When I was a little girl, I told my parents I wanted to be a veterinarian for kittens. Not any other type of animal. Not even grown cats. Just kittens. As a young girl, I dreamed of doing just that. Of course, as I got older, my aspirations changed and I started following a path toward medicine, public health, social advocacy, and so on. Now I work for a summer camp overseeing the customer service, family relations, and communications – a path I never could have predicted but greatly enjoy.
A few weeks ago, I asked my three year old what she wanted to be when she grows up, thinking she’d tell me she wanted to be a firefighter, an astronaut, or any one of the other professions little kids seem to say when asked. Instead, she told me that when she grows up she wants to be “a mommy.” My first inclination was to cringe – was I not doing something right that my daughter wasn’t aspiring to be a doctor or superhero or any other world-changing type of profession? Then it made me sad that I cringed at this – what a wonderful aspiration to want to be a mom. It is the most selfless and rewarding (and exhausting) job I know. She wants to care for others, take care of others, and put their needs in front of her own.
As I came to terms with my own bias and her aspirations, I decided to ask her again a few days later “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I was hoping to redeem myself and react perfectly (one can dream, right?). So I asked her. And she responded to me “a princess.”
Yep, I cringed again. That’s what a hashtagger would call #parentingfail. As a mom of two little girls, I’ve avoided the princess world like the plague. I don’t believe in little girls wearing only pink and purple (though my daughters choose those colors every time). I don’t believe in the idea of the maiden in distress needing to be rescued by her prince. And, I definitely don’t buy into society’s collective belief that girls are princesses and boys are superheroes, sports stars, etc. etc. etc. When we talk about princesses in our house, I tell my girls that princesses are just girls with crowns on.
So, when my older one’s aspirations changed from being a mommy to being a princess, not only did my internal battle over the past few weeks rear its ugly head but also one of my parenting philosophies and principles got thrown into the mix too. Again, I grappled with my own bias – why did I cringe? And what difference does it make what a three year old says she wants to be later in life? As I continue to look inward at my beliefs, philosophies, and parenting practices, I try to remind myself that at this age, it’s about exploration, imagination, discovery and growth. Too often we are looking so far ahead at the future we miss what’s right in front of us.
So, I decided to ask my daughter the same question, one more time, and promised myself that no matter what she said, my answer would be anything other than a cringe.
“Honey, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be a doctor… for stuffed animals. Just like Doc McStuffins.”
And with a big smile, I gave her a hug and said “Okay, let’s go get your doctor kit because ‘purple bear’ has a belly ache.”