Recently I took my two eldest daughters to a dance class. For most of their lives we have danced in the evening – we find it a great way to shake off the day, and no matter what preceded it, the day would end on a happy note. Taking it in turns to pick songs, we discovered new music together, and that music became the soundtrack to our lives.
They had the freedom to dance around however they wanted, explore new ways to move their bodies and really, just be silly. It was one of the happiest times of day in our house, so I wasn’t surprised when they asked to try a dance class. In fairness my eldest had been asking for years, but now they both seemed of an age where they would enjoy doing it socially and learn new ‘moves’ with some expert guidance.
We chose a class that a few people had mentioned, it was nearby and at a time where they could both go without clashes with other activities. They were so excited when we arrived, and I skulked off to the back of the room to watch; quietly apprehensive when it comes to new environments for my children, my gut feeling on this one wasn’t great.
I tried to muzzle my thoughts on the teachers’ choice of outfit – perhaps I was being prudish, but hot pants and a crop top seemed a little overkill for a child’s dance class (I should note I had my own experiences of ‘stage school’ as a girl, so perhaps doubly protective in this instance). So I sat and observed and listened, in my own quiet way, offering the occasional nod of encouragement when they glanced my way.
In-between dances I could hear the negative language being used to try and get those small girls to dance their best, simultaneously running-down their efforts, and questionning why x-number hadn’t paid their fees and therefore wouldn’t be able to partake in the show. The youngest was no older than three, whilst the eldest was closer to 8; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
My skin crawled. It wasn’t simply the teacher or the class, but the realisation that these people of whom I had no prior knowledge had the power to influence my daughters’ lives. Their language was undermining their self-worth and belief. It was setting the tone of their experiences.
And it hit me; all of the people in my children’s lives could, in their own ways, change them. They had the power to permanently change their mindset…
This truth had sat in plain sight since the day they were born, but there was something about that moment that amplified it perfectly. My eldest wore her favourite black Supergirl T-shirt with the slogan “Girls will rule the world”, and I wondered if this was the example I wanted to set for her?
Triggered and trying to process the past hour, we left at the end of the class without commitment. My little girls will probably never understand why we left in such a hurry, or why we never went back, but it taught me a most valuable lesson and one I will never forget.
People on the side lines of my daughters’ lives will inevitably influence their sense of self. Friends, teachers, bosses and society as a whole will set the scene for their experiences. There will be archetypes, fashion, trends and pigeonholes, and they will have to make choices, but the most important element within that statement is that they understand that there ARE ‘choices’.
As a mother I want to teach them that they don’t have to be anything, but they have the power to be anything they choose.
The old adage goes “do as I say, not as I do”, but the reality is that we learn behaviour through observation, and our world is so heavily weighted towards the visual now that outside influences can be both unavoidable and subliminal. It may be minute, but there could be dozens of them in a single interaction, and you never know what will become a catechism for their later lives.
On this occasion I chose to be the bad guy, a pill I had to swallow but gladly to protect their sense of self. I’m grateful for the lesson and the opportunity to look at my own behaviour around them – a constant work in progress – and to make sure I’m being the best role model I can be.
I guess I’d better find another dance class…