In the same manner that compliance does not exactly mean agreement, our children expressing an opinion that is different than ours does not mean they are being disrespectful.
From the time my children were very small, I have encouraged them to express their opinions on things that affect their world.
This has caused some stress with older generations around us, whose thinking tends to follow the “because I said so” philosophy of parenting.
In scenarios from such simple topics as food choices and clothes, to more complex issues such as house rules, discipline plans, or choices that affect the whole family.
When they were very little, one of my kids decided they did not like tomato sauce. No spaghetti sauce, no pizza sauce. When we ordered pizza, we would be certain to order breadsticks or cheese sticks to accommodate this. He was not allowed to be rude about it. He was not allowed to throw a fit if we went to a pizza place for dinner. By altering his order slightly, he became reassured that his voice was heard, and his opinion mattered.
When my daughter was very small, I wanted nothing more than to have her hair long, so that I could style it in Pinterest worthy braids. She had other plans and expressed the desire for shorter hair. Over the years she has gone through phases of varying lengths, currently with half of her head shaved close. In giving her a voice and control over her hair, she has gained confidence in her choices, which is so much more important than some ribbons and bows.
She was not allowed to fight about it. There was no room in the discussion for rudeness.
When the children disagree with a rule, I allow them to state why.
I do not allow them to yell at me, be rude, be disrespectful, or display bad behavior. I tell them that when they can put into words why they do not like it, we can talk about it.
Because I am not perfect.
Because I am not a teenager navigating 2018.
Because my kids need to know that their opinion matters.
Because over everything else, I want them to know that when they feel something is not right, it is their duty to speak up.
Sometimes after a discussion, I will change my mind and we can come to a compromise. Sometimes I stick firmly to what I previously said. Always I have a greater understanding of where they are coming from and how they think.
As parents, we can get so caught up in thinking that because we have lived more, and know more, that our way of seeing things is the only way.
If our jobs as parents is not to teach our children WHAT to think, but rather to equip them on HOW to think for themselves, then we must allow them to have their own voice.
Tastes in food will change, and the child now puts sauce of his spaghetti and pizza. Hairstyles come and go.
The fact that the kids are allowed to have a voice remains.
One of my teenage children was telling me earlier this week how a recurring scenario in their life makes them feel. They expressed anger, hurt, sadness. Their feelings were real. There was nothing I could do to help the situation, as it is out of my control. Providing the safe space to express those emotions without fear of punishment is all I was able to do.
I listened. I offered understanding.
Anger is an emotion. Hurt is an emotion. Sadness is an emotion.
So many times we tell our kids that these are wrong. “Don’t be angry,” we say when someone has hurt them.
This tells the child that what they are feeling is somehow wrong. As people, we are allowed to be angry. We are allowed to have emotions.
In the anger, I try to remind them to not let the anger fester. Anger must be expressed, dealt with, and let go. Anger cannot be taken out on those around us who are not the cause of the anger.
As parents we must teach our kids how to process their emotions, and that their emotions are perfectly normal. (If the emotions fall outside of the normal range, it is important to seek professional help.)
Teaching them how to process their emotions correctly is a vital step in enabling them to be successful adults that many parents seem to not focus on until they are grown.
Teaching them to disagree and discuss without disrespect will help them as they are adults. It would help all of us in our country to be able to have the difficult conversations while still respecting the other person.
Isn’t it easier to lay that foundation early?
*Even with this philosophy, there are plenty of hormones and outburst flowing around our place. Allowing and encouraging them to have a voice means that I also find myself as a gatekeeper or referee of sorts, reminding kind words at all hours of the day.*