Friday, March 29, 2013

Can a "good" child be noncompliant?

Welcome to the March 2013 Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival: Self-Expression and Conformity

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Authentic Parenting Blog Carnival hosted by Authentic Parenting and Living Peacefully with Children. This month our participants have written about authenticity through self-expression. We hope you enjoy this month's posts and consider joining us next month when we share about Peaceful Parenting Applied.

My five-year-old is a shock to his grandmother's system.

He is a great kid — but not a compliant one.

I'm not sure why he pushes so many of her buttons, considering he's what most people would consider a "good" kid. Now, do I have problems with "good" being used to mean "easy"? Yes — yes, I do. And he was not "good" (read: easy and convenient) as a baby. But as a kid, he's a lot calmer, as well as charming, thoughtful, inventive, and sweet.

But my mom can't get over the fact that he's not obedient.

He's not even snotty about it, just matter of fact.

"Want to use your fork?" Nana will suggest at mealtime.

"No, that's ok," says Mikko as he continues to lift noodles to his mouth with his fingers.

"You have to wear your jacket — it might be cold."

"I'm not cold, Nana," he'll happily insist as he races out.

I was the exact opposite as a child. I leapt to please anyone in authority. I quailed before implied disappointment. My mom holds me up as an example of the best sort of child.

My niece, Mikko's cousin and my mom's only other grandchild, is of a similar obedient disposition. She tells my parents whatever they want to hear, and they eat it up. I think she's something special, too, and a very sweet and winning little girl — I totally see myself in her — but that doesn't mean that I don't equally appreciate Mikko's predilection for independent thinking.

For one thing, I don't care if he eats with his fingers or feels warm enough not to want a jacket. He won't be eating with his fingers when he's fifteen, and right now, it makes life easier for him and for us — he's been a slow developer for motor skills, not to the point of worry, but to the point of adapting expectations. If it's easier for him to manage fingers than a fork at this point, fine. At least he's eating. He's five. He's getting better with utensils, so I know he'll master fork skills eventually, but it's not something you pick up from nagging.

If I'm feeling very certain that he'd do better with a jacket on, I'll list my reasons. Often, he'll end up agreeing. Sometimes he won't, and then he either goes without or, if I have room, I'll tuck it in the bag. We specifically found a hooded sweater with a zipper front that's not as bulky and restrictive as a jacket that he likes more. It's easy enough to toss in the diaper bag for just in case, and usually he won't ask for it. My mom would rather not think the possibilities through and come up with compromises or list her reasons for wanting compliance — she thinks just stating her will should be enough.

We've been working on giving Mikko language and support to deal with situations and people like this. Because, despite his good nature, or I guess because of it, he does eventually get upset when someone in authority repeatedly shows her disappointment in him. When my mom spends several minutes and every meal occasion murmuring and making little jabs about his refusal to use utensils, Mikko will calmly meet the first half dozen suggestions with even-handed and polite "no"s. But at some point, he'll turn and look at Sam and me with bewilderment and hurt in his eyes, wondering why on earth his nana's persisting in beating a dead horse.

Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes has had her own hilarious (to me, and I think to her) run-ins with Mikko's attitude. He was eating over and she pointed out that her daughter had brought her dishes to the sink and asked if he wanted to bring his into the kitchen as well. "No, thank you," he calmly replied. (Maybe we all just need to stop framing things to him as requests, hey?)

She's helped me come up with ideas of what to say when a situation arises like that with my mom. For instance, I can say to Mikko at my mom's table, "It sounds like it's very important to Nana that you use your fork." Then she's feeling heard, and Mikko understands that in this instance, using a fork might be the easiest road after all. But there's also the implicit understanding that I don't care if he uses a fork, and I can make it explicit by saying so and yet repeating that Nana would appreciate it.

I think when it comes down to conformity vs. self-expression, there are always these balances to keep in play. I still believe my children need guidance and modeling, but I'm much more willing than some other parents (and grandparents) to let the littler things go. I want my children to know that they have a voice, and that I respect their preferences even as I work to find acceptable compromises within the rules and expectations of whatever new milieu we're in, like using a fork around Nana.

Above all else, I want to continue showing my acceptance of my "disobedient" child, so that he knows a noncompliant child is still an awesome one.

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Olivia said...

