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the mommyhood memos: little teachers: toddlers in tiaras and afro babies

Monday, April 4, 2011

little teachers: toddlers in tiaras and afro babies

I met this gorgeous little girl when I was on an outreach in the Solomon Islands several years ago. It was my first time in the nation and I had a lot to learn about the people and the culture.

Although the expression I captured makes her look like a sad little girl, she wasn't. She was simply lovely and it didn't take much for my heart to melt as she charmed me.

I was so captured by her beauty - those deep brown eyes and her perfect little features.

But I couldn't believe she had blonde hair. I thought to myself, "What kind of a parent living in an incredibly poor village spends money on bleaching the hair of such a young child?" It made me angry to think that these little ones had such limited access to health care and education and basic necessities and yet someone deemed it appropriate to spend money on bleaching her beautiful little fro.

Besides, didn't they know she was already perfect? Perfect "as-is"?

What I didn't know then is that her hair was naturally blonde and that many children and adults from her people group are born with dark skin and blonde hair. It really is stunning and I had never seen anything like it before.

When I found out the truth I was so convicted of being judgmental. Here I was, a guest in this nation, jumping to conclusions about someone else's parenting based solely on the appearance of their child.

Shame on me.

Admittedly it's hard not to do this when I come from a culture that has "toddlers in tiaras" and other questionable practices like that. I look at preschool-aged girls with full make-up and clothing that is sexy-beyond-their-years and I automatically form opinions about what their mothers are like. (Not saying that it's right of me to do so... just that it's extremely hard not to in these types of scenarios.)

In the case of this sort of childhood pageantry, my view of the parents is almost automatically formed by looking at the child.

But it just doesn't translate cross-culturally. This beautiful little blonde girl taught me a lesson: don't assume, don't judge, don't jump to conclusions.

It's the age old antic - don't judge a book by it's cover.

I'm thankful for this little teacher and the lesson she taught me by accident. I try to remember her when I see children from other cultures (even in my own home town) that dress or act in ways I don't understand.

Children need our respect, our love, our kindness, and our acceptance no matter how similar or different they are to our own. And yes, even toddlers in tiaras. They are children too - precious and infinitely valuable, regardless of the decisions their parents make for them. They deserve nothing less.

And as much as I love children, I'm determined to be less judgmental toward their parents too. I want to discover their stories, what motivates them, why they make the decisions they do. Parents - all parents - need the support of other parents.

Children, parents, all people... Every man, woman, and child deserves our best effort at suspending judgement and valuing them for who they are.

Dear friends, have you caught yourself making judgements about other parents by something that you see in their child but haven't yet taken the time to try and understand? (Or can you think of a situation where you deliberately made a choice to NOT judge a book by it's cover?) What have the children in your life taught you lately?


p.s. This post is part of a new series - All the Children of the World: Little Teachers - where I feature a photo of a precious little one that I've met during my volunteer work in developing nations, as well as what I learned about life and parenting through meeting them.

adriel booker | the mommyhood memos | 2011
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At April 5, 2011 at 12:15 AM , Blogger A Little R&R said...

What a great article!!! At our church nearly all of us are the same age. And most of us were engaged and married around the same time. In the space of 6 years our church went from being predominately single to predominately young married. Naturally, we've all had children together as well. This is fun, since our kids are all friends - but this can be dangerous as well as we sometimes tend to sit back and nit-pick....or worse, we say, "I am NOT going to do such-and-such because I don't want my kid to turn out like so-and-so's." Z and I have worked very hard at having much higher ambitions than to "not have our son be like ______". Instead, we've created goals as to how we DO want our son to be like. It is really hard not to be judgmental - and its easy to draw conclusions without knowing the whole story. Thanks for writing this. I hope many moms take the time to read it!

At April 5, 2011 at 12:51 AM , Blogger Cari said...

What a beauty! So true, and so, so hard not to judge. It really takes a higher level of awareness to look beyond the "cover". I think my most judgemental times were before I had kids. I'm pretty sure I was the best parent ever and knew exactly what to do in every situation. Boy, was that an eye opener when my babes did arrive. I think I am less judgemental of other children's behavior/parents since I have a son with Autism. He is not having a meltdown because he's bad, it's because he's over stimulated or cannot process certain things. I'm so appreciative of other parental support.

At April 5, 2011 at 1:49 AM , Blogger Nessa said...

Having kids makes you realize how judgmental you can be. The other day, with a daughter messy from lunch - we went on a walk because she was loosing her mind and I was close behind.

I was that mother - the one I swore to never be - out in public with a messy faced child. Never say never and try not to judge.

At April 5, 2011 at 4:48 AM , Blogger The Empress said...

I have seen this, in Colombia, so this wouldn't surprise me.

I wish people would be more open minded about hispanic cultures.

In my small town, I get asked all the time if my mother is here legally.


WOULD LOVE to hear more of your work in the developing nations.

Would love a series on this.

At April 5, 2011 at 8:46 AM , Blogger alison said...

i catch myself doing this more than i'd like to admit. more and more, i try to put myself in someone else's shoes. we were out at the rodeo the other night and a friend of mine's 5 year old was running around like crazy. my first thought was, "why won't she make him settle down"...and then i found out that she had to go in to work at their family vegetable stand because one of their workers got sick and mason was cooped up all day long. this was the first "leg stretching" he'd gotten all day. sometimes we just have to give people the benefit of the doubt :)

At April 5, 2011 at 11:24 AM , Blogger Kerry McCullough said...

I'm so guilty of this. I have a hard time not forming automatic judgments about parents when I look at the way their children are dressed, acting, if they are obese, etc. And even though I'm not judging the child, it's still not right for me to assume the parent is irresponsible when I don't know anything about them. It's a tough habit to break, and we all do it, but it's something to work on.

At April 5, 2011 at 2:17 PM , Blogger Getrealmommy said...

What an amazing picture. She almost doesn't look real. It is terribly hard not to judge. We all need a reminder from time to time.

At April 20, 2011 at 7:28 AM , Anonymous Ann Kroeker said...

Wow, she is gorgeous--and so are you! As you explain the way you processed your gradual revelation, I am drawn in. Thank you for linking this to the community writing project so that we can learn from what you learned.

My sister-in-law, a social-psychologist, once told me that she tries to approach each new person almost like an anthropologist, with a healthy and open, non-judgmental curiosity that has her wondering, asking questions, "I wonder why she acts like this?" or "I wonder what makes him say things with that tone in this situation?" By taking this approach, she theoretically minimizes the possibility of arriving at the wrong conclusion. I don't know how well it works, but I've always remembered that.

At April 20, 2011 at 10:14 PM , Blogger Megan Willome said...

Such a good story!
I remember when my daughter was a baby, people thought I took her to get perms and highlights. Nope--she just had wild, curly brown hair with natural blonde streaks.


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