It’s Halloween, and figments of Halloweens past have come to haunt me. Ok, ok…I’m getting holidays mixed a bit, but the sentence still holds true.
Halloween has been slowly moving into one of the most stressful holidays for moms and their children. But mostly for moms.
Since I now have teenagers that mostly make their own plans, this holiday no longer provokes the same level of dread, scrambling and anxiety that it once did. However, in my private practice and in my personal life, I have been hearing story upon story about how some moms, not all, seem to organize group costumes, trick or treating gangs, and pizza parties with a particular intention: to include certain children -- the ones these moms want their kids to be friends with.
Now, I want to make sure to acknowledge that not ALL group costumes and other Halloween festivities are arranged by moms, or are all planned with less-than-honorable intentions. There are many examples of kids organizing these events themselves - which I completely support and want to encourage. I am only addressing these mom-sponsored, and not necessarily kid-approved, group costumes and Halloween celebrations.
I have spent many an October 30th stressing about these socially-engineered events. Would my daughter have a friend or two to go trick or treating? Maybe I should host the pizza party so that she would have plans? Group costume? Wait. She doesn't have a group costume. Sometimes, we would reach out, only to be told that there were already groups formed….and this was in third grade? Somehow, some way, we survived and thrived on Halloween. We created a family tradition - to order Lou Malnati’s pizza for dinner.
And then I’d collapse onto a heap on the couch…thankful that I could put that to rest for another year.
Can we talk about all of this? It has a name: social engineering, and it is exclusionary.
I’m not the only one who is concerned about it: this article captures a recent story done by the Today show about the growing recognition of the exclusion that can happen on Halloween, and what some communities are doing about it.
I don’t remember the push for Halloween and its celebrations like this when I was growing up. We would go trick or treating with our moms, and meet neighbors and school friends along the way. This is not what happens today.
Moms, if you think you might be involved in social engineering, I have to say, it’s failing, on every level. I am not saying that we have to include the entire community to every milestone celebrated, every holiday we observe. However, when we don’t allow our children to learn to make their own friends we aren't allowing them to practice much needed social skills - initiating friendships, learning how to pick friends, learning what is important in friendships, how to resolve conflicts, learning to trust their own judgment about people and relationships. These kids feel an underlying responsibility to their mothers to maintain relationships so that their moms can maintain their friendships.
Further, as moms, we lose out on similar gifts in relationships. Our friendships stay surface and superficial - using the children’s friendship as the basis of our own relationships. If the kids weren’t friends, then we won't be either. So, we force feed the kids to each other so we don’t get abandoned. What happened to picking our friends because of shared beliefs, values and interests? And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when moms social engineer they teach exclusivity to their children. And this perpetuates a devastating cycle of mean behavior that children inflict upon each other. I know we see the impact of this and wonder, “How can we let this happen?”
I am not perfect. I am sure that I have unknowingly left people out in my lifetime. These are not the crimes I am speaking of. Nor am I speaking out against Halloween celebrations that kids arrange and facilitate based on their own wants and values. I am addressing the specific sin of social engineering - controlling social events for kids based on the moms wanting to be friends.
So, when we talk to our children about staying safe on Halloween, let’s make a commitment to our children and to each other, that we will allow our children to make their own relationships, include the children whose mom may not be part of “the group”, and teach our children that Halloween is a time to enjoy being a child - not a social experiment.
- BROOKE KAYMAN FOX, LCSW