When rebels become parents

LIke their mother, the girls started doing things their own way at an early age...

What happens when rebels become parents? It’s something that I’ve been thinking a lot as I spend — ha! — a lot of time with my children this summer.

What happens is that people who made a point of pushing against the restrictive and oppressive, suddenly are in a position of regularly being restrictive and oppressive: Time to go to bed; time to stop eating candy; no, you can’t paint the cat; yes, you have to clean your room!

The tables have neatly turned.

There are parents I know who apparently have few bones to pick with the world. They generally accept their place in it and are comfortable with the fact that their child needs to accept the fundamentals of society: school, parents-as-the-boss, and doing things you don’t feel like doing.

Many things haven’t felt ok to me that I’ve ended up doing: forcing gentle, open, little souls to school when they didn’t want to go; laying down military-style routines for bathing, hair and teeth because these habits are simply not taking root; refusing to download songs about partying all night to an eager pre-teen.

I know I’m the boss. I work hard to see who my kids are, how to help them develop and I know what values I want to impart to them. But here’s the thing: I just want them to osmose it, not have me hammer it into them.

I hoped that if I did it “right”, they’d see my impeccable reasoning and compassion…and agree with me. Fat chance, I know, I know…but I bet I’m not alone.

My rebel heart has always had trouble with doing things other people’s way. No matter how trivial, some nervous inner executive panel has always tried to call out “Stop! Wait!” in order to inspect and review everything requested of me. As a result, I’ve worked mostly as a contractor rather than as an employee, done a lot of traveling rather than career-building and had my kids before my marriage.

And when I became a parent, I hadn’t fully taken into account how being in charge could be oppressive for me: endless structure, relentless routine, being, at times, profoundly disliked. All the things that, to put it mildly, were not my strengths. Being a strong leader makes me squirm.

I see now that I’m providing a sense of strength and containment that the kids can throw themselves against until they are adults. But finding peace with it is another thing. It’s lonely at the top. It doesn’t matter how many times I read how my strong leadership will make my children secure. It doesn’t necessarily feel secure from here, and they certainly aren’t thanking me right now. I hate the irony that age and parenting have brought me to the flip side: routines and structure have their place.

Slowly, reluctantly, I’m grasping that a family, at least now with them at this age, is less a democracy than a benign dictatorship. And my girls are feeling exactly what they’re supposed to feel when, at times, I’m the dictator they want to overthrow.

Me, the dictator in action, many summers ago...

How have you reconciled the rebel you were pre-motherhood with the authority you have to become once you have kids? Let me know!

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6 Responses to When rebels become parents

  1. As we all well know, kids crave structure, order, and consistency. If at the end of the day they have a strong sense of self, of right and wrong, and treat others with compassion and fairness, we have done our job – brilliantly. Congratulate yourself for who they – and you – are becoming in the process.

  2. Oh Cynthia… oh oh oh! Boy do I relate. Isn’t it crazy? Know, though (speaking as a parent of one of your child’s friends) that your kids are pretty wonderful and all that hammering has had an effect. When they become young adults, they will rebel against the “wrong” kinds of authority, just like you. Thank you for sharing! xo

    • growingmygirls says:

      Thank you Michelle — your kids are pretty wonderful too! Well, it seems to me all one can do is do what seems right and hope for the best. But sometimes it just seems to lead to pretty weird places, nothing I’d ever imagined I’d be doing!

  3. Bravo for bringing this up.

    My son (19) and I laugh now as he sets his own rules in the house where he lives alone. I think he actually brushes his teeth and cleans up his room (occasionally), but bedtimes, schedules, wardrobe choices, and artistic creation are all his own.

    Editors say that you need to understand the rules of grammar first before you can break them.

  4. growingmygirls says:

    I like that — it makes sense about learning the rules before you break them — we’re still struggling over here with some of the basics. Love the portrait of your son — glad that you laugh. It gives me something to look forward to!

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