Every parenting decision I make teaches my kids something about my values. Some decisions are easier than others like, you must eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, do your homework, be kind to others and don’t talk back.
Other decisions are more challenging, like insisting the children dress or look a certain way. This topic has reared its overly-hair-gelled head on more than one occasion over the years. Like the time when our youngest son was 3 years old and was so obsessed with Buzz Lightyear that the hubs had to wrestle the little beast out of our mini-van to go see Disney On Ice. Our strong-willed (Disney demon possessed) child didn’t want Buzz to see him wearing the outfit I’d chosen for him. I think it was just khakis and a sweater but for some reason, the kid believed he looked beyond embarrassing and would only agree to enter the ice arena with his winter coat completely zipped up under his chin.
Then there was the time I caved and began letting the boys wear shorts to church in the summertime. (Personally, I’m not into the all casual, all the time, Jesus loves me in my “holey” blue jeans look. But that’s a topic for another post.) Anyway, here comes our eldest son, probably 13 at the time, dressed for church in shorts, a Polo shirt and white athletic socks slipped inside his top-siders. (This was before the recent norm-core–I’m dressing like my grandpa to be ironic fashion phase–which my son wouldn’t know anything about anyway.)
“Um,” I said, “those shoes would look better without the socks.”
“But they’re not comfortable without socks,” he said.
“Yes, but crew socks looks silly with shorts.”
His response… “Oh, so now you’re making me a slave to fashion!?”
I took a deep breath, re-evaluated my values, and said, “Of course not. Go ahead and wear the socks.”
Fast-forward a few years and the stakes get raised on the whole have the kids look socially respectable without insisting they conform to outrageous, media-fueled standards of attractiveness. Take orthodontia for instance. One of our sons, thanks to the hubs’ crooked teeth gene pool, has a pretty tight set of chompers. He did a “preliminary” round of braces while in the fifth grade to untangle his front teeth. But we were informed that once all of his permanent teeth came in, it was likely he’d need braces again. That was nearly three years ago. Let’s just say I’ve kept my fingers tightly crossed since then.
Welp, his teeth are still tight but not distractingly crooked. The orthodontist recommended another round of mouth metal. But then, our wise (and maybe just a bit antagonistic and headstrong) son asked the orthodontist why he needed braces.
“That’s a very good question,” she said. “I suppose if you lived in England or the Netherlands, you likely wouldn’t get braces and you’d fit in just fine. But here in America, most young people have straight teeth.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
My son’s teeth are not causing him any discomfort. He can easily chew his food, has no jaw pain and has a very nice smile. But his teeth are not perfectly straight and we live in America. The boy, to his credit, looked at me like–you can’t be serious.
But I’ll admit to sometimes feeling like I’m failing my kids whenever I don’t provide them some opportunity available to most upper middle-class American children, including a movie-star quality smile.
But then, I brought up the topic of braces with a girlfriend whose child also has “non-American” teeth. This mother sought multiple opinions about recommended procedures for her elementary school aged daughter. She was told by one particular orthodontist that his recommendations are based not only on how best to straighten her daughter’s teeth, but he also takes into consideration the desired profile of the child’s face and if the parents want to give the girl pouty lips. WHAT THE??
So now, orthodontia in America can be akin to cosmetic surgery? Cause that’s what I heard. And if I hadn’t clenched my perfectly straight, albeit a bit gapped teeth, I might have screamed.
Now don’t get me wrong. Orthodontia is a useful tool for all those little Susies and little Johnnies who would otherwise endure life with teeth that look inherited from Austin Powers or Bugs Bunny. But what message would I be sending my children by shelling out thousands of dollars for the sole purpose of helping them look more “perfect”? And it’s not as if my son feels self-conscious about his smile. (Trust me. Ever since the dreaded Disney on Ice incident, it’s been very clear whenever this kid is unhappy about how he looks.) He feels confident in how he looks and doesn’t want another round of braces. Do I say, “Sorry kid. I know you feel pretty good about yourself. But guess what, you’re not good enough. In America, everybody must aspire to looking “perfect” so that you might have a long and tortured life of being overly concerned with your appearance”?
No thank you. We’re making a different choice. At least for now. This parenting thing can be fraught with contradictions and reversals of decisions. And our orthodontist seems to get that since she shrugged off our decision, most likely because she sees “lots of teens who come back just before senior pictures, asking for a more “perfect” smile.” God help us all.