Teaching Your Kids to Fight The Man When You Are The Man
Growing up, I remember being a constantly curious kid. While my parents encouraged it, they didn’t exactly appreciate it when I questioned things like our faith or their decisions. I remember wondering why we believed in something just because it’s written in a book, why can’t there be life in the universe aside from us just because the Bible doesn’t specifically say there is, and things of that nature. It wasn’t to challenge my parent’s authority; just questions borne out of genuine curiosity.
My first significant act of rebellion against my parents was refusing to go to our church’s youth group. It wasn’t that I was turning my back on religion or the God I was raised to believe in, it was simply that I had experienced enough of the hypocrisy of those who were supposed to be my peers in the house of the Lord. The church was also a private Christian school and since my sister and I were some of the only kids attending church, but not the school, we were often excluded from the social groups by the other kids, so much so that my sister was bullied when she started dating a Laotian boy who was also a member of the youth group.
After that, as with most kids, I rebelled some more against homework and the mandated “appreciation of the classics” in school. My school career on-going act of rebellion was to do just enough work to scoot by, but never actually applying myself. While I learned a lot in class and graduated with a 3.5 GPA, it was the mandatory assignments that made me feel like a cog in the educational machine. Nothing more; nothing less. And so I rebelled by choosing to participate as little as possible. Oh, if only I could use a magical Way Back Machine to go back in time and smack some sense into Younger Me!
My post-high school acts of rebellion against what I had been told was acceptable by The Man involved getting a tattoo and piercing both my ear and my lip. At the time only “junkie punks” and bikers had their lips pierced. The ridiculous Emo trend hadn’t yet caught on in Sonoma County. I fought the man for 8 years with my pierced lip, by busting my ass in professional workplaces to prove myself through my work ethic and integrity.
I wore those piercings like badges of honor, intentionally striving to show everyone I encountered that people with piercings were not all deadbeats, even with “a ball bearing hanging from the lip,” as my mom once described lip rings – “Not your lip ring, I mean. I was talking about the lip ring on a girl where I work.” she would go on to clarify.
As a father of three kids, I’m finding it difficult to raise them with the healthy respect for authority that I feel all kids need, while still pushing them to be courageous and independent enough to grow into their own person however that manifests itself, to stand their ground when they truly feel compelled to, and to fight for what they believe to be right in their soul.
This has proved to be more difficult than I ever expected because, much to the dismay of a much younger version of myself, I have become The Man that I used to rebel against.
My greatest fear is that my children will grow up to be complacent, dispassionate, non-voters, trudging through a monotonous life that makes them miserable.
I want my kids to be passionate about everything they do. If they’re doing homework, they need to do their absolute best and not half-ass it. If they’re going to try something new, I don’t want them to give up easily. If they’re going to try to be sneaky and pull a fast on over their old man, they damn well better cover their tracks and do it “right.”
They’ve learned that they shall not take the names of Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, or Tommy in vain while living under my roof.
I’ve found that I’m a mirror of my own dad – luckily, with a lot of his greatest qualities – and his parenting style. Many days, I feel like those two sides of me are fighting against the other – the rebellious, casual-anarchist and the you-have-chores-to-do father. But how exactly do you get your kids to adopt and balance these two polar opposites? Where is the middle ground between raging against the powers that be and avoiding pissing off your old man because you’re acting like a jerk?
Is there a middle ground?
Here’s how I try to navigate these treacherous lands; your mileage may vary:
Let Them Have an Outlet
There are times to lose your shit, like when you catch a guy trying to steal your car, but typically speaking, everyday life isn’t usually the best time to unleash that primal angst. Kids need an outlet to productively burn off their stress and anger. Yes, children get angry too. They’re just like adults, only shorter and way more fun to jump out and scare in a dark hallway.
My oldest, unfortunately, inherited the same temper that my dad and I have. Just as he and I needed to, she’ll have to learn how to channel her anger into something constructive. As parents, it’s not up to us to decide what their outlet is going to be. As long as it’s safe, let them have it.
Teach Them How to Properly Question Authority
My kids are free to ask “Why?” and to challenge our decisions. They know, although they usually don’t seem to remember, that there’s a time, a place, and a manner with which to question mom and dad. When we’ve had to struggle with them to do something, turning right back around, only to challenge us with a rude “WHY SHOULD I?!” is not that right time, place, or manner.
If they can approach us calmly and mindful of their tone of voice and body language, they’re free to ask us why we came to the decision we did and we’re happy to answer them. Sometimes in discussing things with them, we realize that we may have had a change of heart. Other times they’re disappointed that we stuck to our original decision, but at least they got to hear our reasons through dialog.
Make Them Aware of Consequences
Everything we do has consequences – some good and some bad. Standing your ground can bring about some pretty lousy consequences, so they better be ready to accept them. When I was in middle school, I refused to keep hanging around a guy who liked to verbally bully some of my friends.
As a result of my choice, I ended up losing some other very close friends who still wanted to hang out with that guy. I had to accept that as a consequence of my decision. Which brings us to my next point.
Above All, Do Good
One December, just before the birth of our third child and during the Christmas shopping blitzkrieg, we were all at a local pet store. While looking at cat scratching posts, I looked down and found two $50 bills in the aisle. My oldest stood there, slack-jawed at our incredible luck. I asked the only other person in our aisle if he had dropped some cash and he said no.
Knowing how much my wife and I could have really used that unexpected $100, I chose to turn it in to the store manager. It physically pained me to do so, but I knew that the example of doing the right thing, even when it’s not convenient, in front of my kids was the best choice.
Doing what’s right, decent, and attempting to make the world better is far greater than any philosophy or social label one may choose to identify with.
In a way, I guess I’ve answered my own question: My kids can rage against The Man all they want, so long as they’re good people who strive to leave the world a better place through their acts of rebellion.