My husband and I let our 12-year-old son stretch his ears with ear gauges. While his peers are impressed and envious, *my* peers – other moms – are appalled. A couple of them have even told their own sons to avoid mine. But here’s the deal: My son is incredibly rebellious. I am absolutely convinced that if we said no, he would have done it himself or found a friend with a rusty nail. And I’d rather see my son with stretched ears than infected or disfigured ones. So we gave our consent.
All in all, we feel comfortable with our decision. It’s even strengthened our connection with our son. But I feel like a terrible mother whenever I’m around the other moms, and I can’t bear to imagine what his teachers think. How can I tell them to back off without discussing my family’s private decisions?
Dear Open Ears,
I don’t think you are a terrible mother. I think you are a loving mother who has listened to her son and her heart instead of the opinions of other people. In other words, you’re doing exactly what you hope your son will do as he grows older: ignoring peer pressure and being true to himself, whoever that “self” might be. The problem, of course, is that 12-year-olds rarely know who they are, or even who they might become – only who they want to be, here and now.
My own son was nine when he went emo. (Don’t feel bad – I didn’t know what it meant either.) He insisted that his favorite music was death metal, though I’m still convinced that he didn’t know what it was. He swore off haircuts, letting his hair grow below his shoulders and bangs over his dark eyes. And of course all of his clothes were black. This was not a cute look for a nine-year-old boy. And it didn’t go without notice. His principal summoned me to school, where five teachers talked to me about his hair. His beloved gym coach berated him for “the goth look.” And, yes, the other moms raised their eyebrows and occasionally asked me what the “story” was. As for my jazz-loving, NPR-listening, latte-drinking husband and me, is it any surprise that we were surprised?
I was tempted to put my foot on my son’s chest and cut his hair. I could have stopped buying black clothes, forced him to listen to Beethoven, and made him speak instead of mutter. Instead we let it play out. But unlike you, I wasn’t deeply sure we were doing the right thing. Even now, four years later, I wonder whether school could have been easier, friends more plentiful, and family-time happier if we’d forced him to change course. But I know that his budding rebellious streak would have grown only deeper, planting deep seeds of hurt and mistrust. So I followed my instinct and chose to risk it.
My nine-year-old outgrew emo in about a year. And eventually your 12-year-old may decide that he prefers his old ears to his new ones. When that happens, other parents might say “I told you so.” But who cares? Maybe some kids can be told who they are, but most need to figure it out for themselves, even if it’s in weird and unpredictable directions.
So take heart, Open Ears. That you have grabbed hold of your rebellious son’s hand and walked forward, together, could be the most courageous thing you have done as a mother. That you are resisting pressure from your own peers shows your son that he can rebel without anger or defiance, and that he can choose his own path and step into it with a calm heart and steady mind. What a beautiful message: It’s okay to be who you are.