"How do you get to be yourself? By questioning authority."

Last week, while in Ashland, Oregon, interviewing my Great Aunt Dot about her life as a social activist, Dot shared with me two succinct yet completely revolutionary ideas that immediately struck me as crucial to every parenting manifesto...

1. "Nobody but you can do what you can do." 


2. "How do you get to be yourself? By questioning authority." 

I have been thinking a lot about this, especially lately, as I watch my children navigate transitions from toddler to child, child to young adult-- how we routinely label these moments in our children's life as TERRIBLE.

Terrible twos. 

Terrible teens. 

Teenagers are the worst. 

Wait until you have teenagers... 

Why are we so closed-minded when it comes to rebellion? When did questioning authority become negative? I mean, sure, rules are ALSO important to recognize and USUALLY follow. We need stoplights and laws -- and to follow directions in order to respectfully navigate life, our peers, each other... but we also NEED TO QUESTION those directions in some cases -- and even, and at times, break the rules... 

"I never stopped questioning authority,"Dot explained. "I never stopped being curious." 

The most emotionally intelligent people I know recognize the importance of dissent and are open to criticism, allowing themselves (and others) the need to SAY SOMETHING even if/when it is unpopular.

This is not to say we shouldn't raise our children to respect boundaries, follow directions, but to everything there is a season and embracing our children (and each other) for our dissent, I believe, is healthy and important. And while some children WANT even NEED to stand in a line, others can ONLY grow if/when they step out of one. 

I respect your rebellion, kids. So long as you're not hurting anyone or yourself. 

For some children, getting to know themselves as unique human beings separate from their parents is only possible if/when they push us away.

I was that way.

And so far, 3/4 of my children are the same. 

Perhaps this is why mothers seldom exist in classic coming of age stories? A child cannot grow to his/her full potential with his/her mother hovering/planning/making all the decisions... 

The truth is, it's not about us. All those years slamming doors on my mother weren't because I was rejecting HER but insisting on MYSELF. Alone. In my bedroom.

"Leave me alone..."

I've been thinking a lot about authoritarianism since reading this piece a reader linked to in the comments of this post several months ago.

This part, specifically:
  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?
One of our biggest problems as a society (at least from where I stand) is our willingness to choose "good manners" over "curiosity" when it comes to our children. And our system, specifically our school system, is set up to award those who "obey" with popsicle parties instead or creating safe environments for children to question authority -- question rules -- AND FIND THEMSELVES.

Spending time with a lifetime (self-proclaimed) "radical" who used her body to block trains carrying nuclear warheads, went on hunger strikes protesting Vietnam and once chained herself to a logging truck to protest deforestation, was for me a pertinent reminder that rebellion is often our greatest gift to the world.  WE NEED DOTS on this planet! In the same way we need doctors and lawyers and writers and painters and plumbers. 

One cannot empower a child without embracing her will to fight a system that is trying to strip her of her power. This is why toddlers have tantrums. And teenagers hate their parents.

Because, we, in a word, ARE THE MAN our children must challenge and question and, yes, sometimes rail against in order to grow.

Not that it doesn't suck to be rebelled against... but it has been really helpful for me to recognize that IT ISN'T ABOUT ME when my kids want to be left alone... or when they're embarrassed of me in the halls. Or when they think bedtime is idiotic...

How do you get to be yourself? By questioning authority.

Sitting down with our children and encouraging them to seek out places in their lives/the world that they feel strongly against is AS important if not MORE important than asking them what they love, or who they want to be when they grow up.

Dissent is not negative. Disagreement is CRUCIAL for people trying to formulate their own ideas.

Certainly not all of us will feel the same -- I realize it is, perhaps, controversial to believe a child should be supported for her rebellion, but I think it's worth discussing the importance of creating a home environment where our children know it's okay, even IMPORTANT to question our authority sometimes. 

Helping our kids find the things in the world they want to rebel against and encouraging them to take positive action to make change--in the same way we encourage them to "listen" and "respect boundaries"--is crucial.

Perhaps a child is pissed they have so much homework? How do they USE that to take action? Write letters? Create an anti-homework club to work on a petition? Engage in peaceful protest in the halls? This is the time, people. Learning to engage and take on what is wrong with our system is as important as respecting and adhering to what works.

GET TO KNOW the thing you want to change and then work on what it means to PEACEFULLY RESIST. 

Because the truth is, in this life, there will be times when the only way to get out of the woods is to trespass through the tall grasses that surround it.