This is how it always happens. I am indifferently scrolling through my Facebook feed and then I stop, horrified.
Once again I find a baby onesie that reads "My Daddy Won't Let Me Date," "Not Allowed to Date ... Ever" or "My Daddy Owns a Shotgun," and they're categorically The Worst. I understand that people think they are cute. It's so funny isn't it to think that a father owns his daughter's body and that he can tell her what to do with it? It's just a joke that a parent will constantly monitor their girl child's sexuality until passing her off into a heteronormative marriage. LOL. Right?
It's just another baby onesie—another insulting catchphrase slapped on a baby's belly, making her a Trojan horse of the patriarchy. But hey, the crown of roses really softens the misogyny. Don't you think?
Except, it's not really a joke. The thing about infants is that for so many years they are largely incapable of expressing themselves or at least enforcing some barriers of respect around their identity. Thus, they become these perfectly adorable distillations of our own casual racism, sexism and deferred hopes and dreams.
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The biggest lesson of parenting is to get out of our children's way.
When a parent states, "My baby only likes quinoa," it isn't some sort of assertion of who that baby is. For all we know that baby has never tasted Cheetos, and if they did, would they forsake all for Cheetos for the rest of their life? I guess we will never know until they are 20 and wake up from a rage-fueled night of drinking in a pile of Cheetos.
No, when a parent makes an assertion about a baby, it reflects their own proclivities, desires and identities. Stating, "my baby only likes quinoa," means that the parent only wants the baby to like quinoa. Same goes for well, everything. This is what makes the teenage years so hard for parents—children shuck off the cloak of parental identity and forge their own.
Similarly, when a parent stuffs their baby in a onesie that declares them to be "mommy's best man" or "a future diva" what they are doing is cloaking their kids in their own biases, needs and (quite frankly) repressed Freudian desires.
I know. I did this, too. Determined to raise a strong feminist, I sheltered my child from all Disney Princesses. We had no princess books or movies in the house. There were none at her babysitter's. The only princess stories I read to her were straight from the old Grimm or feminist-inspired. But you know what she did on her second birthday? Declared herself a princess and wore fancy dresses for two years straight. Now she is almost 5 and I have leaned into her proclivities. What else am I going to do? Tell her that the things she loves and holds the most dear are garbage? No, I'm going to support her.
I had a similar lesson with my son. Once he weaned himself, the boy categorically refused to eat. I did my best to provide him with healthy, tasty meals, but every mealtime turned into a wailing battle that often left him going to bed without eating. At one of our many doctor visits, I mentioned with pride that my son loved Go-Gurts but I never bought them.
She looked me right in the eye. "Look, he's not gaining much weight, give him the go-gurt."
I felt a little ashamed that my own prejudices (down with sugar!) were getting in the way of my child's development. He was underweight and slipping off the growth chart, what the hell was my problem?
Admittedly, I haven't parented long, but I am beginning to believe that the biggest lesson of parenting is to get out of our children's way. When we have children we plan these lives for them, but everything in our imagination can never escape our own limited thoughts, desires and tainted adult view. Why not just have children and pave a life for them, full of acceptance for whomever they eventually become?
And that starts with what they wear, even when they're babies. Onesies that stamp children with patriarchal values or creepily Freudian concepts under the guise of humor are not funny. They are adults pushing a broken and frankly crap world on our kids. Why not let them have something better, right from the start?