Your Kids Are Picking Up On The Babysitter’s Values. Sorry.

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Go Vegan cowI always make a point to become a chameleon for the different families I babysit.

I try to leave my own opinions and sentiments at the door as when I walk into the home of other families, I’m hired to reflect their values — not my own. Provided that the parents aren’t beating or starving their children, there are few instances in which I feel it’s appropriate to assert my own beliefs.

I’m the babysitter, not the parent, and the distinguishing factor often comes when handling certain sensitive subjects in which I don’t want to overstep my bounds. The problem often is, however, that simply by being a regular grownup in the kid’s life — they do start to emulate you and what you think.

Clearly, it’s not as if I get many opportunities to discuss religion, politics, or deep philosophical concepts with 7-year-olds, but kids have a way of asking these types of questions without particularly meaning to.

Take for the example the perceptive 6-year-old who asked me one day why I never ate meat. Who knows how long she had been watching my green and leafy plate before inquiring why I served her chicken every evening and never myself. Peering up at me under her light brown bangs, she asked because she was curious and because she genuinely wanted to understand this new adult who had been assigned in her life.

I didn’t want to lie and prevent her from truly knowing me, but it was profoundly difficult to explain my choices without fear of influencing her own. I hesitated when contemplating the word “vegan,” which I have been since I was a kid myself. It’s often easier to explain habits than labels to children, I find.

So when I told her that I didn’t eat meat because I personally felt it was wrong, but also for health reasons, she of course studied her own plate with a turned up a nose. She wasn’t so naive to think that the slab of chicken on her plate had not once been a living creature (the first book she ever read was on farm animals), but before meeting me, I could see that it had never occurred to her that one didn’t have to eat meat — especially a grownup.

I’m certain that by merely not eating meat at every meal with this 6-year-old, I was countering her mother’s insistence that she had to. I quickly explained how some people choose to eat meat and that those people are not bad either. That everyone chooses to live differently.

“But you don’t.” She hesitated over her plate and watched me again. I don’t. The adult who cares for her when her mother isn’t around and lives in close proximity to her every habit does not eat meat. Understandably, it made her think a bit.

She only ate meat peckishly from then on, taking chews of fish or fowl with serious expressions — her little fork in hand. Her mother remarked on the change in her appetite to me, well aware of my own diet and I didn’t know quite what to say. She wasn’t angry with me, but the fact that my choices had now influenced her daughter was visibly something that she was not prepared for.

The little girl did eventually return to a meat-based diet after some weeks, taking huge helpings of shrimp onto her plate and reminding me that I couldn’t have any. Like most children, eventually she had a new obsession: God.

I quickly cleared the plates from the table and told her to ask her mother when she got home.