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Do We Project Identities Onto Our Children?

Photo by: iStock

So then… my friends start passing their homemade dishes to the dozen of guests assembled around their dinner table. When I turn to the two-and-a-half-year-old seated on my right and offer him the turkey platter, his mom, another guest, abruptly pushes the tray away and announces authoritatively, “Oh, no, no – he’s vegetarian.”

So we all look at this little kid who can barely string a coherent sentence together — and someone asks sincerely, “How does he know?”

The kid’s mom bristles a bit and says dismissively, “Oh, he knows. He’s always been a vegetarian.”

The kid’s dad says a little pompously, “Yeah, he won’t eat any meat. At all.”

Now everyone at the table is pretty damn sure that the parents have made this decision FOR the kid, which is perfectly fine, of course — but we all find it odd that they’re using tones of voice and shades of phrasing that seem to imply that the kid came to this conclusion on his own. As a toddler.

I mean, it’s not like this tyke can drive himself to the grocery store and slap his credit card on the deli meat counter on his own, right? So it’s probably safe to say he’s following his parents’ lead… but they’re acting kinda funny about it. They don’t say “we’re vegetarian” or “we’re raising him vegetarian” – they seem intent on letting us know he’s chosen to be vegetarian.

Someone says, “Soooo… was he like at a birthday party or something and just repelled by the hot dogs and pepperoni pizza? Like the look or smell of meat just disgusts him?”

Another guest asks, “Or is it more like his philosophical statement against animal cruelty?”

(The kid is dunking his corn cob in his juice. He doesn’t look like he’s ever had a “philosophical” anything.)

The parents launch into a passionate dissertation on the vagaries of meat-eating – and while I respect their opinion, of course – it was a little disconcerting to hear all the gory details while the rest of us are chomping down on turkey legs and honey-baked ham.

(It’s totally fine to be a vegetarian, of course – I myself was a vegetarian for a few years until my ob/gyn told me I was anemic while pregnant and encouraged me to start.eating.massive.protein.now. So I promptly went out and ate a cow.)

I’ve not met this couple before, but from the look of their little lad, I find it likely that he had as much participation in the vegetarian decision as he did in today’s wardrobe choice of a bright orange cable-knit sweater and matching corduroy pants. He looks adorable, but clearly his parents are calling the shots and simply attributing the decisions to him.

I tune out their carnivore-bashing and I IMAGINE them having conversations like this with future party hosts:

Party Host: Would your toddler like a hamburger?
Mom: No, he’s vegetarian.
Party Host: Really?
Dad: Oh, yeah, totally.
Mom: He’s also a Republican.

(Party Host leans over to peer at 2-and-a-half-year-old kid, looking for signs of conservatism.)

Party Host: Really?
Dad: Oh yes, he believes strongly in the Republican ideals. (smiles proudly)
Mom: (pats kid’s head and chuckles) That’s right! Don’t get this little guy started on the liberal media!

(Little guy chews on Hot Wheels car and blows a snot bubble.)

Dad: He’s Presbyterian, of course.
Mom: (smiling) Of course!
Party Host: Oh, OK.
Dad: And he’s a Capricorn.
Mom: He was born a Scorpio — but he’s so not a Scorpio! (turns to husband and laughs conspiratorially)
Dad: Omigod – so not a Scorpio! (laughs)
Mom: Yeah (shaking her head indulgently), so he’s a Capricorn now.
Party Host: Um, OK. (glancing around, looking for exit strategy)
Dad: He’s also a Marxist.
Party Host: He is?

Mom: Oh definitely. You wouldn’t think so, because of the Republican thing, but he’s able to reconcile both philosophies. Our little Marxist.

(They gaze at son admiringly. Son drags saliva-covered Hot Wheels car through the dirt, then combs hair with it.)

Party Host: He seems uh…delightful. I should probably be go—
Mom: He’s also African-American.
Party Host: Huh? (squints at white toddler with blond hair)
Dad: Oh, yes. He was born Caucasian but he really identifies with the souls of African tribal leaders.
Mom: (nodding) Very much so.
Party Host: OK, so your son – your toddler son – is a Vegetarian Republican Presbyterian Capricorn Marxist African Tribal Leader?

Dad: Yep. (nods proudly)
Mom: (sighs happily) He’s completed an incredible journey of self-discovery.
Party Host: At two?
Dad: (modestly) Well, two and a half. (chiding) I mean, come on, what kid really knows himself at only two?

(Mom and Dad exchange a look like “Jeez, what a character this person is!”)

Party Host backs away slowly. Toddler follows — hopping, while slamming Hot Wheels car on his forehead, making high-pitched “vroom vroom” noises.

Parents beam.

Of course, I only IMAGINE this scenario, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this particular couple mapped out their kid’s whole identity for him.

Imagine if that actually worked! That would be awesome! I’d tell my kids: “You are Carnivorous Catholic Pulitzer-Prize-Winning Gifted Musician Millionaires with a passion for Elder Care of Immediate Family Members.”

What do you think? Do parents project qualities and identies onto their children? Is there a problem with this?

On her laugh-out-loud humor blog, SoThenStories.com, Darcy Perdu shares her hilarious humiliations and merry misadventures featuring her embarrassing children, exasperating coworkers, and the ever-perplexing public. Her funny true tales have earned Humor Voices of the Year Awards from BlogHer for 2013 and 2014. Join her for a perfect blend of awkward and snark! You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

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