choices

A few days ago, I was picking the Bee up from her after-school program. The woman who runs this program asked me if she could talk to me for a minute, because she wanted to see if I would be okay if the after-school program ran a field trip this week. The trip would be to deliver toys to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program’s drop-off in town. She said she wanted to do it to teach the kids about giving to the less fortunate.

I was conflicted about it, but I didn’t really feel like I had space to talk to her about it in detail, since there were other parents coming in, and she was trying to have the same conversation with them. I’m really not enamored of Toys for Tots–I think it’s really just a big marketing program for the Marines. In the instant that I had to make the decision, I said the Bee could go. There’s really not much worse than being the one kid left behind on Field Trip day, and who am I to subject my kid to that, when I don’t have to?

There are a million different ways that my kids live with the results of my political choices. They live in a multi-racial, economically diverse town, because that’s important to me and landisdad. They suffered my absence (well, it might be landisdad who suffered the most) for some of the fall, because of my work. They live in a somewhat dirty house, because we won’t hire a cleaner. They wear extra sweaters in the winter, because we keep the heat down in an effort to spare the environment.

I don’t believe in making my children the center of my political battles–I might agitate about the menu at her school, but I’m not going to keep her from buying lunch once a week or so. I want my kids to have a political analysis, particularly a class analysis, though, so I still try to talk to them about stuff like these, when a teachable moment arrives. So we did talk about the irony of the U.S. military being nice to kids domestically and then taunting the children of Iraq with water.

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December 10, 2006. politically motivated, thoughtful parenting.

7 Comments

  1. Sandra replied:

    I don’t like a lot of the giving-to-others programs for kids because so many of them are condescending and contribute to making privileged kids more smug and self-righteous. I don’t know much about Toys for Tots, but Trick or Treat for Unicef bugs me. My husband as a child in a refugee camp was a recipient of Unicef funds and I was an American kid feeling pretty darn proud of myself for collecting spare change for poor kids over there, wherever that was.

    Looking back at it, I think it made me feel more distanced, psychologically and emotionally, from other kids in other places. Kids living in refugee camps or trying to survive war need a lot more than spare change, and I had no idea that my own country’s policies sometimes contributed to the misery of other children.

    I think when kids participate in these programs, they should get a sense that their own contributions are a step in the right direction, but that they are not sufficient in themselves, and they are only a drop in the bucket. It’s important to teach kids to care about others, but not in a way that creates a savior complex or contributes to feelings of superiority.

  2. MetroDad replied:

    Once again, I take a note from your parenting playbook, LM. I feel the same way but probably would have let my kid go on the field trip. I like the idea of having those “teachable” moments. I think that’s more important than anything else.

  3. Kate the Shrew replied:

    Like MetroDad, I’m taking a note from your playbook. As Queen B gets older, I know we’ll have to walk that line ourselves.

  4. Jennifer (ponderosa) replied:

    Yeah, what Sandra said.

    My town isn’t racially diverse but it is economically diverse, maybe drastically so… One of my son’s best friends at preschool gets picked up in an $80,000 convertible & then last weekend he attended a birthday party in another friend’s slapped-together-and-probably-leaking apt (but brand new, so you see why the parents took a chance on it). This is how kids really learn about advantage and disadvantage, I think.

    I’m going to go back and read why you don’t hire a housecleaner. I’m trying to work out how I feel on that issue.

  5. jen replied:

    bravo, sister, bravo.

    it’s true that we have to give pause and consider how our leanings lean on our kids. and at the same time, we get boxed in as you did sometimes. but it always goes back to the bigger picture.

    there are many ways to give our kids the experiences that feel right to us.

    bravo.

  6. chip replied:

    I’ll chime in with others here, I would have done the same thing even though that kind of thing really does bother me. But the important thing in terms of our kids is the overall analysis they get, as you point out.

    A local school had a similar thing, where a local guy who is now in Iraq with the US army told some relative here that the kids had no shoes, so the school started a big shoe collection campaign. It struck me that for people at the school, kids and many staff, this shoe collection that was sent to the soldier, who would then distribute the shoes, was a way to feel good about the disaster in Iraq. Obviously you can’t argue against this kind of thing, but we did discuss with our kids (who are 12 and 15, big difference than talking about it with a 7 year old) why this kind of thing is problematic, both in terms of attitudes towards Iraqis as well as US military actions there.

  7. MommyWithAttitude replied:

    I would have done the same thing about the field trip. Your conversation I’m sure will have a positive effect longterm (as in she’ll remember it and it will become more meaningful to her as she gets older). But being the only one not to go on the field trip would have had a negative immediate effect and *could* create resentment or whatever down the road.

    I was interested in your idea about housekeepers. I don’t have one, but I’m not opposed to them generally speaking. I think I might be sort of moderate on this issue, but I think the “employer” class *can* bestow benefit on the people who need to work. In other words, if I hire a housekeeper I’m going to treat her well and pay her a fair wage for her work. Whereas if I don’t, she’ll be forced to work somewhere else where she might be taken advantage of. But maybe I’m missing something.

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