I have a two very stubborn and headstrong kids – a teen and an almost-teen. They are loud and fierce in their convictions. They have strong preferences and opinions, some that I don’t agree with. At all. We have heavy conversations about big things – like god (or God) and feminism, immigration and the police. When I tell them what time to be home, they push back, stating their case for a later curfew. When I tell them to clean their room, they remind me that they need some freedom with their space. And when I tell them they should do their homework after school, they give me the reasons why later in the night works better for them.
Most of the time, these conversations leave me emotionally drained and exhausted. I find myself wishing they would be more compliant, responding quickly with an “okay, Mom,” instead of a “no, here’s what I think…” But really, I don’t want that at all. I don’t want my kids to feel like they can’t speak their mind, to not know how to advocate for their needs (or even their wants), to feel uncomfortable challenging authority or suggesting that things be done differently.
I want my kids to feel comfortable dealing with conflict – and more importantly, resolving conflict. I want them to challenge authority when they know in their gut that “the authority” is wrong. I want them to stand up for others and speak truth to power and listen to that inner voice telling them what is right and true instead of listening to what everyone else is telling them is right and true.
But these skills are hard. They take courage. And they take practice. Lots of it.
A Facebook post by Allyson Dinneen, a therapist from Massachusetts, brought attention to the downside of prioritizing obedience with our kids.
I’m 43 and I’m figuring out how to navigate conflict, how to stand up for myself, how to challenge authority. I am a people pleaser with big feelings. This means that I often hold in feelings of frustration until I explode. Rather than addressing conflicts in a productive and efficient way, I stew and let things fester until they pop like a nasty boil filled with pus and nastiness. This isn’t good for anyone.
Let me be clear: I’m not blaming anyone for my challenges in the conflict resolution department. A child of the ‘80s, the general philosophy from everyone from teachers to parents to teachers and even to friends was that children should obey. We should do as we were told. We shouldn’t question. We should follow the rules simply “because they said so.”
As a result, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s until I started listening to my own inner voice. Oh, sure, as a teen, I often advocated fiercely for what I wanted. I was like a tenacious badger, holding tight until I had pleaded – and won – my case. I was so zealous in my self-advocacy that my parents told me that I should become a lawyer. (Which I did.) But outside of my parents, I didn’t really stand up for myself. I avoided conflicts like the plague.
I still do. Take, for instance, my name. I absolutely hate when people call me Chris (no disrespect to folks who have this name, it’s simply not my name). When people call me this, though, I rarely correct them. Instead, to avoid discomfort or potential awkwardness, I just let them keep calling me by a name that isn’t mine. Or I’ll do this weird thing where I don’t respond in the hopes that they’ll realize that this isn’t my name until they are just staring at me and I eventually pretend I didn’t hear them and, let’s just say, it’s super awkward for everyone.
It has taken me to into my 40s to feel even remotely comfortable having hard conversations. I don’t want my kids to wait that long to know who to navigate conflict or speak up for themselves. I want them to practice the art of hard conversations early and often. I want them to know that they can question authority, that they don’t need to follow the rules simply for obedience’ sake. Rather, I want them to understand how to question authority respectfully and effectively, to understand why certain rules exist so they can make better informed decisions.
I want kids who question and prod and challenge. I want kids who speak up and do things their own way. I want my kids to face conflict head on, with humility and respect. And perhaps importantly I want them to feel comfortable confiding in me when they make mistakes.
I’m not trying to raise obedient children; I’m trying to raise confident, independent thinkers who can navigate and resolve conflict. So when they argue with me about their curfew or when to do their homework, when they ask hard questions about school dress codes or the legal drinking age, I’ll take a deep breath and remind myself that this is exactly what I should want for my kids. Even if it drives us absolutely mad in the process.