Kim and I are well-known for encouraging people to be more childlike and act more like kids. A few brave souls have asked (although I suspect there are countless others who have wondered): How does this philosophy impact our role as parents?
In other words, how does a parent walk the line between teaching kids to break rules that don’t exist, without descending into total anarchy?
While it’s true that our kids regularly say “#Notarule” in its proper context during normal conversations, any speculation that our kids are living in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is grossly over exaggerated.
Here are some thoughts on the matter. Your mileage may vary, but I believe there are some useful nuggets here, wether you’re a parent or not.
A Parent’s First Job is Parenting.
First and foremost, we are our kids’ parents, not their friends or playmates or butlers. No one else has this job, so if we don’t do it, our kids will be screwed, destined to live life as soft, spoiled, entitled, selfish little scoundrels. I think they deserve better.
And so it falls on us to teach them manners and accountability and forgiveness and generally how to not be dirtbags. The challenge is that this takes a lot of work, which is why many people prefer to delegate it to someone else. It requires the willingness to be the “bad guy,” to say no, and to enforce the law. This, in turn, requires patience, perseverance, self-confidence, and at least a little stubbornness (with the latter being our strongest trait.)
We are very proud when someone at a restaurant compliments us on how well-behaved our kids are, because we know how much work and consistency goes into it. We are also certain they might have a different opnion if they lived with these minions every single day, like we do.
Kids Need Rules.
With a degree in early childhood education, Kim is well-versed in the research that shows kids need structure and routine in order to feel safe, grow, and thrive. As such, although our schedule is flexible, we run a pretty orderly household, complete with consistent bedtimes, cleanup routines, and behavioral expectations (right now we’re working on not interrupting someone while they are talking, which at this rate, they should master by the time they leave for college).
In our home there are plenty of rules that DO exist, and there are consequences for breaking them, just like in the real world. We merely advocate the overthrowing of the rules that DON’T exist. Fortunately, there are plenty of them within the realm of parenthood.
Parents Need Backbones.
If he had his druthers, my son Ben would wear pajamas all day long, every single day, for the rest of his life. Once in a while, we let him roll with his own wardrobe choices because, if I’m being really honest about it, the only reason I wouldn’t let him wear his pajamas to the grocery store is because of my concern about what other people would think of my parenting.
And frankly, that’s why more parents don’t let their kids break rules that don’t exist. They care too much about what other people would think of them if they did.
Kids deserve parents with enough self-confidence to allow them to be themselves and not conform to an expectation that only exists because it’s always existed.
Once in a While is Not the Same as Always.
My friend Eliz sets aside one day a year as the “Day of Yes.” On this particular day, this mother of twins says yes to any and all reasonable requests, particularly the things she normally says no to. My sister-in-law once took her daughter to the midnight screening of the first Twilight movie. On a school night.
Now they key to these examples is that both of these moms run a pretty tight ship. Rules are enforced and the kids are well-behaved. The only reason it’s special is because it doesn’t happen all the time. Parents who always let their kids eat dessert first are doormats. Parents who never let their kids eat dessert first have a stick up their butt. The magic is in the middle.
Don’t Fear the Why.
One thing Kim and I try to practice is an openness to our kids’ “Why?” questions. Practice is the key word here, as “Because I said so” slips out from time to time. The truth is, whether you are a parent, or a manager, or a CEO, forcing yourself to answer why you do things a certain way is a great way to ferret out rules that don’t exist. If you have a clear answer, you find yourself smack dab in the middle of a teachable moment. If not, you very well may have stumbled upon a rule that’s begging to be broken.
Empowering your kids to break rules that don’t exist is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Some parents are naturally more lenient, while others tend to be more strict. A lenient parent might jump at the idea of Barbarian Spaghetti (which is a spaghetti dinner with no plates), while a stricter one might recoil in horror.
The secret is to start where you are. Just tinker. Step out of your comfort zone in premeditated way. If Barbarian Spaghetti seems a bit intimidating, then just have breakfast for dinner. Or eat dessert first. Decorate ugly cookies. Push back bedtime to celebrate a special occasion. You don’t have to blow your comfort zone away with a nuclear-powered bazooka. Go at it with a pea shooter, and work your way up from there.
How to Make a Hard Job Easier.
Being a bad parent is easy. Being a good parent is incredibly hard. Being a great parent is damn near impossible. As for perfect parents? They’re like unicorns and easy-to-open Barbie packaging, they don’t exist.
We believe that you can’t be truly great at anything if you’re not interjecting some measure of fun. Although we take or job as parents very seriously, we try not to take ourselves too seriously, and that seems to make the hard parts go more smoothly.
Case in point:
The Most Important Thing.
The rallying cry of “Escape Adulthood” is not about forgoing all responsibility so we can engage in silly trivial pursuits all day long. Rather, it’s about breaking free from the safe, boring, and predictable version of adulthood that traps most people, and bringing those childlike sensibilities into our daily lives so that we can stress less and have more fun.
Kim and I want our kids to be curious, dream big, enjoy life, and value experiences over stuff. The best way to do that is to model those qualities ourselves. Because the adage “Do what I say and not what I do” is (and always has been) a myth.
“Your actions are speaking so loudly, I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Telling an amazing story with our lives — one filled with magic and meaning and wonder and love — makes it more likely our kids will do the same with theirs.
Alas, that’s the hard part. You get that down, and parenting is a piece of cake.