I am the mother of a fourteen year old daughter who loves to read. Nothing makes me happier than to see a book in her hands because when I was her age, I was exactly the same way.
My daughter lives a fairly cushioned life. We’ve had tragedy. My husband, her father, died nearly six years ago from burns he received from a single engine plane crash. I’m sure that the defining moment of her entire life will be that, in essence, she has grown up without a father. Still, we are fortunate. Many families in a similar situation would plummet into financial ruin. I was fortunate that my husband had the foresight to plan for the worst.
But I find myself protecting my children. They’ve lived through grief and heartache. I’ve worked hard to make our family more than the one who lost a father and more about what defines us now. A house full of kids, a mix ethnicities, who happen to only have a slightly crazy, if not sometimes entertaining, mother. But I find myself protecting them from reality because reality is sometimes a very ugly thing.
Yet I do them a disservice. Life is not all happiness and sunshine. (And anyone who believes my house is only filled with happiness and sunshine hasn’t read my old blog posts and Facebook status updates.) Life is filled with ugliness, greed, violence, and hate. Hate for no reason other than a person’s political view. Or the pigmentation of their skin. Or who they choose to love.
Ignoring it won’t make it go away.
So I’ve been trying harder to introduce the ugliness of the world yet instill a sense of outrage that it exists. I never set out to intentionally lecture them, but instead bring up topics that cross our path. I present both sides of the problem and we discuss what we think is right. Always, always we side with civility and the person’s right to chose their own path, their own life, as long as it doesn’t harm others. And that no one has the right to make that choice for them.
There comes a point in our lives that our parent’s influence no longer has the same impact it did when we were little. We must learn to think for ourselves and form our own conclusions. My fourteen-year-old daughter runs a YA book review blog. She loves romance and will hardly read a book without one. But a couple of months ago, I bought Shine by Lauren Myracle. Julia gets excited when she sees new books on my office desk and there’s no doubt the cover is gorgeous. She picked it up and asked what it was. I gave her a brief synopsis and warned her that it was a book that tackled a difficult topic.
Then I let her decide.
The book sat on my desk for a month. (I haven’t had time to read it yet myself.) She had plowed through our extensive library, having resorted to reading some books twice before she said. “I think I’m going to read Shine.”
I checked in on her this week as she read it. Honestly, I thought she would start it and put it down. It’s not her usual type of book at all. But she stuck with it and posted a review on her blog this morning.
There are critics who suggest we should protect our children from such gritty topics. That there is plenty of time to see the reality of the world and that such books shouldn’t be published. I say how dare they presume to tell me what is right or wrong for my child. It’s my decision whether to prepare my children for the ignorance of the world, and for some of my children, will actually face. It’s my choice to allow my child to read the book. The old saying “walk a mile in his shoes” came into existence for a reason. How better to understand someone than to immerse yourself in their life? And isn’t reading exactly the same?
Still, I will never force it on them. My children can wade into the ugliness of the world at their own pace.
But I’ll be here to hold their hand as they do.