Tuesday, January 09, 2018


My daughter has a school event in a couple weeks. It's called the Winter Ball, it's basically a Daddy-Daughter dance, but really is dressed up like Kindergarten prom. They did one for sons and mothers a few months back. You get dressed up,
have a dinner, I guess there's music. It's a big deal and it's become the largest ball of stress in my life the last few weeks.

My daughter hasn't mentioned it yet, but they're planning to promote it heavily in school, so it's coming. She also loves dressing up and dancing (she's a regular hit at all the middle school dances she gets to attend). I've got a lot of problems with this thing. One, it's from 6-8 on a school night, first of all. Our daughter pretty much needs to be in bed by 7:20 or she's an absolute terror the next day. I mean, it's her teacher who will have to deal with her (after we battle to get her dressed and out of the house), so in some sense, I can pass the buck on good parenting there. I've also got a meeting that night, which I could miss, but would keep me from doing as good a job as a member of this committee I've given quite a bit of time to over the past couple years.

Those are sort of neither here nor there issues - they'd happen with any events at the same time, regardless of content - I just wanted to vent about the added stress they cause. The real issue is what this whole thing says in the first place.

I get a Kindergarten dance. I'm not typically a proponent of school dances, but "dating" isn't really a thing anymore and they've become something other than the pressure to couple up that was more prevalent in the past. It's a chance for kids to blow off steam and have fun. I'm all for that. My daughter loves to dance - the whole thing seems great. Why are we making it into a gender specific, fancy event? It really feels like Kindergarten prom and that just seems like a terrible idea.

It's cute. Don't get me wrong. I understand the appeal. Little people all dressed up, taking pictures with their parents. The image and experience of little kids dressed up like adults is heartwarming and fun. I remember that series of black and white photos that circulated some years back of the little boy and girl dressed up in formal wear. It's the whole reason BabyGAP was ever a thing. Little people looking like big people is super cute.

Is that really good for our kids, though?

Society really seems to want our kids to grow up fast. I know the media trend is to point out how much slower kids are becoming independent now than in previous generations, but we're also realizing that "adulthood" doesn't biologically start until at least 25. Still, we've set up a culture in which kids are supposed to look and act and engage in things that just aren't for kids. It's a mixed bag, because we seem to be giving kids the time they need to become independent adults, but we're spending this whole extended childhood dressing them up like adults (both in the fashion sense and the societal treatment).

I'm not advocating for a sheltered experience. Not at all. I think we do far too much to "protect" our kids from things they should dealing with from an early age. We haven't hidden the notions of death or sex from our daughter. There's not much she can understand about either at five years old, but we're certainly not keeping her in the dark. What bothers me is what appears to be a total loss of any understanding of childhood, that kids are developing and learning and growing. They're not just little adults.

I'm sure my wife would laugh that I'm even writing about this, because the thing I'm most guilty for in parenting is not understanding my daughter's developmental level and expecting her to be more mature than she really is. I'm not saying I'm an innocent here - I guess I'm trying to implicate myself in our collective cultural failing.

It's hard enough to be a kid in our society, a real kid, with all of the pressures and exposure that happens by pure accident - or at least unintentionally - do we really need intentional, specific measures by which we're treating our kids like mini-adults?

I know there are some voices out there who advocate moms and dads taking daughters and sons out for practice "dates" to help them understand how they should be treated and how to treat others. I'm not sure that's a bad idea, really, but is it appropriate for 8 year olds, simply because our culture has already taught them by then what dating is and told them they should be looking to partner up with someone?

It just feels like we're rushing things. Yes, I'm as upset as everyone else with the lack of responsibility this generation of young people expresses (which is probably a frustration every single generation for all of time has always felt, we should remember), but I wonder if some of this "extended adolescence" might not just be kids realizing that they never had the childhood they deserved, because they grew up in a society that wanted them to be cute little adults from the very beginning?

I don't know if any of this makes sense or if it's just Ryan caring too much again, but something about this event feels off and I'm trying to make sense of it. I really, truly don't know what to do. It's not going to be something we can avoid and, as I said, the only uncomfortable messages my daughter will get are implied and not overt.* She's not going to know anything's out of the ordinary here and I guess that's the real problem.

*I guess outside the ridiculous sexism of splitting this into daddy/daughter and mother/son. Seriously, if you need to do a boys night and girls night, that's fine, but why stipulate the gender of the person who accompanies them? I mean, my wife would be happy and unconflicted taking my daughter to this thing - and I wouldn't have to feel guilty about missing a meeting, problem solved. This is as much for the parents as it is for the kids, so why not let ALL the parents participate. Gosh. I should write a letter - that will promptly be ignored, because I'm a crazy nut and my daughter will be in a different school next year.

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