Finally! After weeks of trying to coordinate, I was about to Skype with one of my best pals. She lives in New York, I’m in Chicago and I’ve been missing her tons these days. I couldn’t wait to catch up, even though I was a little concerned about our kids being around while we chatted. As any parent will tell you, the best way to get your child to hover around you is to get on a call – video or otherwise – with someone you really want to talk to. And this turned out to be no exception.
At around 9:00 am on Sunday, we clicked on our little Skype icons and hooray (!) the fun began. The conversation started with the usual “your short hair looks so cute!” and “wow, yours is so long!” exclamations. Heaven. Hearing our voices, each of our daughters ran over. My kid, 6, got bored and quickly left. Her daughter, 3, picked up a recorder and began blowing into it enthusiastically. And that’s when things got interesting.
As opposed to what I would have done, my friend took a patient approach in dealing with her daughter’s desire to provide musical accompaniment to our conversation. First she ignored it. Then she told her to leave the room. Then she tried negotiating. I watched in awe as the kid kept playing away. After a few minutes I couldn’t help myself and blurted out something like, “rip that goddamn thing out of her hand!” But my friend knew that doing so would only ignite a tantrum.
A few minutes later, we got off the call so I could take my kiddo to a birthday party, and since then I've been thinking a lot about parenting and authority. In my house, my daughter is expected to listen. Her dad and I are clearly in charge. And it seems to work for all of us because she likes having boundaries and we like providing them. By nature, my kid is not much of a rule breaker.
Observing my friend’s daughter, I see a child who is very different. She challenges authority. She’s comfortable breaking rules and doing her own thing. And she’s not concerned if an adult is displeased with her. I love it. I love this girl. I want to be this girl, because I think her relationship with authority is a much more effective way to navigate the world.
Think about it. Our society and the businesses that do well within it these days are flatter and less hierarchical. Professionals now jump around frequently between jobs and even industries, which requires flexibility, self-motivation, and independence. Who will do better in this type of environment: a girl who needs firm rules and boundaries or one who’s not afraid to go against the grain?
As a parent, this leaves me confused. I want my daughter to succeed, but I can't change her temperament. I’ve seen adults whose parents tried to make them more aggressive or more outgoing, and trust me, the results are not pretty. I can nudge my daughter into being less of a “rules” girl, but I doubt it will do much more than make her feel I don't accept her for who she is.
But beyond temperament, what really concerns me is the mixed messages I’m sending her. I’m telling her to “be good,” “don’t get in trouble,” and “listen to your teachers” at the same time I’m saying “do your own thing,” and “who cares what others think.” This dissonance between the two is driving me a little nutty; I can only imagine what it’s doing to her.
The truth is, I like that my kid is obedient. I like that she doesn’t get into trouble. And I definitely like knowing that if I tell her to put a recorder away, that thing will be gone, fast, if she ever wants to see it again. But there is a strong sense of guilt that accompanies my parenting style. Am I forcing her into a mold that won’t benefit her later on, just so I can proudly say that I have a well behaved, gentle and submissive child? And will my choices now make her too well behaved, gentle and submissive later on? I can't help but think that these days, given all the pressures that will soon be on her shoulders, I should be raising a total badass, not a good girl.
[photo credit: imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.net]