My kids are wimps, and I love them for it.
My 5-year-old son cries over movies like Charlotte’s Web and Toy Story. He pulls the “blankie,” which he refuses to give up, close to his chin and uses it to catch the tears that fall with increasing frequency as the sad parts intensify. He likes hugs, cuddles, and refuses to go to bed without saying “I love you.” He has a soft spot that’s easily detectable. He has no interest in sports and thinks violence is stupid beyond comprehension.
My 9-year-old daughter cries over the thought of animal cruelty. She’s started taking an interest in the news and current events. Any mention of the mistreatment of animals and she cycles between anger, confusion, and deep sadness. Her empathetic understanding is not limited to animals. Any story involving tragedy for other children will evoke similar emotions. She wants to volunteer at local nonprofits whose mission is to help the vulnerable and disenfranchised. She shows compassion for minorities and those who struggle to gain equality. She knows it’s okay to feel emotions and will not hesitate to express her affective range. She believes in safe spaces.
They are, according to definitions written by the stalwarts of ruggedness and intolerance, “snowflakes.”
These are interesting times for them to be children. America finds herself in cultural revolt, and these are the long hot days of social change. Two tectonic movements, the traditionalist old guard that wants things left alone and the progressive new thinkers working to upset the status quo (ask yourself how many genders exist to determine which side you belong to), meet and grind against each other. This ideological clash, where our old perspectives and views are being challenged by a newer, more open-minded way of life, has spread to virtually every social, political, and cultural issue you can think of.
How we should raise our children has, perhaps unsurprisingly, become a major conflict in this culture war.
I refuse to take sides in most of these polarizing debates. This is certainly not due to indifference (the truth shall set you free: I am passionate about everything and usually drift varying degrees to the left), but I’m of the belief that most issues are extremely complex and therefore impossible to shove into neat little boxes once they’re properly dissected and analyzed. I keep an open mind and follow my heart, rather than issuing knee-jerk reactions and impulsively joining “teams.”
But when it comes to raising children, you can put me squarely in Team Snowflake.
This nation has always raised its children around expectations of what kinds of adults they’ll become. We mold them using old, stereotyped blueprints. Men are supposed to be rugged, beer-drinking machines of misogyny running on the high-octane fuel of testosterone, and therefore we need to raise our boys in rugged fashion. Get a gun in their hands while they’re young and teach them to never cry or show weakness. They’re the dominant sex and they need to be raised with the mindset that only the strong survive.
Women are supposed to be the more delicate creatures. They are expected to stick to the tightly confined roles we’ve placed on them: housewives who raise the children and do the cooking. Even the more modern role of “soccer mom” leaves women with few choices and massive obligations to maternal care. They’re expected to be overly emotional, and it’s understood that men will automatically minimize and discount those emotions. Even before they reach teen years, women are ingrained with the idea that their feelings are extreme or just don’t matter.
Neither of these predetermined expectations provide much wriggle room, nor do they foster the ability to show human emotion or personal choice. And as a nation, we’ve paid the price.
With addiction an epidemic, unthinkable suicide rates, and our overall health tanking, we need to address where a lot of these issues take root: in childhood. We need to instill not preconceived notions of who kids should be, but assurance that they can seek out their true selves free of judgement, even if that goes against centuries of cultural flow. They need to understand that they cannot take care of anyone around them unless they themselves are on firm mental ground and have emotional equilibrium.
I will raise my son to express his emotions. To embrace his sadness, his empathy for other human beings, his kindness, and the love for human connection. To believe that all life is sacred regardless of the flag people are born under. To respect women and to know that he doesn’t have to be “strong” (in the stereotypical sense) all the time. Sometimes it’s all right to cry. To know that men have valid and wide-ranging emotions, which, when not processed, can bring about terrible, awful things. I want him to know that men can break, but they don’t have to.
I will raise my daughter to be fiercely proud of her femininity. To embrace the stunning and largely unexplored majestic nature of her female soul. To know that she doesn’t have to have children and mold herself into a homemaker if she doesn’t want to. To know that she is an individual who has the ability to explore all things in our nature and this world. That she has choice and control over her body, and that a politician who thinks the world is 10,000 years old doesn’t have the right to tell her what medical procedures are or are not morally sound. I want her to know that women are expected to be weak and broken, but they don’t have to be.
But, while remaining soft and vulnerable, I want them to be pissed. I want them to be angered by pictures of children in cages because they crossed imaginary lines in the sand. I want them to be hurt and angry over the videos of families in the Middle East starving and dying, of children being obliterated by bombs and sniper fire. I want them angry when privileged white suburbanites travel to foreign countries to slaughter beautiful animals for bragging rights and trophies.
And speaking of trophies, I’m fine with them getting one for participation.
I want them to speak softly, remain humble, but keep a silent warrior within and know that they can and must be the agents of change in this world.
If how I am raising my children classifies them as delicate “snowflakes” within some circles, well, I’m pretty proud of that.
Christopher O’Brien attends the University of Maine where he is studying Mental Health and Human Services to become a substance abuse counselor. He is also a trained recovery coach, mentor, and works with incarcerated males re-entering the community.