My Child Is A Rule-Breaker, But Maybe That’s A Good Thing

by Christine Organ
Viacheslav Nikolaenko/Shutterstock

As a new mom, I absolutely hated Mommy and Me classes. It was not because of the annoying teacher with the singsongy voice or the silly games we played. It wasn’t the moms trying to one-up each other with humblebrags (or outright brags) about the rapid pace of their child’s development. Nope. It was circle time that drove me mad and ultimately led to our title of Mommy and Me Dropouts.

Circle time was the bane of my existence. It drove me to distraction. It made me question everything about myself as a mother and I constantly asked myself, What the fuck am I doing wrong?

While the other kids sat quietly on their parents’ laps, singing songs and clapping their hands, my son was running like a mad madman to the corners of the gymnasium. No matter how many times I told him that he was supposed to sit still, he wanted to run and climb and explore. He did not want to sit or follow your rules. He had his own plans in mind. Circle time rules? He didn’t need no stinkin’ circle time rules.

Fast forward 10 years, and that free-thinking, non-rule-following toddler is still marching to the beat of his own drummer, and his younger brother is no different. They push limits and ignore rules. They look for loopholes. If they see a fence, they don’t think: Do not enter. They think: How can I get over it? And they drive me to distraction in the process.

Raising independent, strong-willed, rule-shunning children isn’t for the faint of heart. It is frustrating, exhausting, and confusing as hell. I am constantly telling them “no” and “be careful.” I need eyes in the front, back, and sides of my head. And I might as well tattoo “Because I said so” on my forehead.

I’ll admit, I’m sometimes envious of my friends with cautious, careful, rule-following children — toddlers who wait for their parent before darting away in a crowded store, preschoolers who never leave their own backyard, kids who wait for the nod of approval before stretching their limits. On more than one occasion, I have wanted to scream “Why can’t you just follow the freaking rules?”

But lately, I’ve been wondering if maybe the rule-bending — hell, the rule-breaking — tendencies aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Maybe their wild and rebellious ways might even be a good thing — if not now, maybe someday.

A few weeks ago while our family was vacationing in Yosemite, my son learned that grizzly bears are endangered animals and completely extinct in California. That afternoon, he rattled off ways to protect and reintroduce the endangered animal. “Maybe we could do this,” he suggested. “Why can’t they do that?” he asked. “Let’s try this,” he said. Most of his ideas were ridiculous, and being the rule-follower that I am, I generally dismissed them and assumed that they wouldn’t work.

But later that day, while he and his brother were running up mountains and charting their own paths without once looking back, I realized that maybe – just maybe – their fearless quests into the unknown might be used for good one day, because the rebels and the mavericks are the ones who get shit done.

Instead of assuming something is impossible, the rule-breakers ask “why not? and look for loopholes. Instead of walking the well-worn path of others, they spread off and create their own trail. Instead of saying “This is how it has always been done,” they say, “Let’s try something new.”

Most really kick-ass things in the world were discovered or developed because someone took a chance, experimented, and tried something new. Someone ignored the rules or bent the rules or asked, “Why not? Sometimes the result was a disaster; other times it was something amazing.

That afternoon in the wilderness, I watched my sons fearlessly wander off exploring the unknown (or the unknown to them) without once wondering whether it was within the rules. My husband followed after them and 20 minutes later, they returned with stories of the cool things they saw and the adventures they had in just 20 short minutes. And I realized, maybe instead of telling my sons “no” and “because I said so” and “be careful” quite so often, I should be taking a lesson from their rule-breaking ways myself. I, the timid rule-follower, could definitely stand to learn a few things from walking off the beaten path now and then.

Most of the time, my wild and rebellious children make me want to scream, cry, pull my hair out, or all of the above. But every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of what might be possible for them if their independent spirit is given the freedom to fly: adventures, discoveries, confidence.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize that not only do I want those things for my children, I also want those things for myself.