As a parent, I’m constantly torn between the balance of raising independent thinkers -vs- rule followers. Sometimes I wonder if this is actually something we can shape, or are they born with a certain amount of engrained responsibility or rebellion? I have two daughters and they are very different people with very different personalities. They have overlap, but they also have some really strong qualities I have to believe they were just born with.
I’m an advocate of “home rules” and “school rules”, understanding the difference, knowing when to follow them, and when you have to trust your guts.
At home, it becomes a little more complex because there’s mom’s house and dad’s house. While their dad and I do our best to communicate and stay aligned on many foundational guidelines across homes, we have different beliefs, we are different people, and we do some things differently in our respective homes.
“This is how I was raised”
When my kids were very young, I heard myself say things like, “Well, this is how my parents did it and I turned out OK so…” but over time I started to realize that not all things are applicable, and maybe I want more for my kids than turning out OK. Maybe I don’t want them to be replicas of me. I decided to really start thinking about the things my parents did that worked, and things they did that maybe they did because that’s how they were raised and they just didn’t know any better. I started questioning more. Pausing, observing, slowing down, listening. And encouraging them to (respectfully) question me more.
Instead of getting mad or frustrated about little things like accidental spills or their arguing with me, I’m taking a second to think about the bigger impact of my reaction. If I don’t like their tone or attitude, I try taking time to understand what they’re saying and help them communicate what they’re feeling/thinking in a way that doesn’t make me SUPER MAD. It takes practice for me to change my own behavior, but I’m working on it.
As parents, we hope our kids will not repeat mistakes we’ve made, but sometimes they need to learn the hard way. Sometimes they choose to learn the hard way. What I’ve learned by standing back and allowing them space to do things their own way, is that sometimes I learn new ways of thinking and doing things. Sometimes I’m reminded that I’ve fallen into patterns of “how it’s done” and kids can often bring a different approach. I’m reminded to slow down and observe. I’m reminded to try new things and think about things a little differently.
How do we know if we’re succeeding?
Sometimes I hear myself snapping at my daughter about not following some rule, then I hear her snapping back with a totally reasonable argument as to why she broke the rule. In those moments, I smile. I thank her for thoughtfully challenging me. There’s a difference between thoughtfully challenging and just being a snappy jerk, though. If I feel like she’s going down the snappy jerk road, I have no problem letting her know that’s not OK.
I’m proud of their rebelliousness, I encourage it. Yet, I also want to raise respectful human beings who contribute something positive to the world. I don’t want them to be well-behaved all the time. I want them to poke at the world and see what happens. I want them to learn by doing, and to not be afraid of the world. Yet, I also want them to be safe, and not go too far down any dangerous road.
I’m more proud of the accolades they receive at school for things like “Helps Others”, “Shows Kindness” and the “Is Kind to Bugs” award Zia earned when she was four than I am for stellar grades and advanced academic placement. I’m proud when a rule gets changed because they felt it was important enough to them personally to challenge it. Those things are awesome, but I weigh them differently. I acknowledge them differently. I encourage them differently.
I’m not sure what the measure for success is on how we’ve raised our kids - ultimately I suppose it’s who they become over time, how they interact with the world, what they contribute.
I hope my own kids will define “success” in their own way not because I’ve defined it for them, and not because the world has told them what it’s supposed to look like. I hope they will challenge they way things are and continually work to shape things into some form of better.
Where is the balance?
I tend to lean on the side of healthy rebellion. I feel like I’ve played things pretty safe for most of my life but there’s rebellion in my blood. I push some boundaries, I do some things differently. I’ve always had a little “punk rock” in me… but I was also shaped to a certain degree to conform and not rattle too many cages.
Everyone’s circumstances, values, and belief systems are unique. Maybe there’s an answer to be found in simply teaching resilience, independence, hard work, and follow-through along with human values, like kindness, integrity, respect, and self-respect.
And maybe there’s a lot of value in encouraging and embracing some rebellion in kids. Maybe that’s how the world slowly becomes a better place.
What do you think?