“So few want to be rebels anymore. And out of those few, most, like myself, scare easily.”
The other day my daughter, Michelle, came home from school all chattery about a plan she had for Valentines for her class.
This struck me as weird, and, frankly, not terribly important. Nothing I’d ever heard that had anything to do with homemade paper Valentines had ever struck me as important. Regardless, I spent all last week in a state of heightened awareness of the importance of listening to my kids instead of just preaching to them about whatever thoughts stagger across my mind, so I listened to her.
Her plan involved a poem she’d seen on pinterest (Michelle is a big fan of pinterest – particularly cute animal memes). As related to me on the walk home from school, it was a picture of Grumpy Cat with this poem:
Roses are red,
Violets are red,
Bushes are red,
Trees are red.
I set your garden on fire.”
She was completely enamored of this poem and had been working out a way to adapt it for her class Valentines celebration. She decided to change the ending to “Oh no! Someone set your garden on fire!” so that it wouldn’t come across as threatening.
When we got home she made short work of her homework and then emerged from her room with a stack of construction paper and some scissors and proceeded to make construction paper Valentines with the poem on them for everyone in her class. On the back she wrote, “Idea: Grumpy Cat / Pinterest” because apparently she’s heard something about plagiarism.
I’ll be honest. If I were to fashion a list of things I care most about, elementary school Valentines cards still wouldn’t make an appearance. My recollection of Valentines day was having to sign my name to a bunch of superhero cards with bad slogans. It was one of those kid things that I always found to be a chore. Michelle didn’t turn me away from my Valentines card apathy with a lesson in love and life. In spite of that, I’m really excited about her Valentines cards precisely because they have absolutely nothing to do with anything that interests me.
Michelle’s excited, self-motivated approach to Valentines cards didn’t come from anything to do with me but that’s why it’s so cool, is what I’m saying here.
The fact that she likes them and has devoted significant time and energy to making them is awesome because it’s a tangible piece of evidence that she is becoming her very own person, who doesn’t need to create her likes based on what I like or think. There’s little that makes me feel closer to giddy than seeing Michelle or her brother Paul come up with some idea or interest that I don’t understand.
The older they get, the more often they do these kinds of things — these things that are clearly independent of me. That takes a certain degree of healthy rebelliousness. Parents are the center of their kids universes for a good while, but they’re not supposed to stay that way.
I know this sounds like a pretty extreme escalation, but the independence of making Valentines on her own, in spite of my apathy (although not a lack of support for her interest in it), is a step toward a rebelliousness that I’m dreading and anticipating simultaneously. I dread it for all the reasons that parents around the world dread it — it can be a frightening pain in the ass. I’m looking forward to it because I know that I’m not going to control her forever.
If I’m not going to control her, give her all her thoughts, and dictate each of her choices who is? My hope is that it’ll be her. I don’t want Michelle to grow up and leave home just to find herself a new person to make decisions on her behalf.
Without a little rebelliousness, that’s what happens. She’s making her own independent plans for Valentines cards now, and she’ll likely be making plans I’m less enamored of later. But if we both play our cards right then when she leaves home she’ll have the self-assurance and self-direction to blaze her own path and continue to follow her own interests instead of just following the first person who seems like a cooler version of her dad — someone who tells her what to do like I do, but who doesn’t have her best interests at heart and who doesn’t support her when her interests don’t overlap theirs.
For me, that’s what the quote by Ray Bradbury at the top means. I want Michelle and Paul to be rebels and I don’t want to scare that rebelliousness out of them.
Being a rebel isn’t about listening to rock and roll and riding a motorcycle. It’s about thinking for yourself and taking initiative and being your own person in spite of pressure to do what everyone else is doing.
It’s easy for parents to scare the rebel out of kids by freaking out when they begin to do things that show the unique person that’s emerging from the baby we’ve raised so carefully. It’s actually shockingly easy. Just tossing off belittling comments will do it, e.g., “Valentines cards? Oh, I always thought those were such a waste of time”. Of course, we can punish it out of them, too, which is less likely with something like Valentines cards, but can be a temptation with other expressions of individuality, like their choice of clothes or music. But all those accomplish is a habit of self-doubt and a search for someone, a parent replacement, who’ll ease it.
It’s a leap of faith for us as parents because we’ve worked to raise our kids to be the kind of people we want them to be — kind, hard-working, or whatever virtues we find most relevant. Tossing in individual tastes and personalities adds uncertainty to all of our parental efforts. But, for now, I’m looking forward to seeing what else Michelle is gonna throw at me. As long as it’s safe and kind, I’ll take joy in watching her find the person she wants to be. And I’ll try not to scare her unique individualism, her “rebel” nature, out of her in the meantime.
One last thing: I know that this post doesn’t necessarily stand up to a lot of scrutiny. I picked out this quote this morning and started thinking about how it might apply to raising kids and this is the line of thought I came up with.
I know that Valentines cards aren’t a perfect example. But my point doesn’t really have a lot to do with the specifics of the situation or the specific quote. I spend a lot of time wanting to share my interests with my kids. This is more about the journey from the jumping off place that the quote provides to the realization that I should take pride in the way my kids are comfortable having interests different from mine.
So, if you’re not impressed with the Valentines cards bit, just think of some other thing that your own particular kids are interested in that you’re not and take some joy in that as a sign that they’re growing into their own unique people.