Where Does Parenting Stop and Brainwashing Begin?

Jeanne Sager
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little yankeeMy daughter asked me to put her on speakerphone recently so she could tell her Oma something.

"Guess what Oma! Yankees rule!"

My mother, the Red Sox fan, snorted. "Rule what?" she asked.

"The World!" my 5-year-old announced, with what can only be described as a shit-eating grin spreading across her face.

She knew what she was doing. And to her credit, she was coming up with it completely on her own. 

My husband and I are die-hard Yankees fans, and we've raised her to say "Boo Red Sox," it's true. But when she comes up with these little "shares" for her grandmother, they're all her own.

Which is exactly what I tell my mother when I'm off speakerphone and she pokes at me for "brainwashing" her granddaughter.

She's kidding.

For the most part.

But as a parent, it can be hard at times to tell where our opinions end and our children's start. How do we embed in them our core beliefs and encourage them to be free thinkers?

It's a slippery slope that's getting trickier as she heads off to kindergarten in a few weeks. Where we've spoken freely in her baby and toddler years about our political views -- even taking her to the polling places with us so she can see democracy in action -- I'm aware she's soon to spend days with teachers who very well may not agree with us. She may make friends with children whose parents I don't know, whose value systems aren't the same as ours. 

I want her to stand firm on our core. But I want her to remain open to others' points of view too, eager to understand why little Susie attends church services while we spend Sundays preparing for soccer games, interested in why little JoJo has two gay dads and she has a mother and a father (and a set of gay uncles). 

In truth, parenting is sort of like brainwashing. We are given a clean slate to decorate the way we wish.

A swirl of rainbow-friendliness here, a drop of blue state there, a Yankee pinstripe up the middle.

And then, as the old saying goes, we have to be satisfied that our roots will sustain them as they take off with their wings.

It's only brainwashing if you don't let the colors of the world leach into the palette.

So you train them to be a Yankees fan ... but you don't kick them out when they ask for a playdate with the Mets fan from their bus.

Do you struggle with giving your kids just the facts and nothing more?


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