As a mother of three young children, I’m constantly confronted with the issue of conformity.
I worry about my children becoming teenagers and conforming, submitting to peer pressure and veering off their paths toward their life goals. I worry about them becoming adults who conform to what they think society wants.
But as young children, I’m told by various sources that my kids should be obedient.
“You need to teach them respect,” my 91-year old grandmother tells me, apparently unhappy that I give my kids choices and thank them for doing favors for me, like picking something off the ground.
“Do you think my kids are not behaved?” I press, careful not to hit the beehive of an elderly grandmother. That never ends well.
“They need to listen,” she said.
I scratched my head. My three kids (all under five years old) were sitting through lunch relatively quietly, eating their food, not causing any scenes or messes, and here she was telling me I needed to do a better job. I thought I was doing a fantastic fucking job.
“My kids all learned respect,” she continued. “I taught them obedience and they were well-behaved. I never had any problems.”
Of course, I didn’t want to point out that her youngest son still lived in a house that she paid for (at the ripe age of 56 years old), or that she still paid his annual property taxes. I didn’t want to point out that he had been unemployed for decades, raised four loser children with various substance addictions and collectively served a significant amount of prison time. Half of them are on probation. Or my aunt with a string of failed relationships and children and grandchildren on welfare.
Oh yeah, but she taught them obedience and gave them all the great tools for success.
I didn’t say any of this. I swallowed my pride and dealt with the sting of her criticism in silence, glancing anxiously at the clock wondering when I could sneak away to make the two hour car ride back home with my three little ones after an exhausting day of criticism.
It’s not that I can’t handle a little criticism after making the effort to drive four hours round-trip to visit dear old Grandma (every month!), it’s just that I quietly resent the way people think they know how to raise kids when they may or may not have proven success in their own parenting.
The proof is in the pudding. Did you raise a doctor? A productive, happy, law-abiding citizen? Did your children raise great kids? Did they pick healthy relationships?
Did I hear you say no to all of the above?
Then maybe you shouldn’t claim to know how I should be parenting.
Or maybe we’re just in disagreement about what’s important for a child.
For my kids, I want them to think outside of the box. I want them to be respectful but not submissive. I want them to be confident, sociable, intelligent, and disciplined. I never want them to feel constrained by societal pressures, but because I know this is impossible, I want them to have the skills to overcome their anxiety about being different and breaking social norms, and and I want them to trust their judgement and intuition.
I want them to be happy. I want them to do what they love and to be good at it. I want them to be helpers–to contribute good in the world.
That’s what I want for my kids. It’s not just about respect and obedience.