Back in my empty-womb, pre-parenting days, I often thought about how I would parent. No TV, no crappy food, NO GUNS.
I held out for 2 TV-free years, crappy food a tad longer, and guns, well, we made it to age three-ish. I bought a teeny tiny orange Nerf gun with those fun little foam darts. Seemed harmless and innocent enough.
I played with cap guns, dart guns, and the like and I still managed to find yoga and adult contemporary music. At some point, I decided not to adopt the “play with toy guns, become an assassin” mindset. Heck, I know some serial knitters, binge-watchers, and football fanatics and they are all delightful people. Do our passions define us or are they simply a part of us?
Now, to be clear, I don’t like real guns. I am familiar with them and I don’t like what they do. Good guy, bad guy, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s all unpleasant.
Nerf-wielding son in tow, I used to enter public spaces anticipating judgment. I was uncomfortably aware of the perceptions of others, perhaps neurotically so. I tried to deny my son these guns at one point hoping that I could derail his fascination with them. The reality is that he and the other boys would simply pick up sticks and run around shooting each other with air bullets.
My son’s obsession with guns began while we were living in the United Kingdom, thanks in part to me and that itsy bitsy orange Nerf gun. I felt uneasy and awkward when we went out to play, partially because I didn’t want the “Loud American Child” label applied to my son, but also because I didn’t want all of the disparaging looks when folks saw his toy gun.
As it turned out, I didn’t get any.
Our greatest problems arise when we choose to ignore an issue or pretend that by sheer avoidance, we’ll eliminate it. In the case of guns, I chose to address things head on. If you want to play with a toy gun, let’s also use it as an opportunity to discuss – in age appropriate terms – violence and the terms of engagement.
“Sweetie, when we play with guns, we only point them at people who are playing along. Some people are uncomfortable with guns so we need to be sensitive about that,” or, “This isn’t a place where we can bring our toy gun.”
Even with imposed limits and restrictions, we run into circumstances where gun play is simply unwelcome. Our pervasive cowboy culture is not in sync with America’s current gun disease.
But I believe that my son’s obsession with guns and the likelihood of him becoming a “bad guy” are not directly related, just as they were not for me and my brother and our friends. He does not associate his dart-pegging actions with the horrors and trauma that too many of us have experienced, whether through direct loss or exposure to events from media outlets.
He is fortunately too young to comprehend such loss; too innocent to understand the level of hate and prejudice that motivates someone to take such violent, heinous action. I could share these kinds of events with him, but I want neither to taint his rose-colored view of the world we live in (at least not yet), nor do I want to compare the world’s experience of real gun violence to plastic gun play.
It’s easy to let the viewpoints, concerns, and general parenting style of others interfere with your own. During these past few years, I have questioned my own methods. That’s natural and good and healthy. To my detriment, however, I’ve also let others people’s views supercede my own good judgement.
During these times, I’ve done wrong by my son. I’ve ignored my own mama gut. The reality is, my son won’t mesh with every human, just as I won’t. He will have his passions and they are pieces of his complex puzzle. Our parenting styles and beliefs are our own. Let’s discuss and keep it civil. Let’s model excellent communication. And sometimes, we’ll simply have to agree to disagree.