Learning to be open-minded and accepting

My kid is 7 and she just got braces. And, yes, I know that’s really young for braces  and probably in your opinion, too young. I didn’t anticipate my child getting braces to be one of the things other people would insinuate we were doing incorrectly as parents, but I should also know by now that when it comes to judging other people’s parenting choices, everything is on the table.

After having these stunning tinsel teeth for only a month, I think I’ve told at least 100 people about her ‘traumatic anterior crossbite’ and how as a result of it, her bottom, permanent tooth was getting pushed forward and becoming loose. I am increasingly surprised by how defensive I feel each time a person (known to me or not) says, “Wow! Braces! Isn’t she too young for that?”

And, remember, these statements are ALWAYS made in front of my child. I mean, if she wasn’t right there, you wouldn’t have seen the braces, right? But my point is, she can hear you. And, she may be little, but she can also understand your skepticism. This is happening parallel to her dad and me trying to make the braces totally no big deal so she can continue to feel great about herself.

It’s a funny reminder to me (and hopefully by sharing this, to you) the assumptions we make about one another. I mean, when you see a younger kid (or any kid?) with braces, one would think the assumption is there’s a reason they have them. “Gee, I just HAVE to find a place to spend all this money! And hopefully in a way that’s NOT FUN for anyone!” said no one ever.

All this being said, braces is probably one of the least sensitive assumptions and judgement parents and caretakers make about one another and their kids. Things like abilities and disabilities, assumed race and ethnicity differences in families, kids’ gender expression, kids’ weight and/or size, and even kids’ general behavior in public are more sensitive – and probably more common – conversations.

All of this reminds me just to be thoughtful and to try to ask better questions. I fully realize most people don’t actually think my 7-year-old has braces for some unneeded, vain reason. But, the question, “Ooh! Braces! What led to that?” or “Ooh! Braces! They look good on you!” is empowering to my child and feels less judgey and disapproving to me.

Opinions vary greatly on whether or not to even ask questions. Personally, I think asking questions to strangers ought to be avoided unless it seems they might be unsafe. But, I think asking about differences to people we know is okay. Especially when the difference is obvious and I have an interest in learning. Or, if I see an opportunity to introduce my child to something different from her normal experience and can offer a teachable moment about diversity.

After seven years, I know the competition, whether real or imagined, to be a better parent is never-ending. But I also know that my struggles, joys, annoyances, and successes are relatable. So, every time someone tells me my kid is too young for braces, instead of being annoyed, I am going to use it as a reminder to be gentle and gracious about the unintended judgements I am also making about others and try to change them.