Why You Should Encourage Rebelliousness in Your Child . . . and in Yourself

                   In the Old Testament story, God pointed out the one forbidden thing that man can’t have: the tree of knowledge.  God must have known very well that man was going to eat the forbidden fruit.  But it was by doing that that man became the initiator of his own life.  Life really began with that act of disobedience.

                                                                                                                     Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

When author Barbara Kingsolver’s daughter was going through a particularly unruly period, seemingly doing everything she could to disobey her mother, Kingsolver called a close friend to lament her child’s behavior and to receive a bit of commiseration.  Instead, her friend paused and then expressed a different concern regarding her own daughter.  “Amanda never went through that,” she said.  “I worry about her.  She works so hard to please everybody.  I’m afraid she’ll never know how to please herself.”  Hearing this Kingsolver said, “a landmine exploded in the back of my consciousness.  My child was becoming all I ever wanted.”*

How much independence, how much self-awareness and self-actualization do we crush in our children, in our quest to make them mind and behave like proper, obedient citizens?  I’m not encouraging permitting spoiled, bratty behavior.  But when guiding our children we need to be cognizant of where we are guiding them to, and who we want them to be when we get there.  We want our children to have proper manners and to know the rules.  And we want these children to have the ability and the discretion to break those same rules and make their own when necessary and appropriate.  It’s our job to teach them the wisdom to know when to do this, and that’s an ongoing lesson for both parent and child.  And it’s a tough one.  Why?  Because so many of us are still struggling with that fear of rebellion in our own lives.

Joseph Campbell wrote that the majority of his friends were living “waste land” lives, explaining that they had reached “the point of making the decision whether they’re going to follow the way of their own zeal—the star that’s dawned for them—or do what daddy and mother and friends want them to do . . . and they are just baffled.” He was in his seventies when he wrote this.  I don’t think his friends were confused teens.

It is worth taking the time, on a daily basis, to be cognizant of the “why” behind our actions, and to question whether or not we’ve ever questioned—no, challenged—this why.  We spend much of our time enslaved by rules and patterns that we aren’t aware we are obeying.  If you are present and aware and decide a that a recurring choice, whether small, like a daily task or habit, or big, like continuing a career, is the correct decision based on your own rules and self-belief, then continue on that path.  If you are doing it because you feel you should or that if you don’t you will disappoint those you love, then rebel.  The price you pay otherwise is too high.  And respect your children and those you love when they make same choices for themselves.


*Kingsolver, Barbara, “Civil Disobedience at Breakfast”, High Tide in Tucson. New York: HarperPerrennial (1996).