Tuesday, 22 April 2014

I'm not going to tell you how cute your child is

I am not ever going to tell you how cute your child is.

This is probably not because your child isn't cute.  I'm sure they totally are.  But a lifetime of hearing nothing but "gosh how cute and precious are you" is not going to do your kid any favors.  It might actually be a detriment to them.  So I'm cutting the cute crap, and here's why:

Firstly, "oh you're so cute" is not a message your kid needs to hear over and over and over.  While this might seem like a really good idea, it only reinforces a major problem in our society.  Which is that you (all of us, especially the girls) are only of value if you are pretty/cute/handsome.  And that is a serious problem.  Children are rabid sponges for adult interaction and information.  They are absorbing everything you say (as anyone who's ever dropped an F-bomb around a 2-year-old knows), and using that to figure out their own world.  If all the adults and random strangers on the street are focusing on how cute a child is, this quickly becomes something that they will know is important.  Being cute gets them attention from adults.  Being cute is clearly very important.  And I'm sure that's not the message we're intending to send when we compliment a child's looks, but if that's all they hear it's what they will value.  And this is not a fair thing to have them cope with, especially (I say it again, especially especially) the GIRLS, who will not only be hearing it from the adults around them, but also from their TV shows and music and toys, all of which are hyper-focused on the importance of beauty (seriously, go look at the "girls aisle" in the toy store, I have a whole other rant on this for another day).  And then we grow up trained to be perpetually dissatisfied with our appearance, and end up caking on make-up and spending hours at the gym trying to fit back into that narrow definition of cute that was so repeatedly pounded into our minds time and time again.  So do the kids a favor, and cut that shit out.

Secondly, "oh you're so cute" is actually code for "I know nothing about you kid, so I'm going to comment on the only thing I can readily see about you, which is your appearance."  What about their kindness and generosity?  Or their gentle soul?  Or their mischievous sense of humour?  Or their gregarious personality?  You know, things about them that ACTUALLY MATTER.  Now I know this is harder with babies, who have all the personality of a bag of potatoes for the first several months of their life, but make a little effort to do better than "gosh he's cute".  Banal platitudes on a child's looks can only take you so far.  What do you know about them other than that they have an adorable button nose?  Maybe spend some time with them and get to know who they are, rather than just what they look like.  I'm going to wager that there's probably a real person hiding under all the cute.

Lastly, none of this barrage of cute commentary is good for mom and dad either.  These people are doing their best to turn little Timmy into a reasonable, functional human being, and don't need these perpetual cute messages any more than their children do.  Adults are conditionable too, and hearing infinite repetitions of the same statement over and over and over will change anyone's mind over time.  Because nobody goes into parenthood knowing exactly what to do, our upbringing, our society and peer groups inform us about what's important.  We don't need any of these groups teaching us that cute is priority number one.  It's just not good for anybody.

Maybe your kid really is cute.  Good for them.  Maybe they're also a great listener, or a trustworthy friend, or full of compassion.  And maybe those things are getting overlooked because all the adults can do is comment on what they can most easily see.

Step it up people.  It takes a community to raise a child, and the community needs to stop being so shallow.