Yesterday I was reading about the controversy surrounding Roald Dahl’s books and the general concept of editing children’s books to make them more “appropriate.” My personal opinion is that we shouldn’t edit or ban books, but that’s not what I’m writing about this morning. As I dove in, reading both sides of the argument, I was drawn into other articles about the current furor about drag queens reading to kids and trans people, well, existing, and I started to see a common thread. In all these arguments for banning, editing, restricting freedom, etc. Almost all of them at some point say, “We need to protect the children!”
Reading that phrase over and over got me thinking about my job as a mother and I discovered something about myself: I almost never see my primary role as protecting my children.
Generally, I believe my primary role fluxes between making sure they know how deeply I love them/how worthy they are of that love and giving them information about how to navigate the world effectively. Protecting them really only becomes a priority in the presence of an immediate threat. Having read all of Roald Dahl’s books as a child, having seen numerous, amazing drag shows, and having met several trans people, I can’t find a single threat to my children there. Honestly, children who haven’t been taught to hate anyone make some of the very best teachers in how to treat people who are different from them–with curiosity, an open mind, and an open heart. The real threats to our kids are often things we can’t protect them from at all.
I mean, I have managed to save my kids from death and/or disaster a time or three, but I wasn’t able to protect my daughter from being bullied at school earlier this year. I wasn’t able to protect her from the pain and confusion she felt over the death of her beloved dog, Orion. And I wasn’t able to protect any of my three children from the chaos of the pandemic that swept through our world, destroying our routines and social connections.
What I was able to do, was support my daughter at home by talking about why bullies do what they do, who could help her at school, and giving her strategies for making good friends. When Orion died, I wasn’t able to prevent the hurt, but I was able to be honest with her, cry with her, and show her ways we can grieve and honor the ones we love when they have to leave us. And through the pandemic, I couldn’t make their lives stay the same, but I was able to show all of my kids how to let go of what’s familiar, even when it’s so hard, and find new ways to connect with others and enjoy life as it is for however long it needs to be that way.
So yeah, I would fight and die for my children in a heartbeat, but my job is not to protect them from what’s inside a book, it’s to talk with them about what they read in books. My job is not to raise them to be afraid of what they don’t understand, it’s to help them understand what they’re afraid of. My job is not to use politics to wrap them up in a cozy illusion of sameness, but to show them the beauty and fun that can be found in our differences.
I’m not here to protect them from the world, I’m here to give it to them, in all it’s flawed, frightening, difficult, beautiful, awe-inspiring glory, along with the love and tools they need to survive, connect with others, and enjoy themselves here.