I struggle with this with my own child. It's tough to balance fostering independence when there are things that she just (IMO) has to do. In those situations I really try not to phrase it as a request she can refuse, and now that she is 4, I am teaching her that we do some things out of politeness or courtesy, e.g. taking her dishes to the sink or sit at the table until everyone is finished eating.

Becky said...

I wonder if it's a boy vs. girl thing... but then my daughter is the same way! I do better when I step back and relax, and remember her age.

Mandy said...

I've really come to hate the word obedience. I hear it tossed around at children quite a bit, and sometimes I want to ask the person if they really know what the word means, because threatening a child if they aren't obedient is not what is about. I hope that when our kids grow up, there will be more focus on doing what you think is right because you believe in it rather than because of what someone else may think or do.

Momma Jorje said...

Elmo thinks that he comes off as the bad guy a lot for one very thing you mention - I'm willing to find a compromise when Sasha doesn't agree with me. I find a way for us to meet in the middle.

I think the jacket issue, in particular, is something that our generation's parents (and those generations before) perhaps saw as all-too-important. I mean, we can't possibly know better than our children whether they need a jacket! If they're old enough to say "I'm cold," then I think they're old enough to decide WHEN they're cold!

Oh, and while I'm quite adept at fork, knife, spoon and even chopstick usage, I like to eat with my fingers! I've been known to cut a steak in half at a restaurant then pick it up and eat it - barbarian style! I love to pick the veggies from my plate one at a time with my fingers! Poor manners? Maybe. I don't really care. I like it!

As I finish reading this... I'm thinking maybe I need to read it to Elmo! He hates that Sasha doesn't do as she's told. It sucks sometimes that he has another daughter with whom to compare. She is being raised in a very strict household. Her hair is "done" every day, she keeps to a strict schedule and blah blah blah - we've seen such things kept in line with physical punishment. He knows I'm not willing to bend on that point at all. I believe that when the girls are grown, we'll see who has the closer relationship with their parents/mother. Sasha will know she can trust us to love and care for her, regardless of her actions.

Sorry, kind of got off on a tangent there, but I think it all applies.

Janine Fowler said...

My husband and I are careful to ask ourselves WHY we are asking things of Sebastian. This week he was eating dinner with his feet up on the table. We almost asked him to put them down... but then realized there was no good reason he couldn't keep his (clean, bare) feet up on the table. Much easier to let it go!

Sebastian loves to be naked and if we fought to put clothes on him every single time he refused, we would either be constantly fighting or eventually break his spirit. He knows that he has to be dressed to go outside. Today he was naked and I told him his dad had just pulled up outside and would he like to walk out and greet him... He literally went running around the apartment, frantically searching for clothes to put on.

My mom expects obedience a lot more than we do as well, as does his grandpa on his dad's side. It definitely forces me to advocate for Sebastian and his autonomy.

Destany Fenton said...

I feel so much of your post right now! The past two days my father was staying with me. He had recently been to another family members house, who's children are extremely obedient and always do exactly what they are told without hesitation, a word of reproach or even a an upset look upon their face. It is not a criticism, and many would congratulate this parent for a job well done.
But unquestioning obedience is not for me with my children so much as self expression and the confidence to express themselves.
So there were moments of tension when my Adam told me NO! and carried on doing what he was aked not to do, or when my 13 year old muttered something disrespectful at me when I wouldn't allow him to do something he asked me to do.

My father did however wind up paying me a rather nice compliment on my parenting, and was able to focus on the positive that he saw in regards to my children's behavior - because there is a very positive side to self expression, and that is when children treat each other with absolute kindness, consideration and take joy in helping one another - not because they are told to but because they like to. They reflect the attitude their father and I show them and that is one of cooperation, not force.

I hope that your mother can someday learn to focus on that positive aspect. There are so many ways children can be "good" and isn't it better when it's because they want to be?

mb said...

this is great. i am with you, i value self-knowledge and a sense of wholeness and integrity in my child far above obedience. it's such a weighted word (how much more weighted could it be, it's one of the ten commandments, eek!) but i think if we all took a look at why and how we value compliance and "good"ness, and what that means for the way our child understands us to perceive his being (as someone we love unconditionally, or someone we love when compliant?) and i think so much would change for the better.

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