? (I just watched 2012, the movie.)
So what are we teaching our children? If we don’t drop out of the whole consumerist culture, we will be teaching them to be dependent, dependent on someone else’s intelligence, labour and taste; we will teach them that they don’t need to have a personality or ethic of their own. And worst of all, we will teach them that God’s way doesn’t matter.