In my last post I complained that even my fictional children won’t do what they’re told. My character ran off and started writing a completely different book to the one I intended. According to a writer’s course I did, this is a sign of bad planning and research.
It turns out that my character might know what she’s doing and, if I let her express herself, she’ll write a truer story than anything I could carefully plan and execute.
While writing courses and writing advice is all brilliant, and helps the craft, there is definitely a point to tune out external opinion and trust your gut.
Two articles I read on Facebook recently have made me realise the same thing with regards to my real life parenting.
I’ve always been a ‘soft’ parent, willing to accommodate my children and listen to them. I did see a meme this morning on Twitter that said something like, ‘If you always put others first, you teach them that you’re second’ and that is certainly worth considering. I often have to explain to my children what ‘servant’ and ‘slave’ mean after I’ve blurted out a particularly sarcastic comment.
Even so, I’ve never been too bothered about swapping the pink cup for the yellow, or making toast that’s half-marmite, half-jam. This is seen as a parenting weakness. In an article I ranted about a while ago, a nanny said she judged a family badly if they did exactly that. I argued with this view. Why shouldn’t we accept that kids have opinions? I have my favourite glass, fork, plate, bowl and make sure I get them at mealtimes. Woe betide husband making a cup of tea in the wrong mug!
We tell our kids not to whinge or have tantrums or change their mind, but we’re no better. This brilliant article Toddler vs Mum Behaviour: Spot the Difference? on WryMummy.com sums up the hypocrisy. We’re all capable of spilling a drink or napping at the wrong time, and we’re old enough to know better, as the phrase goes. So why yell at a child for it?
The second article that really hit home was on the Guardian website. It’s called Since when did obedience become the epitome of good parenting? My answer would be, Always. Traditionally that’s been the whole purpose of parenting and education. To raise obedient children, seen and not heard, who would go into the Forces, or a factory or an office, and do what they were told.
But life isn’t like that anymore. There are no jobs for life, and the good jobs are about being able to think for yourself – doctors, nurses, scientists, programmers, designers, entrepreneurs, even plumbers and electricians (jobs picked at random!) all require independent thought and problem solving skills. How many times have you moaned because a person in a shop or a tradesman did ‘exactly’ what you asked, without using their brain?
In the Guardian article, the author says, “Imagine going to a friend’s house and you accidentally spill a drink and get shouted at, instead of them saying “oh don’t worry” and mopping it up. And yet…”
My kids are terrified of doing something wrong because I yell at them, particularly if they break something or spill a drink. Recently, due to perceived external pressure to make them more obedient, I’ve started started saying things like, “I don’t want to hear excuses, I want to hear, ‘yes Mummy’!” WTF? I sound like a sergeant major at best, a monster at worse.
I don’t want kids who can’t think for themselves. It is tough, when compliant children are so much easier to deal with. But the flip side is the dangers of compliance. The article discusses a book by Alfie Kohn, called Unconditional Parenting. In it, Kohn explains that a compliant child becomes a particular worry when they hit the teenage years.
“If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they’re told.”
That terrifies me. My son already does what his sister tells him to do, even if that is scrambling onto the shed roof or dangling from the climbing frame – activities she often won’t do because she knows they’re dangerous and she’ll get told off. When he’s in trouble for fighting at nursery his explanation is always, ‘But my friends were doing it…’ He’s 4.
The same goes for children who won’t tell their parents when they’re in trouble or suffering. If I silence them now, will they not tell me when they’re being bullied, or starting to think about having sex?
Hard as it is to be constantly challenged, at least my children aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves or explain their actions. Part of my strong reaction to it is knowing I would never have got away with arguing back as a child. There is definitely a fine line between arguing and answering back (in a rude and stroppy way – something my daughter is a master at).
A comforting thought is written beneath the attached photograph: “A healthy sense of rebellion is a sign that a child’s attachments are secure.” If a child can’t push the boundaries with their primary caregiver, how will they ever learn where those boundaries are?
Reading these articles today has made me more determined to watch for the line, rather than having a blanket ban on all forms of self-justification and expression of opinion.
Who knows, today’s child that learns to fight her corner, justify her position, who knows she is valued and her words count, might well go on to change the world. Or at least enjoy her place in it more.