Ask Dr. V, For Our Children Quality Trumps Exclusivity

Venus Nicolino holds a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her column addresses Love, Life and Relationships. This week: for our children, quality trumps exclusivity.

Dear Dr. V,

I live in an affluent area of Los Angeles. We have a beautiful baby boy. He is only one year old. I have tried to get him into different activities such as a music class, mommy and me, and soon preschool.

I actually went to a music class with my son after not hearing back from the company and she said the class was full. I looked around and counted — there were 4 children in the class! The teacher said it would be, and I quote, “a disaster” if my son were to take part in the class without prior notice. She was very mean about it. What is going on here?! When I was talking to my nanny about it, she said that would never happen in her neighborhood … the more the merrier.

I thought about this a little more — and I believe she is right because that would also never have happened in my lower middle class neighborhood growing up! I can see why the general public is both enamored and appalled by affluence these days. I went to a preschool and she said that I had to have had my son on the list while I was pregnant! What is going on?! In a city where there is so much, why are we disappointing our children like this?

Natasha from LA (and maybe moving)

Dear Natasha,

You are not alone in your frustration. I have encountered so many parents in the same predicament as you. Take comfort in the fact that nothing was lost because your son did not get into this class. Any music class that would turn away a child isn’t worth going to. You mentioned that the teacher seemed unkind in your exchange with her. Think about it, would you really want your little boy exposed to that kind of energy on a weekly basis?

Sadly, there are people who sense opportunity for personal gain in the fears and insecurities of others (in other domains of the animal kingdom we call them predators). A few weeks ago we discussed the beauty industry and its dependence on women’s insecurities to function. A similar dynamic exists between establishments such as the one you encountered and insecure parents.

In your case, it appears as if this person is creating an illusion of quality by making her class super-exclusive. The reasoning being that if the class is hard to get into and everybody wants in, then it must be good. Voila, a “need” has been invented: the need to get into this class.

And what happens if we don’t get Baby in, what then? It’s not that far of a leap from here for a parent to feel as if there’s something wrong with their child or them if they are not admitted to the class. But exclusivity does not equal quality, as this teacher’s behavior evidenced.

How much variety and creativity could there be in a class if the instructor has such a militant outlook? How ironic that in her efforts to create the appearance of an ideal creative environment for children she seems to have established a police state. What I find truly upsetting is that the other parents in the class may not realize this, and continue to be misled into thinking because they are paying top dollar in an exclusive environment then by definition they are getting “The Best.”

It is totally irrelevant how exclusive or expensive a class or activity is. Your experience proved this to you. I have friends who have spent untold sums of money on “gourmet” toys only to find their children playing with the box it came in. What is important here is that the class or activity is a place where your little one is free to explore and discover his own unique and innate talents. The only true essential is a welcoming environment filled with unconditional love, laughter and respect for everyone.

The larger issue to consider is what kind of philosophy and worldview do we want to instill in our children? As parents we are their first and most influential teachers. What message is being sent if we keep ourselves strictly associated only “with our own kind,” whatever that means to each of us individually? How can we expect them to grow into empathetic, caring adults if we teach them to view their fellow human beings through varying filters of “us and them,” rather than as siblings in a human family sharing the planet? This is not to say we shouldn’t strive to keep our children in the schools that will give them the best education and in the neighborhoods we feel safest and happiest in. However, it is just as much a part of their education as human beings to not only have exposure to all types of different people, but as much as possible to be involved with all kinds of people. Take this opportunity to teach your son by example and spread your wings.

As parents, it is our responsibility to seek out and find “the best” for our children. I don’t mean making sure their little musical instruments are hand carved teak and mahogany, or that they only paint with genuine sable brushes. But the real world stuff; be it education, what they eat, the media they consume or even just the friends they make. You are absolutely doing the right thing by working hard to try and find the most enriching environments for your little boy to be in. Perhaps you should consider changing not what you’re looking for, but where you’re searching for it.

Los Angeles is a city of contradictions. In a place with such abundance the appearance of finite resources is appalling. At times the extremes on the economic spectrum rival that seen in the Third World. Yet the ethnic and economic diversity of LA is one of its greatest strengths. Your son lives in a city where he has the opportunity to be exposed to, learn from and ultimately be enriched by cultures from all over the world. So my advice to you is, set yourself free! Search out the unique and sometimes hidden treasures for children this city has to offer.

Research places you might have not considered at first. Log on to the Web and ask our modern equivalent of the Oracle at Delphi to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. Expand your search outside of your neighborhood, even your local city; don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone (use common sense though). You may find yourself pleasantly surprised.

You mentioned you grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood. Perhaps it might be worth revisiting the moments in your own childhood that meant the most to you and searching out their Los Angeles 2009 equivalents. Once you do locate that first fantastic class or activity, you’ll most likely meet other like-minded parents and be directed towards more wonderful experiences for both you and your son.

Like so many other challenging situations we encounter, the solution lies in action that is based in thoughtful balance. By all means you should make full use of the resources at your disposal to give your boy the life he deserves. But at the same time don’t let yourself be blinkered by the false boundaries others may attempt to establish around you.

As a mother your instincts for what is best for your child are your strongest guide. Trust in them and yourself as you set out on your search and you’ll soon find what you’re looking for. Perhaps, even more.

Dr. V.

Note: All information in the Ask Dr. V column is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnosis and treatment, please feel free to email Dr. V, or consult your doctor.

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